Williams College prides itself on being small. It is a small school in a small town with small classes and a small student body. One of the benefits of this smallness is the personal nature of the interactions between the students, faculty, staff and town residents. We say hello to the person who swipes our card in the dining hall, we say thank you to the person who holds the door at Papa Charlie’s, and we smile when we pass our custodian in the dorm hallway.
Given that we consider the small human size of our campus as an asset, why would a college department want to do away with one of the programs that helps establish this sense of “smallness?” And yet that is exactly what the Office of Custodial Services is doing. At the end of this month, dorms will no longer have the benefit of a single custodian, as a new system will be implemented; gangs of four custodians will clean larger groups of dorms, spending only about two hours in each dorm.
Traditionally, each custodian has developed special relationships with the various residents in his or her dormitory. These relationships manifest themselves in special favors, whether it be watering plants over vacations or helping residents move furniture. Students express their appreciation by giving gifts at Christmas time and the end of the year. Further, many students develop more personal relationships with their custodians, stopping to chat and behaving in a manner that can only be described as friendship. The new system will drive a wedge between the students and the custodians. It will be more difficult for the custodians to take pride in their work without the personalized appreciation of the students in their dorm. It will also be more difficult for custodians to take pride in their work, because their work will resemble an assembly line with each custodian performing one of many tasks instead of being able to complete the whole project on their own.
This new system is also a great loss for the students who chose to come to Williams because of its small size and personal atmosphere. The fact that each dorm at Williams has its own custodian, or shares a custodian with one other dorm, is one of the things that makes on-campus residences preferable to those at most colleges. One need only see one of the high-rise dorms on the UMass campus in order to realize that our dorms more closely resemble the comfort and warmth of our actual homes than many other college residences across the country.
The new system may be more efficient, but at what cost? Students will be less likely to respect their custodians if they are not given the opportunity to know them. Without the personal contact with their custodians that students previously enjoyed, it will be easier for students to be careless in their treatment of college dorms. Custodians will not have the same sense of ownership, so they will take less pride in their work. Most importantly, the new system eliminates one of the personal touches that makes Williams seem so small and friendly. We’re not ready to give up one of the programs that distinguishes Williams from so many other large and impersonal institutions. We have the rest of our lives to participate in those institutions. We only have four years here.