USF Janitor Reflects on Job and Limited Interactions with Students

Every weekday afternoon  around one o’clock, Gil, one of USF’s janitors, retreats to one of the university’s residence hall lounges. Once settled, he takes his lunch and delves into a work of world-class fiction.

Today he is reading Spanish literature, a work penned by the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa.  By the deep yellowing of the paperback’s acidic pages, it is apparent he had been reading Llosa long before the author was awarded the 2010 Nobel prize for literature earlier this month.

USF is home to many individuals who make for rather interesting profiles: students with an unusual talent, professors with an exceptional record of public service or authorship, etc.

Signs close off a UC men’s restroom as a janitor cleans the inside. (Cass Krughoff/Foghorn)

However, out of the limelight lies a largely untapped trove of personal experiences few students, teachers or administrators have given little thought to.  Janitors, food service workers and groundskeepers may not be directly tied to the academic and social life of the university, but their labor is just as vital to its fabric as the work of any other individual at USF.

Gil, whose real identity has been withheld at his request, is a building maintenance worker. His territory includes one of the residence halls on the main campus as well as a separate hall housing a set of classrooms.

An employee of a janitorial company contracted by USF, he mainly works the day shift, traversing the floors of his beat daily, tending to bathrooms, hallways and trash bins. He maintains a rigid schedule: he is allowed two fifteen minute breaks throughout the day, not counting the half-hour he sets aside for himself for lunch.  A native of Latin America, Gil arrived in the United States some three decades ago and has been working at USF “even before you [students] were born,” he said.

“I get up at 5:00 a.m. most mornings to get here [from his home more than 30 miles away],” he said. “I don’t mind the commute anymore; I’m used to the routine”.

He still yearns, though, for the days when getting to work was less timely affair, as before, when he lived in the city no more recently than six years ago: “When I first came, living in San Francisco was reasonable.”

In the mid-afternoon, Gil finishes his work for the day.

“How many times have you greeted me in the hallways over the semester?” he asked.

“I’ve always understood that everyone here is more or less involved in their work,” he observed, “and so am I. The students are in here studying, the professors are busy teaching and preparing for classes. And, of course, I have my own work to keep me busy.” Gil was quick to point out he was not blaming anyone for being busy. “The students, teachers and I don’t really get to interact a lot because we’re all focused on our work” he said.

“Respect? Yes, I feel very respected,” he said, resting on his mop handle. While conversation with students is rare, Gil said very few people ignore him outright in the hallways. Acknowledgement in the form of simple greetings is common, and on a few occasions, the janitor has developed a friendly rapport with some the professors who have had offices in his assigned area for several years.

“Some people think if you can’t speak English [English is not Gil’s first language], and you are doing janitor work, then you must be uneducated.” he said. Gil, who enjoys reading literature in his leisure time, particularly during lunch, and says he likes to keep his mind sharp. “Many people don’t see that side of me when they look at me.”

Gil said one of the former professors was “pedantic”: “He would never say a word to me, not even “hello” or “good evening”, and always kept his head down when he passed by. But he was quick to complain to the management every time he found something wrong with my work,” he said.

Today, Gil said a few professors routinely store in their own offices many items from classrooms already secured by One-Card access, which he suggested pointed to a fear of losing class equipment to unscrupulous maintenance workers.

“What do they think I’m going to take?” he remarked, “What are they afraid of?”

Emptying out a final load of recyclables, Gil set off to the basement of Hayes-Healy residence hall to check out for the day. “All in all, the students and teachers are good-mannered , friendly” he said, “I really don’t have many issues with them.”

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain

News Editor: Ericka Montes

3 thoughts on “USF Janitor Reflects on Job and Limited Interactions with Students

  1. It’s sad that some people look down on janitors and cleaners as people who do ‘dirty’ jobs, when in fact they help us in a large number of ways. Sometimes, they are underpaid and yet they still get the job done. Although we can’t do much about their financial situation, it’s good that Gil appreciates even a simple nod as a greeting. All cheers to those who do the ‘dirty’ jobs! 🙂

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