Students Must Address Entitlement, Be More Respectful, Appreciative of Hourly Employees

 Dear Obies: I do not wake up at 6 a.m. every Wednesday to clean up your messes. 

I have worked for Campus Dining Services in Wilder DeCafé since my second week on campus. During my first semester, I worked as a stocker, and this semester I work as a line clerk. In that time, I’ve witnessed a consistent trend at Oberlin, which can best be encompassed by a recent exchange. 

The checkout line in DeCafé is always longest during the 10-minute transition periods between classes. Last Wednesday — with just a few minutes till 9 a.m. — the line wrapped around the store to the beverage fridges while I was manning the sole open register. Whilst trying to escape the line as quickly as possible, a student spilled his coffee all over the checkout area. After swiping his card for a board meal, I expected him to return with napkins. When he didn’t, I asked him to clean up his mess so that I could take care of the rest of the long line. He came back, tersely dropped a handful of napkins on the pool of coffee, and swiftly exited the store. He didn’t say a word, but it was clear he still expected me — or another CDS employee — to clean up the pile of soggy brown napkins. 

This level of entitlement amongst Oberlin students is nothing new.

Way back in October 2018, I came across a post in the Oberlin 2022 Facebook group. A Stevenson Dining Hall student manager detailed her and other student workers’ frustrations with having to stay late to clean up messes left by students. 

She brings up a crucial point: “Many of your student workers in CDS come from marginalized backgrounds and work out of necessity,” she wrote. “Leaving your mess because ‘someone else will take care of it’ perpetuates the idea that women, people of color, low-income students, and other historically oppressed groups are obliged to work for you!”

Six months and more than 120 “likes” later, Obies still are not getting it. 

Having worked in food service for the past two years, I’m used to the frequent curt exchanges and casual discourtesy that come with customer interactions. And certainly not all those who pass through the checkout line are rude or disrespectful — many students are perfectly polite and kind. You could say, it’s just one spilled coffee. But it’s not just one spilled coffee. It’s a symptom of a larger issue on this campus: people taking up space when it’s simply not their place. 

A mess not only takes up physical space, but it requires everyone in line behind or around you to avoid your mess. It requires a CDS employee to take time away from the task they are being paid to do in order to clean up something you could have more quickly cleaned yourself. 

It’s the same way in a classroom. If you are in a place of privilege and you take extended time to weigh in, you don’t leave time for other students to speak and share their opinions. This pattern of thoughtlessness and entitlement carries from DeCafé and Stevie into the classroom and other prominent campus spaces. 

However, the burden of this entitlement does not exclusively fall upon other students. In fact, it’s the local hourly employees on this campus that carry the brunt of the consequences. I work a mere six hours a week, and I’m incredibly privileged to have scholarships, financial aid, and my parents to cover tuition. For hourly employees who work late nights and come back before the sun is even up, long hours are necessary to pay the bills and support their families. 

Furthermore, it’s not only students who lack the proper respect for hourly employees, but the administration at-large. As has been highlighted by other recent Review opinion pieces, unionized workers are disenfranchised by the Academic and Administrative Program Review process, as there are no union representatives on the steering committee and not a single one of its 52 consultative outreach meetings has been with unions. 

Both students and administrators need to understand that hourly employees are simply not our disposable, shadow servants meant to clean up our messes; they are our equals, and they play a necessary and immeasurably valuable role in our community. Every student must recognize their positionality on this campus and actively make an effort to not monopolize space. It’s not enough to just express support or feign empathy for CDS and other hourly employees — there must be tangible action from each and every student.