Aramark and other university workers are often an invisible workforce, providing essential services for our campus. Students don’t always know how to demonstrate respect and appreciation for the work that they do. In many ways through our action and inaction, we contribute to their invisibility.
Our culture binds us to informal rules of decorum. In other words, when we do not know what to say to somebody, we often don’t say anything at all. This leads to a series of awkward moments such as smiling nervously, avoiding eye contact or finding another bathroom to use. Our silence, born out of our own embarrassment, sends a powerful message regarding student-worker dynamics. When we don’t say anything, we say a lot. We say that they aren’t worth our attention and that students are somehow superior to workers.
Diffusing this silence begins with a simple good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Greetings are crucial because they show that we recognize somebody and that we aren’t ignoring them. Something as basic as greeting workers shows that students value them, whereas silence shows that they aren’t worth your time.
We feel most uncomfortable in social situations that we’ve never encountered before, so our silence also involves racial and cultural dimensions. Many Aramark workers are Latino men and women, and we may be unfamiliar with Latino people and cultures. You may not know what to say to somebody who speaks a different language and differs from you culturally.
First, I encourage students to look past these differences and acknowledge their similarities with Latino Aramark workers.
Second, recognize that despite these apparent linguistic and cultural differences, we can still show respect towards these men and women. We don’t want to assume that a worker speaks Spanish, but try saying both “good morning” and “buenos días.” This shows that you’re making an effort to recognize that person, that you want them to feel comfortable and you value their work.
Finally, you should not make workers’ jobs more difficult. A great way to acknowledge workers is to respect your living spaces. When you make a mess, Aramark workers need to take the time to clean up after you. Leaving trash around sends a message that you do not value the worker’s time.
Be aware of your own presence. If you’re studying in your lounge and a worker is clearly trying to vacuum, unplug your computer charger so it’s not in the way. Do not wait for them to ask you, or to try to vacuum around your charger. Instead, try asking: “Am I in your way?” It’s common courtesy, but also an opportunity to show that you appreciate workers and the time they spend maintaining our campus.
Reflect on what you do and don’t do when interacting with Aramark workers. We have the opportunity to respect their contributions through recognition or to reinforce student-worker hierarchy through our uncertain silence. The little things matter.
Derek Siegel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.