July 14, 2024

By Jamal Ramon Burke

We see them around campus all the time, but we have trained ourselves not to pay attention. They are like ninjas dressed in green uniforms, armed with mops, brooms and spray bottles filled with deadly disinfectants. The custodians of Wayne State play a vital role in sustaining the functionality of the university.

The unsung heroes of this campus move in the shadows, cleaning away the signs of our passing and making the area ideal for our return. Yet, they go overlooked and undervalued due to a flawed perception of their profession.

The world would be an interesting place the day a child said they wanted to be a custodian when they grew up. Not going to happen. A paradigm shift would have to occur. In this country and on this campus we tend to judge a custodian like we would a homeless person.

We say to ourselves, “If that person had made better decisions when they were young, they wouldn’t be in this position.” We equate the quality of the job to equal the quality of the person doing it. The notion is absurd, but it persists because it is based upon what is commonly accepted, not truth or reality.

The truth is that custodians serve the function of mommies and daddies, cleaning after our “accidents” so that we can focus on playing. Just like mommy and daddy, we take them for granted. It is easy to do,+ until you sit down and there is no toilet paper.

I must admit that there have been times when I have entered a restroom on campus that no child of God should be expected to use. However, I am more inclined to blame my fellow students for those rare occasions. As students, we pay for the privilege of being careless and some of us seem intent on getting our money’s worth. I know how a restroom looks after most custodians leave it, enough to say that like mommy and daddy, we often make their job harder.

I have been an employee at Wayne State for almost five years now. I was a building manager in the Student Center for two years, before becoming a public safety cadet. During those two years I befriended a number of the custodians who were assigned to the building. I asked Vincent Jones, a friend and custodian at Wayne State for the past fourteen years, about the perception of custodians on campus. He told me, “The student body doesn’t care about the job we do, as long as the restrooms and the buildings are clean. It’s my job to clean here, but it’s not my job to pick up after you … there’s a difference.”

When we come to a clean classroom or office we consider it proof that everything is the way it should be. If we should come into a classroom or office that isn’t clean however, we conclude that somewhere a custodian is not doing their job. We want to call our congressman all of a sudden. Sometimes it is a failure on the part of the custodian, but it is almost always a failure on the part of students and faculty as well.

Although custodians may serve the function of mommies and daddies, they are not our parents in fact, and we are not children. They deserve a great measure of respect for the pride and patience they display while doing a job we consider ourselves too dignified to perform. Those men and women keep this place sanitary and therefore civilized … the few, the proud, the brave: … the custodians.