Whether it be during the daily bustle or dwindling nighttime, 183 custodians work to ensure that both cleanliness and safety are continuously maintained throughout the entire UC Davis campus.
From classrooms and lecture halls to laboratories and offices, the daily experience of custodians drastically differs based upon their stationed location.
“Every day is different for custodians depending on where they work,” said Remedios Sarabias, principal supervisor of Custodial Services.
Each custodian is stationed at one of the nine different cores on campus, and according to Sarabias, the average custodian has worked in his or her core for anywhere from five to 10 years, some staying in the same building for nearly 20.
Along with Sarabias, Bill Rumley, the director of Custodial Services, pointed out the perseverance and steadfast dedication that custodians demonstrate on a daily basis.
“They are really good, hardworking people and it’s much more than just vacuuming and cleaning,” Rumley said. “The custodians make the environment friendly and they are a central part of this campus.”
Walking into a custodial staff meeting, the presence of camaraderie and friendship was inherently apparent in the room.
Before heading off to their night shift from 5 p.m. to 1:30 in the morning, the custodians of core five gathered with cookies and coffee in a Tupper Hall conference room to discuss the key to successful customer service.
“It is important to work in a place with a nice environment. You don’t want to work in a place where everyone is grumpy and no one smiles,” said Shafeena Shah, a custodian currently working in core five.
Starting off as a floater, Shah found it extremely challenging to work from building to building without a routine schedule. Now a member of core five, Shah enjoys having a familiar, yet flexible schedule and finds that it is much less tedious.
“You don’t get bored. I do the second floor in Tupper Hall and it is big enough so there is something different to do every day,” Shah said. “You can work yourself around and do different things so you don’t get bored.”
Along with the variation in work, Shah repeatedly stressed the overall togetherness of core five.
“It is a nice experience being pregnant and working with people that really care and always offer their help,” Shah said.
Recently promoted as the assistant supervisor of core five, Rajesh Kumar said that they continually hold potlucks to celebrate birthdays each month, to appreciate the hard work of the custodians.
“It is a recognition day for us and we in core five do that every month just to be together,” Kumar said. “We here in core five always say that we are a small family.”
After working in another core on campus, Janet Tonel, a custodian who currently works in core five, said she too realized just how tight-knit the group was.
While reflecting on her overall experience, Tonel explained the drastic differences between the two cores she experienced.
“There was a lot of drama in there, jealousy. I came here [to core five] first when I got hired and moved over to another core after three or four years. The environment here is different,” Tonel said. “There is no communication there.”
The four custodians from core five share a similar sentiment regarding the positive, family-oriented atmosphere of their own core, and Donna Chachere, a custodian of 12 years who is also referred to as “Mama Donna,” was quick to chime in.
“Oh this is a wonderful core. One other thing is that we always help each other,” Chachere said. “Now, Shafeena is going to have a lovely baby, so we are always helping her. We communicate very well.”
Although the custodians of core five said they enjoy working with each other, they face challenges in regard to everyday responsibilities and tasks.
Each custodian recalled some of their individual experiences with the customers who work in the offices, laboratories and departments across campus.
“You know sometimes it is hard to please them. Even though you do everything, still they are going to complain,” Tonel said. “Something is missing, then they are going to blame you. It’s always the custodian. Sometimes, they are very dismissive.”
Additionally, Shah reflected on some experiences in which she felt that customers have looked down on her.
Although some customers have challenged the work of the custodians, several of the custodians mutually agreed upon how appreciative they feel when recognized.
“One of my favorite moments is when some of the customers tell you things like they have been here for 12 years and that they see the difference when you came here,” Tonel said.
Bimal Karan, a member of core two who has been working on campus for eight years, recalled a time in which a customer wrote a letter of appreciation on behalf of his work.
“Three months ago, a professor sent a nice letter to the Director, and that was one of the most important things, that somebody recognizes while you are as a custodian,” Karan said. “People recognize you, but you don’t see them. It was very nice.”
Due to the fact that the custodians are also responsible in ensuring the safety of the campus, constant pressure is placed upon their shoulders.
According to Kumar, custodians hold the master key and would be the first contact if something were to go awry.
“We have more responsibility than the police because custodians are in the building for 24 hours, and we have the responsibility of keeping those buildings safe more than anybody else,” Kumar said.
After being called in to work on a weekend, Faustin Rusanganwa, a custodian of core five, was shocked to find a group of people breaking into a building.
As Rusanganwa recollected his memories of the catastrophic event, he recalled that shards of glass covered every nook and cranny of the building. For hours upon hours, Rusanganwa remained in the building cleaning the floors, keyboards, chairs and remaining glass.
“I am telling you it brought back memories from my life. I am from Rwanda and it reminded me of war in my country. It was exactly the same thing,” Rusanganwa said. “It was a bad memory even today, and when I stepped on the glass I was injured. I don’t understand why people do that. It was scary just to look at. It was like a war zone.”
Ever since starting in 1988, Rusanganwa has witnessed the increasing expansion of UC Davis for 26 years. Rusanganwa believes that the University will continue to grow and recognizes that this change is beautiful.
“When I first started working here, the campus was really small. We can see how it has been a success,” Rusanganwa said. “All those buildings, those parking structures were not here and we are just seeing the University growing.”
Although Rusanganwa is thankful to have his job for his family, he frequently feels unconnected and disassociated from the rest of the University.
When the custodians of core five arrive for their shifts at 5 p.m., the majority of departments and offices begin to close.
Since the payroll office closes before their shifts, custodians must purchase parking permits. Shah chuckled as she spoke of a time in which she received two tickets in the same spot in a parking lot.
“We don’t have a connection at all with the campus. When we are here, everyone has already left,” Rusanganwa said. “Sometimes on campus they have a party, but us — we don’t have any of this. We don’t even have a connection with Human Resources. You go there and come back, you’ll have a ticket.”
As the University continues to grow, Rusanganwa believes that custodians should be included more on campus.
“Look at how much the University has grown. We need to grow,” Rusanganwa said. “I think I should get sauce on my gravy.”
While there are some aspects Rusanganwa believes are in need of change, he said that he is pleased to work here and that it is truly one of the best places to be.
“A custodian’s life is really hard. You have got to go through a lot. But I love my work. There are some good days and there are some bad days,” Kumar said. “We have to go through customer complaints and we have to handle some dirty stuff. But no complaints.”
LUJAIN AL-SALEH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Rousseau Gleitsman.