Letter to the Editor: The Dignity of Dorm Crew

To the editor:

In Defense of a Virtual Fall” raises several legitimate points concerning inequality on Harvard’s campus, but asserting that the custodial work done by Dorm Crew’s student employees contributes to such inequality is an unfair argument that functions to reinforce the marginalization the authors are ostensibly against.

In listing their grievances over the unfair treatment of students, the authors argue that the University (and Dorm Crew, more specifically) “financially incentivizes underprivileged students to clean peers’ bathrooms,” implying that this type of work perpetuates a lack of equality among students at Harvard. This perception has become increasingly popular in recent years due in large part to Assistant Professor of Education Anthony A. Jack’s unfavorable discussion of Dorm-Crew-like programs in his book “The Privileged Poor.” As someone who has worked for Dorm Crew since even before my freshman year — and cleaned hundreds of bathrooms in the process — I reject the notion that there is something inherently degrading and unjust about the hiring of students to perform custodial work. While allegedly attempting to speak on behalf of “underprivileged students,” such arguments against Dorm Crew function to stigmatize custodial work in a way that is frankly unfair and disrespectful to the hundreds of students who find Dorm Crew to be a meaningful and important part of their college experiences.

Would the authors take similar issue with the University’s hiring of students to work in campus cafés or libraries — both jobs that financially incentivize students to serve their peers? All too often the custodial work done by Dorm Crew is perceived to exploit and oppress low-income students, but this is simply untrue. The reality is that students interested in employment have dozens of entry-level and flexible campus jobs to choose from, and no students are unfairly coerced into Dorm Crew work due to their economic backgrounds. For people like myself who have decided that Dorm Crew is the right job for us, we work with pride and I, for one, don’t appreciate attempts to generalize our experiences in order to support broader claims concerning student inequality at Harvard.

While not always glamorous or exciting, there is dignity in custodial work that is worthy of a more nuanced and thoughtful examination by the Harvard community.


Benjamin E. Frimodig ’21, a former Crimson News editor, is a History & Science concentrator in Dunster House.