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A Glimpse into the Life of a Dartmouth Custodian

Mid Fayerweather Hall on a Saturday morning may not always present an appealing sight. Upon entering the common room, one might encounter a scene of disarray — with sections of the wall damaged, trash strewn across the floor, and chairs overturned — all remnants of a lively Friday night. Often, we fail to acknowledge the diligent efforts of those who maintain the cleanliness of our living spaces. This week, the focus is on highlighting one of the staff members responsible for upholding the tidiness of our living areas amidst our hectic schedules filled with classes, clubs, and various activities.

I was keen to engage in a conversation with custodian Kali Sargent, a familiar face I frequently observed traversing the Fayerweather Halls, where I reside, exuding a warm smile and donning her distinctive headphones. Despite encountering Sargent in the Fayerweathers on numerous occasions, I realized I knew little about her background and was eager to gain insight into her life at Dartmouth. As I ventured into the basement of the Fayerweathers, affectionately dubbed the “Fayesment,” to meet Sargent, I was welcomed by the sight of takeaway cinnamon rolls and the show “Love on the Spectrum” playing on the communal TV. Similar to many residents of the Fayerweathers, I have witnessed Sargent and other custodians utilizing this space for their morning breaks, making it an apt location to commence our interview.

Hailing from Charlestown, New Hampshire, a quaint town situated approximately 40 minutes north of campus, Kali attended the Charlestown public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Currently residing in Windsor, Vermont, a town roughly 20 minutes closer to campus than Charlestown, she joined the Dartmouth custodial team last winter following a series of part-time roles during and post high school. Contrasting her prior experience as a waitress, Sargent described custodial work as “slower-paced” and unlike anything she had undertaken before.

Having been self-reliant since the age of 15, Sargent delved into the workforce at a young age, including a stint at a charming family-owned restaurant that unfortunately closed due to the impact of COVID-19. Intrigued by Dartmouth’s Employee Educational Assistance Program, which offers employees who have completed more than a year of service the opportunity to enroll in one College class per term or receive up to $2,000 for external courses, Sargent aspires to transition into an electrician role with Dartmouth’s support.

Reflecting on the stability provided by her custodial role at Dartmouth, Sargent noted the contrast with her previous waitressing position, which entailed fluctuating shift schedules and an unpredictable number of shifts per week. As a member of the Service Employees International Union, Local 560, alongside security officers, tradespeople, and other campus workers, Sargent highlighted the additional wage security afforded by the union.

While custodial work may lack the frenetic pace of a bustling restaurant, Sargent emphasized the sense of camaraderie and stability it offers. Despite her relatively brief tenure at Dartmouth, Sargent expressed confidence in the enduring relationships she has cultivated with her colleagues.

Intrigued by the day-to-day routine of a custodian, I discovered that Sargent’s daily regimen commences similarly to mine, with a skincare routine followed by a spirited car ride to work, accompanied by music. Collaborating with fellow custodian Ryan Villeneuve, she tends to trash disposal at the Fayerweathers before enjoying their morning break in the common room. Subsequently, Sargent proceeds to clean North Fayerweather Hall before attending to the private bathrooms in South Fayerweather Hall.

Sargent noted the seasonal variations and weekend dynamics that influence the nature of her work, citing the challenges posed by winter salt residue and the increased workload during weekends characterized by post-party cleanups. While she appreciates her responsibilities at the Fayerweathers, which encompass more communal areas compared to her initial assignment at the North Park senior apartments, she misses the personalized connections forged while cleaning individual apartments.

Despite the shared spaces between students and custodians, Sargent observed a communication gap that often results in students passing by without acknowledgment. Encouraging a more interactive approach, she emphasized the common ground shared by students and custodians, underscoring the value of simple greetings and conversations.

Engaging in a dialogue with Sargent provided me with a fresh perspective on Dartmouth’s campus culture, enriching my understanding of the diverse individuals contributing to our daily experiences.