Dorm Crew Imparts Practical Benefits


Jason E. Sandler ’12 is hunched over a toilet in Pennypacker, explaining the best way to reach every stretch of porcelain, chrome, and tile in the bathroom. He pauses to describe his summer molecular biology research that could aid in early detection of atherosclerosis, before pointing out how best to eliminate soap scum from shower walls.

Sandler has been working for Dorm Crew—a branch of Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Organization that employs students to clean in-suite bathrooms during the year—since February. He says he knew he would want a term-time job before starting college and chose Dorm Crew because of its high wages and had flexible hours.

Over the past decade, the College has begun to offer increasingly generous financial aid packages, often with the stated intention of freeing students from working term-time jobs to cover their tuition costs.

Concurrently, the number of hours logged by the average dorm crew worker has fallen by more than half. But the number of students participating in Dorm Crew—which the program head says is one of the highest-paying student jobs on campus—has increased.


This particular bathroom is surprisingly clean, Sandler says, but he isn’t especially squeamish.

“It’s just a toilet, it’s nothing...a lot of people can’t imagine doing things like cleaning toilets, but there are worse things in the world,” he says.

And to Sandler, whether he feels there is a stigma attached to working for Dorm Crew is among the least relevant questions about his job.

“You are associated with a middle or low income background—that isn’t a problem for me. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m proud. Some people ask, ‘you take pride in cleaning toilets?’ Well actually, I do,” Sandler says. “If you can do this well that’s a model for other things in your life.”


In September 1998, the University allocated an additional $2,000 to every College student’s financial aid package. Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles told The Crimson at the time that the funds would allow students more freedom in their extracurricular endeavors.

“With several iterations of increasing financial aid there was a dramatic fall off in work force. The intended effect of providing increasing financial aid was that students wouldn’t have to work and could focus on their studies—and it seemed to work pretty well,” says Robert F. Wolfreys, crew supervisor in the custodial services division of FMO.

In the past ten years, the total number of hours logged by dorm crew workers has fallen by 67 percent, but in the past five years, the number of students participating has risen by almost 30 percent.

“In my experience, it’s very rare for students to be doing this because they absolutely have to, it’s more for discretionary income...Not that [discretionary] income is not important, but the income isn’t an absolute necessity,” he says.

Many Dorm Crew workers use their wages to pay for summer programs abroad, or to supplement unpaid internships, says Wolfreys.