Let’s clean up our act: What our dirty dishes leave behind

“Plates left in the Commons.” Again. A faculty member sends out a What’s Happening email with an attached photo of abandoned dishes and utensils and a short message about how “we’re better than this.” This email isn’t unique; there have been many like it before. Still, it presents a worthwhile occasion for reflection. What does it mean that we still have to be reminded to clear our dishes?

The plates alone are a problem. That we continue to assume it’s the kitchen staff’s responsibility to clear our dirty dishes is disrespectful, not to mention embarrassing. But are the plates an isolated pattern, or are they emblematic of a larger attitude of entitlement and disrespect? 

We can point to instances all over the Upper School where we are not adequately appreciative and respectful of the facilities and the people who make our experiences enriching and enjoyable. When we students take advantage of teachers who want to maintain a chill classroom environment by mocking them or distracting from the lesson, for example, we are exhibiting the same attitude. By senior year we’ve all been in at least one class, be it in Spanish, economics, or another group, where we’ve seen the problem.

At the core of this behavior is the assumption that faculty and staff are merely service providers and that nice facilities are simply bought with tuition dollars. But if we think about the adults in our community in such a transactional way, we inhibit ourselves from creating the personal relationships that can deepen our learning and enhance our experience of class. The same goes for the facilities: why not take pride in the appearance of our school so that we can get more enjoyment out of the building where we spend several hours every day?

The key is mutual responsibility. We shouldn’t show up to school assuming teachers and staff will cater to us. Just as we expect teachers to be thoughtful about creating a comfortable, productive learning environment, we can cooperate by being thoughtful about how we respect our faculty and space. Let’s strive to build respectful relationships with our teachers and hold ourselves accountable for the cleanliness of our facilities. 

The frustrating thing about the dishes in the Commons is that they are such low-hanging fruit. Taking plates and bowls back to the kitchen is so easy, and it makes a meaningful difference to the kitchen staff and to the community aesthetics. This spring, let’s make a significant difference in the atmosphere of our shared spaces.

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