I have a fairly strong stomach. But the integrity of my digestive tract has been damaged by the demoralizing experience of Dorm Crew.
My need to “take a breather” while scrubbing a random person’s toilet is not enough reason to abolish Dorm Crew. The fact that I (and others) likely did a poor job of scrubbing, however, should be adequate. Dorm Crew is not hygienic, and that one fundamental flaw alone delegitimizes its existence. I have worked Dorm Crew on two occasions, and I didn’t feel like I had actually made people’s bathrooms significantly cleaner. Shinier? Yes. Cleaner? Probably not.
Dorm Crew is unsanitary because some of those who are cleaning others’ bathrooms do not have sufficient incentive to do a good job. If students clean somebody else’s sink, it may look nice. But when it comes to germs, appearance and reality can be very different. Though I am sure many Dorm Crew workers are careful to follow the appropriate protocol, even one worker could negate those efforts by mistakenly or negligently swapping the sponge intended for the toilet with the one meant for the sink.
I spoke with one friend (who regularly worked Dorm Crew in her freshman year) who validated my concerns. “The sponges weren’t replaced very often. The rags…were washed, like, maybe once every two weeks,” she told me, hoping that that is no longer the case. The Dorm Crew office did not respond to my request for updated information about this. But potentially overused cleaning supplies would undermine the work that committed Dorm Crew workers do. “They should actually test that shit to see how clean it is after,” my friend said (with no pun intended).
The point is, Dorm Crew’s services result in sparkling bathrooms, but they could be rife with bacteria. Harvard would never tolerate these issues from a third-party, professional vendor, and it should not lower its standards simply because student-workers provide the service. (Consider the uproar that would ensue if HUDS reused gloves.)
There is only one way to ensure that students’ bathrooms meet their own standards of cleanliness: make them scrub their own toilets, sinks, and showers. If students live in filth, it will be their own fault—but their own choice as well. It shocks me that Harvard doesn’t already expect students to clean up after themselves. Learning to advocate for ourselves is one of the most valuable lessons Harvard teaches us. To thrive here, students must take initiative, seeking out the best resources and opportunities on campus. Why compromise on that principle with Dorm Crew? Functioning as adults means taking responsibility for our possessions and not expecting others to clean up after us. We learned these values from Barney, but by relying on Dorm Crew, we undermine them.
Dorm Crew is an important source of employment for many undergraduates, and laying them off would impart undue harm. But disbanding Dorm Crew’s bathroom-cleaning service would not eliminate all its jobs. The Fall and Spring Clean-Ups would (and should) still exist, as these efforts are indispensable to preparing dorms for new groups of students. Additionally, workers will still be needed to staff the Dorm Crew office in Harvard Yard for freshmen to retrieve cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
Nevertheless, there should be other equally well-advertised and attractive employment options. Dorm Crew is popular in part because everybody knows about it. Students receive information about Fall Clean-Up even before arriving their freshman year. The Student Employment Office could promote other types of jobs, such as working as faculty aides or tutoring, with similar enthusiasm. These opportunities would alleviate the loss of cleaning jobs and enable undergraduates to contribute to Harvard’s intellectual community.
Harvard needs to put more effort into creating high quality part-time work opportunities for its undergraduates. Additional substantial part-time student jobs could provide students with other relevant work experience that they can draw upon in the future. As Harvard becomes more accessible to low- and middle-class students through financial aid, it should reevaluate the ways it provides meaningful and well-paying employment opportunities to them. Dorm Crew offers community, character-building work, flexible hours, and solid pay, but there can be other ways to achieve these ends. Ultimately, while the Dorm Crew office can still provide the G-Force and the Morning Mist, every Harvard student should supply the elbow grease.
Elizabeth C. Bloom ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Currier House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.