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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Hall cleanliness is your problem, not just UNC housekeepers'

UNC housekeeper Robin Lee walks through the halls of Kenan Residence Hall on Sep. 25, 2023.

The last vestiges of the sunrise cast a warm glow over the hallway in Hinton James Residence Hall. I’m bleary-eyed and so focused on regretting my decision to register for an 8 a.m. class that I almost miss the uneaten hamburger lying in my path. Smashed french fries span from wall to wall and blood-red ketchup splatters cover the ground. It’s a crime scene worthy of an FBI investigation. 

There’s no sign of who the hamburger culprit is or how it appeared in the hallway. A single footprint on the bun reveals that someone else encountered this before me and passed right through, seeing it as "not their problem."

I sigh, but also choose to simply pass right through, rationalizing my actions by reminding myself that UNC pays the housekeeping staff to clean up these messes. Plus, I didn’t make the mess, so it’s not my problem. 

Each time I encounter untidiness in the residence hall common areas, I get increasingly desensitized to it. Whether it’s a trail of nachos from the first- to third-floor stairwell or a singular gum wrapper, I absolve myself of guilt by reminding myself that I didn’t make the mess, so it’s not my problem. 

But whose problem is it? 

This "problem" invariably gets put onto the housekeeping staff. While UNC contracts housekeepers to provide essential services, including trash collection, floor care and general cleaning, they are not compensated enough to deal with the disrespectful way students treat residence hall common areas. 

Even with a 90-cent pay raise in December 2022, their $16.81 hourly wage only narrowly falls above the 2023 Orange County living wage of $16.60 per hour. 

Many housekeepers start their shifts at 1 a.m., forming a part of the invisible workforce that prepares the University for the upcoming day. They often work behind the scenes outside of our peak study hours, a courtesy so many students seem to take for granted based on how poorly they treat residence halls. 

Given the housekeeping staff’s inadequate compensation, the need for proactive student cleanliness in residence hall common areas is all the more necessary. 

Realistically, most students aren’t responsible for leaving three-course meals on the stairs to be devoured by mice, bugs and other pests that scientists have yet to discover. Nonetheless, all students have the responsibility to treat the residence halls, and by extension the housekeepers, with respect.

Don’t just take my word for it though. Maintaining “the cleanliness of one’s room and common areas” is in the Carolina Housing community living standards.

So, how should students go about treating the residence halls with more respect? It really comes down to developing small habits, such as picking up trash and keeping personal belongings out of common areas.

When I finally return to Hinton James after my 8 a.m. class, the humming of housekeeping work in the lobby has died down. A yellow "Wet Floor’" sign is the last obvious trace of the day’s housekeeping work. But truthfully, the remnants are all around me, from the shiny footprint-free elevator doors to the unobstructed sixth-floor hallway, free from every last french fry. 

The housekeeping staff’s efforts are just as foundational to the UNC community as the Bell Tower and Duke slander. So, the next time you see a piece of trash in the residence hall common area, don’t just label it as "not your problem" — because as a member of the residence hall community, it is.

@dthopinion |

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