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National debates and housekeeping

| Monday, October 30, 2017

America is facing significant national issues that are of paramount importance to our culture. This October, the New York Times published an article about the grievous acts and misconducts of film producer Harvey Weinstein. NFL protests have sparked bitter debate on both sides of the aisle and raised questions about the extensions afforded by the First Amendment. President Trump often makes unfounded claims and then rejects any attempt at discussion to solve the issues he raises. These social issues concerning the profound mistreatment of women in the entertainment, business and public climates, as well as the protection of free speech for athletes are vital and demand us to take a stand and attempt to find solutions. However, with so many charged topics demanding our attention, it can be so easy to overlook the issues that are far more local and much closer to us in South Bend and our campus.

The median family income of a student from Notre Dame is $191,400. With that value in mind, it can be easy to forget that we live in South Bend, a place where the median household income from 2011-2015 was $34,523. The poverty level is high in the community outside Notre Dame, and while many of us are sleeping in dorm rooms, we must remember that there are homeless people encamped under Main Street. National issues surely demand our attention, but we have a responsibility as Notre Dame students to give back to the community around us.

And yet, the biggest thing we can do starts on our campus itself.

It was a Sunday night and, as midterms were fast approaching (I swear it’s not because I was procrastinating), I was in eager search of a quiet place to study. I had already ruled Hesburgh Library as too far away and decided to go to Coleman-Morse Center in search of my perennial “have-to-get-work-done” space. After finding the first and second floors filled with people, I wound my way all the way up to the third floor, unceremoniously sat in the middle of the hallway, and got to work.

An admittedly uncomfortable hour on the floor had gone by. The passing to-and-fro of people soon became a distraction and I was disheartened to see my laptop computer nearing the end of its charge. That’s when the elevator door opened and a cleaning lady that I know wheeled her cart over and came up to me. We chatted for a bit before she offered to take me to a spot where I could study far more comfortably and quietly. The “lesson” here is not that you should talk with cleaning ladies so you can study easier. Instead it’s a seven-word sentence that I think every Notre Dame student should take to heart. They are human beings like we are.

The important takeaway is that, while issues such as bipartisanship and ending poverty are some of the most important matters in our society, let’s start “small” and begin the vital process of dignifying the people who clean our dorms, cook our food and sweep the lecture halls.

I think that many of us take these people for granted. They are the ghosts you see under your eyelids when you grab a tray from South Dining Hall. They are the people who push the carts placed outside an empty lecture hall in DeBartolo. A reflection through a classroom, a smile in a hallway. Many of us ignore them, or forget them, even if we don’t mean to be this way. Even if we do this subconsciously, I think that this is completely unfounded. They aren’t fixtures in the landscape or shadows in the background. They have dreams, thoughts, concerns and desires like all of us do. They have personality. They have story. Does cleaning after our messes alone at night make them less human? Would saying hello really disrupt our day?

Next time you see a cleaning lady by herself in your dorm or your secret study space, or a chef at South Dining Hall, pause for a second and say hello. Learn their names. It’s the least we can do. Even better, stop to have a conversation and hear the story and perspective of the people who work day and night to make our time here the very best it can be. For the unseen heroes who perform the tasks that allow our campus to be the wonderful place it is, I propose a change is brought about by extraordinary people doing ordinary things.

We have to remember that our journey here at Notre Dame is passing. We will walk the floors of our dorms and rush to class for four years. After that, we will be “dust tracks on a road” and the cleaning people will be the ones who sweep up after our footprints. Next time you want to change Washington or sway Hollywood, start by looking in the halls of Notre Dame.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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