As I reported the story on Page 1 about students throwing dining hall dishes in the trash, I was faced with a question that often arises in journalism: Can I speak out about this issue? Is it ethical for me to publicly state an opinion on the subject of a news article that I wrote? Often the answer is no, it is not ethical for a journalist to write both a news story and an opinion piece on the same subject. Our job almost always requires us to leave the public opinions to those without bylines.
The exception comes when a story speaks to an objective truth. When a fact is universally understood as true, it does not reveal personal bias to state it, even if it relates to the subject being reported. Such is the case, I believe, with this story regarding unreturned dining hall dishes. I would like to state unequivocally that it is wrong to take dishes from our shared dining halls and abandon them around campus for staff members to collect, especially when it is not their job to do so. It is entitled, selfish and wasteful to throw away ceramic plates and mugs into the garbage because you are unwilling to carry them back to the dining hall when you return for your next meal.
The first reason why this is wrong is quite obvious: trash is gross. It is full of biohazards like blood and vomit, not to mention rotten foods, infected snotty tissues and any number of other unpleasant things that I think we can all agree we would rather not have touching the dishes we eat off of, no matter how many chemical rinses they may go through before we see them again.
Far more importantly, however, throwing dishes away — or leaving them out to be carted off to the recycling center — is enormously disrespectful of both staff and your fellow students.
In our Staff Issue last month, The Campus wrote about the difficulties our staff face in their jobs, not least of which have to do with arrogant students who do not show them common decency. Filling residential buildings and garbage cans with dirty dishes is just one example of this disrespect.
When you leave a dish out, somebody has to deal with it, whether that be staff or another student. If you throw it in the trash, somebody has to pull it out again. If you take a dish from the dining hall, you are responsible for getting it back. Period. Otherwise, somebody else has to do extra labor, and this is unacceptable. You cannot move through the world expecting other people to clean up your messes for you. And even if you have enough money that you can, you shouldn’t. That is a crappy way to treat other people.
As students, we lead charmed lives in many ways. Staff members shovel our walkways and take out our garbage. We are not expected to clean toilets or even wash our own dishes. The least you can do is bring your plates back so that those who are responsible for washing them can do so without having to chemically remove mold and garbage from them.
In addition to the obvious solution to this problem—just bring your dishes back to the dining hall, for the love of god—I would also like to posit another, secondary solution. The SGA just introduced a new program that would allow students to dine with a randomly-selected staff member at lunch or dinner on Thursdays (you can sign up at go/FSSTS). I would highly encourage students to participate in this program, and to get to know any staff members you regularly interact with in whatever way you can.
Stop and chat with the custodian who cleans your hall (if you can do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt their work). Get to know them and their story. Ask after the well-being of the dining hall staff member who checks you in at the swipe counter. This may come as a shocker but staff are people — wonderfully funny and delightfully kind people. Getting to know them will not only improve your Middlebury experience, but may also help remind those who are inclined to throw their dishes in the trash that the person at the other end of that decision is a person, too. And that person, I would venture to guess, does not want to pull your plate out of a trash bag full of god knows what.
Reporting this story made me really angry. I was angry that students at this school think it is okay to make extra work for our staff because they are too lazy to bring their dishes back. And I was angry that it didn’t surprise me to learn that there are people on this campus that would throw away ceramic plates rather than return them. My hope is that, at the very least, this story will shed light on this issue, and that people will come to their senses and start returning their dishes to dining services. As students, it is our responsibility to behave better than this.