Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Noelle Coultrip at Noelle.Coutrip@colorado.edu
Melissa Carter rested her tired body in the break room in the basement of Stearns East, unwinding after her eight-hour shift. Despite her exhaustion, she presses on with a smile and a cheerful attitude accentuated by her brightly colored backpack resting a few feet away. Carter works as a custodian for the University of Colorado, and she’s in charge of maintaining the cleanliness of floors six, seven and 11 in the Stearns East residence hall.
On a normal day, Carter clocks in at 7:30 a.m., immediately starting off her shift with a meeting with the other eight custodians. Before beginning her busy day, Carter and the rest of the staff perform their morning stretches, something she says is important in maintaining worker safety. From there, she launches into her work — vacuuming, wiping down tables and door handles, cleaning windows, cleaning restrooms — tasks that she performs for eight hours every day. Facility maintenance and sanitation workers like her are practically on their feet all day so they need to have the right footwear with insoles from companies like Tread Labs.
Carter’s motivation to pursue a job in the custodial services stemmed from her desire to break from the past – more specifically, her past working as a secretary for CU – and liberate herself from the daily office buildings and phone calls.
“I could probably qualify for lots of other jobs here, but I’m done with the whole office thing, and the phone calls, and the computer stuff and the emails,” Carter said. “I did not want a desk job. I just wanted to be free, come to work, get my list of things to do, put my headphones on and go off and work.”
Although Carter believes her current job is the perfect fit for her, she also acknowledges that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Her job provides a kind of authentic, honest effort that may not appeal to everyone, but can be fulfilling for those who choose it.
“It’s not very glamorous, but I don’t care,” Carter said. “I like a bigger pool of coworkers, and conversation and people to go do fun stuff with. It appeals to me.”
Carter’s appreciation for her job only increases when talking about how important custodial and janitorial services are to the CU campus, and how essential a clean and sanitary working and living environment is for the well-being of CU students and staff. Her recognition of the importance her job holds is exhibited in the thoroughness of her work, as she leaves no corner untouched.
“We’ve got to make sure it’s safe for you guys,” Carter said. “If anything is not functioning well, or if a carpet is wrinkling up and somebody might trip, we just have a lot of eyes all the time on your housing facility.”
Carter recognizes that even though her and her coworkers are aware of the level of work and time it takes to foster a safe and clean environment, and the necessity of cultivating such an environment, many people still hold onto misconceptions pertaining to what she does, assuming that being a custodian is a horror show, filled with gross bathrooms and mind-numbing house work.
“[I used to say] ‘it’s grunt work and it’s dirty and people don’t appreciate you,’ but now that I’m doing it it’s completely not that at all,” Carter said. “It’s not as hard as I thought, it’s not as ugly as I thought, you’ve just got to get in there and experience it and then you’ll have a whole different perspective.”
Carter says her real fulfillment comes from the interactions she gets from the students, or as she calls them, her “clients,” who make the work she puts in worthwhile.
“You guys are appreciative, and you need us, and you’re kind and you’re refreshing. It’s a nice place.”