AU exploits students for labor

This Wednesday marks the third year I have been at American University for Campus Beautification Day. It also marks the third time I will have opted out of the activity. While I used to refrain from participating because I worked Wednesday mornings, this year I will stay away because I think Campus Beautification Day is a supremely dumb idea.

I mainly believe this because our campus looks fine the way it is. We have green grass, a decent number of trees and plenty of flowers (I take personal issue with tulips, but that's a topic for another time). We have even won awards for how pretty our campus is. Sure, it's not the Botanic Gardens, but we could do a lot worse.

But my big problem with Campus Beautification Day is that it amounts to free labor that seems, in my opinion, to be dressed up as community service.

I have been at AU long enough to know that we use community service to celebrate everything. We begin the year with the Freshman Service Experience, help the D.C. community on Family Weekend and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and use Campus Beautification Day to usher in the spring.

Even though Wednesday's event is not connected (at least that I can see) with the Community Service Center, Campus Beautification Day features activities that are very similar to other community service efforts in which AU has previously taken part. The only difference is that those other activities took place at more disadvantaged locations, while students who do yard work on Wednesday will be doing it on campus. That just doesn't sit right with me.

Now, I have no problem with helping people who actually need help. That is a very nice thing to do. However, we at AU don't need community service to make our campus look nice. We already pay people to do that, and they do a fine job. Campus will look pretty whether or not we have Campus Beautification Day.

I am sure our wealthy neighbors would appreciate it if AU students held a food drive for the residents of Spring Valley. The teachers at St. Albans School would probably be happy if we donated school supplies. But we don't donate things to these people because it wouldn't make sense; Spring Valley residents and St. Albans staff can well afford to supply their needs without our help. Community service works best if you're helping people who actually need it.

I remember reading in Jonathan Kozol's book, "Savage Inequalities," about a little girl who went to school in Southeast D.C. She said she would like to have blue flowers in front of her school because it would help beautify an area that sorely needed it. If we at AU are serious about helping people through community service (or any activity that looks suspiciously like it), why don't we go to this girl's school and plant some blue flowers instead of staying at our own?

That's why I won't let myself be duped by Campus Beautification Day. It's not that I don't like AU or don't like the idea of helping people. I just don't believe in doing things that don't make any sense.

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