Since I first set foot at Wesleyan, I’ve been showered with many rights and privileges that I am more aware of than ever before, and, to a degree, I’ve come to feel entitled to these rights and privileges. In our position as students, we sometimes grow blind to the context of the wider world. But when I remember where I came from before Wesleyan, I am jolted back and reminded of how important it is not to take all of these privileges and rights for granted.
Growing up in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, I had no rights in a country with black leadership. The discrimination was not against my skin color, but rather the poverty I had been born into. My family and community were denied the right to shelter, the right to education, and the right to be heard. There was no possibility of eating in a restaurant with middle class or wealthy citizens. I could not even ride in the same bus with them, and I was forbidden from having any contact with their children. My friends and family had our own world that was far away from theirs. My world was street survival and hustling—just trying to get through the day, dodging bullets and gang violence, figuring out how to keep the family alive and together.
In our world, we tapped the city lines and then had electricity without paying bills. We had small business without government permits. It was a free world where you could smoke pot without the fear of police arrest. In short, my world was known as DIY: do it yourself. We knew no one would do anything for us, least of all the government.
Now, here I am in the present. I’m at Wesleyan, in a world of “don’t worry, everything will be taken care of.” In this world, we share classrooms and living space with people from all backgrounds. The Wesleyan world is filled with more than enough food and never an excuse to go hungry. We even practice hunger striking sometimes, just to make our bodies slim. In the Wesleyan world, we talk about taking care of the environment, and yet we use lots of water during our showers and when we do our laundry. We talk about saving energy, but we leave our lights on and are always charging our laptops, phones, and other electronic devices.
At Wesleyan, we sympathize with custodians, but behind their backs we throw beer bottles and soda cans everywhere. On the weekend nights, you’ll see the campus trashed with debris, but in the morning when we sleepily arise and head to Usdan for our 11 a.m. brunch, the trash has disappeared. The custodians have come at sunrise to keep the grounds pristine and bucolic. Here we are living in what French philosopher Michel Foucault would quickly call a “Utopian world.” I’m ready to graduate for many reasons, but part of me is also scared, as I know that the Wesleyan world will not exist for me on the outside.
Here at Wesleyan, we talk of caring so much about social justice. Do our actions resemble our words? It seems that we care about our janitors, as there is a petition circulating that accuses the administration of not doing its part to support the staff. I full-heartedly support the notion that Wesleyan should treat all employees with respect and dignity. It’s good to keep the administration on its toes.
However, are we not the ones who misuse facilities, especially when we are drunk or litter, and still expect the people we are fighting for to come to clean our mess? Are we not the ones who cook in the kitchen and expect someone to come and clean our dishes after we leave them for a week?
If all of this is fact, then we need to reexamine the situation. Let’s show the administration how much we care, and, through our collective action, demonstrate that it must follow our example. For us to move forward, we must accept that we are the privileged intellectual elite. To complement the petition addressing the administration, let’s address ourselves. Let’s create a petition stating, “I sign up to be mindful of what I’m doing and to never to add more unnecessary work for our beloved custodians.” I promise to be the first one to sign.