Staff are not responsible for your to-go containers

By Editorial Board

Pia Conteras

In a year when dining staff have faced longer working hours and increased responsibilities, the bare minimum we can do as community members is return our to-go containers in a timely manner. But students have failed to do even that this year — forcing custodial staff to pick up containers en masse, and necessitating the purchase of an additional 4,200 containers to replace the original 2,000 in circulation. 

Our custodial and dining staff work tirelessly to create a healthy living environment for students. A refusal to return to-go containers — and dumping them in public spaces such as hallways, stairwells and outside buildings — shows a gross disrespect and lack of appreciation for their work.  

After weeks of cleaning up after students, Residential Life staff announced that custodial workers would no longer be responsible for removing dining hall to-go containers scattered across campus. 

“It is not fair nor reasonable to add this additional task to their already packed list of  responsibilities. They are not here to clean up after you,” wrote several Residential Directors in building-wide emails to students last month. 

But that shouldn’t have been the responsibility of custodial staff in the first place.

Students’ refusal to carry out this simple task demonstrates a sense of privilege that has continually characterized Middlebury culture. This semester is not the first time students have left dining supplies unreturned: A February 2019 article detailed how nearly 1,700 pounds of dishes were either abandoned or thrown away across campus over one J-Term. This attitude of negligence and laziness remains unacceptable, especially as Covid-19 has changed the ways we access food. 

This sort of community-wide behavior is not only disrespectful to staff, but its consequences also widen inequities. As to-go containers have continued to pile up in public spaces like hallways and lounges, RDs have informed floors and building communities that they could be billed for the cost to clean up and return their neglected boxes. In the previous article about discarded dishes, a member of the custodial staff raised concerns about how such a fining system might disproportionately affect low-income students, forcing them to clean up after their peers to avoid these dorm-wide fines.

We echo these concerns — and ask that students consider not only the impact their individual decisions may have on their peers, but also how they increase the workloads of already overburdened dining and custodial staff. 

Our Middlebury staff and custodial team are just as integral to the function of our community as the student body. These hardworking people are not anonymous, and their time and effort should not be treated as dispensable or less important than ours.

By failing to take the time to do simple tasks like properly returning to-go containers, we are acting as though we see staff members as nameless faces that are simply here to serve us. 

And if you think that this is the way that Middlebury operates, then you have fundamentally misunderstood your role in this community. So, return your to-go boxes — and be conscientious of the impact your decisions have on the broader community. 

It is a privilege to be in person while many other institutions are either fully online or functioning at significantly reduced capacity. This privilege requires both respect and responsibility. 

This editorial represents the opinions of the Middlebury Campus’ editorial board.