“We Can and Must Do Better”

It’s a refrain we’ve heard time and time again. Almost seasonally, students receive reminders to clean up after ourselves each time a campus space is left in dramatic disarray. Whether it be food waste strewn across Greener Tent in 2021, greenboxes left on the Great Lawn, or memorably, a milk spill left unaddressed in the Den in 2019, these incidents are disappointingly regular. But beyond email admonitions, a lack of care towards our campus spaces reflects more than an act of random carelessness on a Saturday night—instead, these behaviours reveal attitudes towards community care, class, and etiquette on campus that fall short

Recently, the OWHL closed group study rooms, citing the disorder students left rooms in as their primary motivation. Camille Torres Hoven, Director of the OWHL, wrote: When you do not [clean up after yourselves], you are being disrespectful to our cleaning team, the library team, and the library itself.” Indeed, Torres Hoven’s email highlights central aspects of our conversation around what it means to inhabit shared spaces on campus, and who we affect when we fail to do so mindfully. 

For many students, Andover is their first time away from home. Coming from a host of varied backgrounds, students at Andover may have had different expectations of how to interact with spaces around them. Some students, for instance, may not have needed to clean up after themselves at home, whereas others may have cared not only for themselves but a number of family members as well. These differences may in part explain, but certainly do not excuse, contrasting behaviour when taking care of common spaces.

But students from all backgrounds should recognize that, for instance, bringing your plate to the Paresky Commons conveyer belt and picking up after yourself, is common decency. To ignore these expectations is to disrespect not only your fellow students, but staff and custodial workers as well. Blatantly leaving unfinished food and used cutlery on Commons tables, trashing the library, and leaving waste strewn at event venues reflects a truly disappointing degree of entitlement and carelessness. At a school like Andover, these behaviours also perpetuate problematic dynamics that are especially egregious on account of Andover’s status as a historically elite institution.

As students in a highly intensive environment, we all cut corners sometimes. We ignore a sloppy sentence in an essay, forget to take out our dorm’s Off-Cycle trash, or skim a late-night reading. Sometimes, we let these things slip through the cracks. Look around—in the room you’re reading this article, most if not all the people you see (yourself included) have cut a corner when it comes to looking after common spaces. We’re human, and we make mistakes; this is bound to happen, no matter how many steps we take towards a more well-adjusted and equitable society. 

But larger disruptions to these communal spaces are more egregious. Often the result of a few actors, these behaviours put the burden of cleaning and bearing consequences on a greater majority. And, given the long track record of similar messes at Andover, we can conclude that these actions are not singular occurrences from one malicious actor, but rather, learned behaviours passed through student culture for years and years. 

The issue, then, is to shift the way we think about communal spaces here at Andover. While we might not have all made dramatic messes that warrant all-school emails, we have let things fall through the cracks. Our responsibility as students is to step up and take responsibility, even if we have not made a mistake. Many messes may be caused by a few people, but even more are the result of small, careless errors that accumulate into larger messes. So dust the crumbs off your table after you’ve finished eating, or pick up a stray cup on your way to the conveyor belt. Make sure your spaces look the same (if not better) after you’ve left. Leave no trace. Don’t assume someone else will clean up after you. Remind your friends to pick up a napkin they left behind or a candy wrapper that fell out of their pocket, and let yourself be reminded in turn. Return your favors. In the end, acknowledge that we make mistakes, but amend them by going the extra mile—if we do it right, someone else will be doing the same for you.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, Vol. CXLV