Van Wagenen: Your Spilled Coffee Doesn’t Clean Itself Up


Sophie Felici

Custodian RC Randall in the A. Ray Olpin Student Union at University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo by Sophie Felici | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Madeline Van Wagenen, Opinion Editor


Think back to your days in elementary school. Do you remember when your teacher would ask students to pick up trash off the floor? I remember it being a competition: who could find the biggest piece of trash? Who could pick up the most pieces? Who could find the weirdest thing?

Grade-school teachers work to instill a sense of responsibility in their students. From helping tidy classrooms to writing thank you notes to janitors, our generation grew up respecting the cleaning crew and helping keep our schools clean.

But as we’ve grown up, something has since shifted.

“As you get older … saying thank you to your janitor is not really enforced by the people around you,” said Anthony Crop, a part-time janitor and full-time student at the University of Utah. Having worked in both elementary and higher education as a janitor, he experienced the shift from thankful little kids to thankless adults.

Crop’s janitorial job provides him with the finances he needs to get through school. Crop is studying Spanish and is considering becoming a Spanish teacher. However, when other students find out he is currently working as a janitor, their questions become intrusive: “Is being a janitor what you want to do for the rest of your life?”

These invasive questions, coupled with disrespect based solely on his position as a janitor, make Crop an unsung campus hero.

“Being a janitor anywhere … if you get zero feedback, that means you’re doing your job really well,” Crop said. “Your goal is to go unnoticed. … If people say something, it’s because something’s messy, or a job isn’t getting done.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to go every day without recognition and thanks for your hard work. As a result, Crop, as well as other janitors, have had to create joy for themselves. While Crop admitted he may have been the “cool janitor” at the elementary school he worked at, he spent more time talking about his own elementary school’s cool janitor, Mr. Mendoza. Crop’s cool janitor wore a cowboy hat every day, blasted his music through the halls after school and never, ever failed to give passerby a fist-bump.

Now, working on a campus with thousands of college students, Crop’s work is the same, but his experience is completely different.

The U’s campus hosts thousands of students every day. It’s no surprise that it gets dirty and messy, as it takes time and effort to keep the campus clean and safe. Crop and the others who maintain our campus are often ignored and disrespected.

An example: nail-biters. As Crop does his rounds, he finds little piles of chewed-up fingernails throughout his shifts. While he theorizes that these piles of fingernails stem from student anxieties, it’s no excuse to leave them lying around. I’m not bashing your nervous habits, but if you’re going through that much trouble to make a pile of your fingernails, perhaps placing them in the garbage can is time better spent.

Another example: Kahlert Village. This housing complex is home to property damage, vandalism and first-year students. This destruction of property is intentional, immature and disrespectful to those working to keep campus housing safe. Treat the places we are privileged to use (and the people who clean and maintain them) with the same respect that you would treat the home of someone you love.

People like Crop — people who work hard to keep campus clean and safe for students and staff to use — do the work no one else wants to do, and they do it all without recognition for their efforts.

The next time you scatter crumbs from your morning bagel, clean them up. The next time you spill your coffee, inform a janitor. But most importantly, the next time you see someone cleaning your classroom building, dorm, library or wherever it may be, say thank you.

Don’t perpetuate the culture of disrespecting janitors. It’s time to do more, clean up after yourself and say thank you.


[email protected]