In popular media, dorm life is represented as the pinnacle of the student experience. However, often forgotten are those who make this experience possible. Light must be shed on the pillars of residence life: The staff. As thousands of McGillians are returning to Montreal, many of whom are arriving on campus for the first time, residence staff members are preparing for the most stressful weeks of their job. Amidst the exciting yet scary chaos of settling into a new city, the residence staff that help new students build a home often go underappreciated and overworked by McGill and by many of the first-years in residence.
Porters, janitors, security guards, floor fellows, and other staff are the heart of McGill residences, and the quality of a first-year’s experience is moulded by them. Remove them from the picture and the residences freshmen call home are suddenly just old, dusty buildings.
I spoke to a janitor during my time at McConnell, one of the three residence buildings that make up the Upper Residence. Although ready to retire, he was one of the first people to show me kindness in a new city filled with strangers. Before he left, he took it upon himself to pass on some of his extensive knowledge to a clueless first-year in desperate need of someone to talk to. He showed me where the more secluded bathrooms were, knowing that the communal bathrooms could take some getting used to, along with the emergency exits in the event I would ever need them. He wished me luck with my studies and told me he knew I would succeed. Being one of the few Black people in Upper, having someone who looked like me and who, just like me, hailed from the Caribbean, tell me his story, brought tears to my eyes.
Although he enjoyed his work and loved meeting new people from all over the world, the waves of students arriving and leaving each year was the toughest part. These parts of the year, filled with excitement, can make first years particularly unaware, and oftentimes disrespectful. He had many stories to tell that were very amusing at first—like when a student released a live chicken in the building as an end-of-year prank—but it quickly became clear that not everyone was laughing, as it became the burden of the residence staff to deal with the situation.
McConnell’s famously lovable porter never fails in getting packages to students––it’s like every name and room number is engraved in his brain. As a confidant for many students, I remember his friendliness, which is why it was hard to ignore the disheartening sight of soda bottles and wrappers simply left by freshmen on the tables and floors of common areas, shared by both the students and the staff.
Yet, trash left on a table seems so mild upon reflection of the horrors sighted in the common bathroom. If I could barely stomach looking at the mess, what would it have been like to have to clean it? I wouldn’t wish that task upon my worst enemy, much less the friendly staff of Upper. For all the nights when empty bottles lined the bathroom counters like some form of upcycled art décor, the cleaning staff rose with the sun and all stalls would be spotless by the time I woke up.
For many, “college student” rhymes with freedom, and some degree of carelessness is to be expected. However, as first-years transition into this new, adult chapter of their lives, they also need to hold themselves accountable for their actions, and the consequences of those actions on those who surround them.
The first year of university is an unforgettable period for those who were lucky enough to experience it. But it’s worth reminding all incoming first-years that people work to support your newfound adulthood. With this, welcome to the new set of first-years, and remember that while this experience is exciting, being respectful should be a priority.