Keeping Clean

Everyone is familiar with “entitled college students.” These students are paying $38,000 in out-of-state tuition, are away from home for the first time and could care less about who is cleaning their wake of trash. But just because this scenario is familiar, it doesn’t mean it is right, according to sophomore Jessica Serrante.”It bothers me … when people are pretentious. Just because their parents made enough money to send them here doesn’t give them the right to belittle other people,” Serrante said. A UVM student recently drew attention to the issue of respect for the custodial staff when the student’s postcard appeared on the Web blog, “Post Secret.” “The greatest lesson I learned at the University of Vermont came from seeing how my white peers treat the housekeepers. Nothing has disgusted me and inspired me more,” the student wrote.While these “disgusting” incidents of mistreatment may not be reported, or even talked about, several students can attest to their existence. One student recalled an occasion when she saw a male student have a “nice, warm interaction” with an Asian woman whom he knew through dining services. It wasn’t until the woman was gone that things turned sour. “As soon as she left, the guy’s buddy asked him who that lady was. He joked around, and said ‘She’s my mistress, I bang her. I go over to her hut.'”Serrante recalls a similar story of when a group of girls on her hall left paper cuttings all over the floor after doing an art project. “When I asked them if they were going to clean it up, they just laughed.”Freshman Sam Quinn’s story proved that some messes are worse than others. “Some dude in Harris told me that they all pee on the floor,” Quinn said. Serrante believes that students can show more respect for custodial staff simply through “a nice smile or a ‘Good Morning’.” Serifa Cicak, former custodian and now Bosnian translator/interpreter for the Custodial Department, said that these interactions go a long way. “If (custodians) see you not smiling and not trying to communicate with them, then they don’t want to communicate with you. You have to be friendly with students if you really want respect,” Cicak said. Slavojka Avdibegovic, custodial lead for cook physcial Sciences and Angel Lecture Center said she has a good relationship with the UVM community. Although unsettling, these disrespectful incidents are thankfully not the norm. “So far we feel appreciated,” Slavojka said. “If you do something, they say, ‘thank you’.” Zehra Isakovic and Senada Nikolic, both custodial maintenance workers in Cook and Angel said they have little to complain about. “We have nice people, they are so honest with us,” Nikolic said. “But what are we going to do about the students who are so messy?” she asked the other women. “They leave trash between the chairs. We complain only about that.” Cicak agreed with the women, and said that when she was a custodian in Wright Hall, “the students were great. They were really nice and clean, really respectful and would stop and talk to me.” Merging culturesCicak, Avdibegovicm, Isakovic and Nikolic come from very different backgrounds than most UVM students. When war broke out in Bosnia, they left their jobs and in Zehra Isakovic’s case, her family, to immigrate to Vermont in 1997. The women said they learned English through their jobs in the Custodial Department. “I didn’t speak any English at first,” Avdibegovic said. “I worked with a Vietnamese woman, we didn’t speak any English, but we talked, we worked, we used our hands to talk. I feel so good about it.” Avdibegovic taught herself to read in English through reading Ann Landers’ column in The Burlington Free Press. “It’s hard when you come from Bosnia to a new life, no friends. You need something to read!” Avdibegovic said. The women now have National Geographic magazines and copies of The Vermont Cynic lying on their coffee table.Learning from Each OtherAccording its “Vision, Mission and Strategic Goals,” UVM’s values include “a strong commitment to diversity in the student body, the faculty and staff, and the curriculums.” Similarly, part of UVM’s “Mission” is to prepare students to “create, interpret and share knowledge …” Slavojka Avdibegovic is an example of someone who is realizing the University’s commitments. “I have learned so much. At UVM, people are from so many places! Europe, Asia, Africa, it’s international. Students and staff. I think we are one big family, even though we don’t speak the same language,” Avdibegovic said. While the four women say they have learned English from working here, they joke about having taught Bosnian to faculty and staff in Cook, proving that their relationship with the UVM community is based more on sharing their culture than issues of respect.Sophomore Jared Hinrichs has had a positive relationship with the custodial staff that has lead him to be more appreciative. “I think they do a great job,” he said. “Recently I lost my wallet. I thought I may have thrown it out [I was digging through the trash] and one of the cleaning staff gave me a pair of gloves and helped me look for it for like 15minutes.”But he is also aware that not everyone is as appreciative. “We’re in college, we’re supposed to be living on our own, but we’re really not. They do a great service and a lot of people don’t appreciate it,” he said.Junior Brandon Dickerman agrees. “Being at a University, we feel that we are better or that they are here to serve us,” he said. “I just say ‘Hello’ and be polite. I really think they appreciate when you’re not an asshole to them.”Sophomore Meagan Agoglia says that it is only a small minority of students that are disrespectful to custodial staff. However, student-staff relations can always improve, whether through sharing a language or simply saying “Good Morning” to the people who keep this University clean.