It’s Only Awkward if you make it Awkward

Dealing with the Situation when Dorm Crew comes Knocking

Over the course of your career as a student at Harvard, there is a good chance that at some point you will live, or have lived, in a dorm where Dorm Crew is responsible for cleaning your bathrooms. You probably recognize the trademark Dorm Crew post-it note informing you of the name of the student who cleaned your bathroom. Maybe you spend one second thinking about that note and the person who stuck it to your mirror before crumbling it up and throwing it into your garbage can. My guess is you won’t think about Dorm Crew again until the next time that post-it note greets you in the mirror a few weeks later (that is, unless you’re complaining to your roommates about how Dorm Crew hasn’t come in a while.) This is understandable—if you come home to find your bathroom miraculously clean, why would you be anything other than pleasantly surprised, and simply leave it at that? Even further, why would you spend any considerable amount of time pondering the miracle-worker who removed the seemingly permanent, built-up toothpaste grime on the side of your sink? “What year are they? What are they studying? What are their goals in life? Which part of my bathroom was the most pleasant for them to clean?” Nobody wants to recognize consciously that a person other than oneself cleaned the disgusting mess one has made. It’s uncomfortable.

Which is why every time I knock on a door with my cleaning supplies bucket and mop pole in hand, I pray that nobody answers.  I bet that on a list of the most awkward situations in which Harvard students frequently find themselves, being in the room while a Dorm Crew worker cleans one’s bathroom is at the top. My experience goes a little something like this: The student answers the door slowly, still trying to anticipate whom their unexpected visitor could be. When they finally lay eyes on me, they always look a little perplexed. I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes them a good two seconds to process the chemicals and rags in my hand. They generally wait for me to initiate the conversation. “Hi, is now an okay time to clean your bathroom?” A hesitation. A glance inside the room. “Oh. Yeah, uh, sure.” They always sound unsure.

My presence is the discomfort that they never had to face when they would return to a magically sparkly-clean bathroom. I force them to confront the fact that another human being—not just any human being, a fellow student—is literally the one wiping up their shit. I also recognize that they feel awkward about the situation because they are good people. Call me naïve or optimistic, but I generally sense a hint of guilt when they point me in the direction of their bathroom. And when students thank me for my work, I can tell that it is sincere.

So here is my message for all you good-hearted, well-intentioned students out there who will likely come across this situation at some point. This situation is only awkward if you make it awkward.  So first, don’t feel bad about the fact that the Dorm Crew worker is cleaning your bathroom! We signed up for it and we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Think about the opportunity to clean your bathroom as an opportunity for us to make more money. Second, remind yourself that we are just your fellow peers. We have hobbies, interests, friends, and clubs that we’re a part of, just like you—so you shouldn’t feel like there’s anything separating you from us. If you have a free moment, come chat for a bit. I can’t express how much I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with strangers while cleaning their bathrooms. Finally, always, always, always say thank you. As a worker I really do appreciate that simple expression of gratitude (and I might just put a little extra elbow grease into that dirty bathtub of yours). Not only does it let me know that you appreciate the work that Dorm Crew does, but it also gives me the chance to respond with a statement that couldn’t be truer: “You’re welcome. It is my pleasure.”

Brooke H. Kantor ’15 is a Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator in Dunster House. Her column normally appears on alternate Mondays.



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