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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Behind the Scenes: One Custodian’s Life at Dartmouth

One writer sits down with Kali Sargent, a custodian who works in the Fayerweather Halls, to learn more about the people who make Dartmouth run.

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Mid Fayerweather Hall on a Saturday morning isn’t always a pretty sight. Walking into the common room, you might find it completely trashed — chunks missing from the wall, garbage scattered across the floor, chairs upended — the unfortunate result of a rowdy Friday night. We often take our living spaces for granted without appreciating the hard work of those who keep them neat and tidy. This week, I decided to spotlight one of the staff members who keeps our living spaces clean while we run from classes to clubs to Greek houses  — and everywhere in between.

I was eager to chat with custodian Kali Sargent, who I often see walking around the Fayerweather Halls — where I live — with a contagious smile and her signature headphones. Although I had seen Sargent in the Fayerweathers, I realized I didn’t know her story, and I wanted to get a sense of her life at Dartmouth. When I walked into the basement of the Fayerweathers — colloquially known as the “Fayesment” — to meet Sargent, I was greeted by the sight of takeout cinnamon rolls and Netflix’s “Love on the Spectrum” playing on the communal TV. Like many Fayerweathers residents, I’ve seen Sargent and other custodians spend their morning breaks in this very spot, so I thought it would be the most fitting place to begin our interview. 

Born and raised in Charlestown, New Hampshire, a small town about 40 minutes north of campus, Kali attended the Charlestown public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. She currently lives in Windsor, Vermont, located around 20 minutes closer to campus than Charlestown.

Prior to joining the Dartmouth custodial staff last winter, Sargent said she worked a series of part-time jobs both during high school and shortly after graduation. In contrast to her past jobs as a waitress, she said  custodial work is “slower-paced” and not “comparable to anything” she has ever done before.

“I have basically been on my own since I was 15, so I was working at a really young age,” she said. “I worked at this cute little mom-and-pop restaurant, but it closed post-COVID.”

Sargent said she was originally drawn to a custodial position at the College because of Dartmouth’s Employee Educational Assistance Program, which provides people who have worked more than one year at Dartmouth the opportunity to take either one College class per term or up to $2,000 to take classes elsewhere, according to Dartmouth’s employee policy portal. In the future, Sargent said she hopes to become an electrician with the help of Dartmouth. 

“[Dartmouth] will basically do apprenticeships and help you move towards a different career path,” Sargent said. “I think I’m going to become an electrician at some point. Once I’m in that trade, I want to go back to school [for more academic exploration].”

She added that she appreciates how the Employee Educational Assistance Program pays for her schooling. 

“I didn’t grow up with any kind of money to pay for that,” Sargent said.

Over the past year, Sargent said she also found that custodial work at Dartmouth comes with certain benefits, such as stability. While Sargent said she receives a “fixed income” at Dartmouth, she explained that her time waitressing entailed rapidly changing shift schedules and did not guarantee a certain number of shifts per week. Along with security officers, tradespeople and other campus workers, Sargent said she is also a member of the Service Employees International Union, Local 560, which provides additional wage stability.

While Sargent said custodial work is not as adrenaline-inducing as the hustle and bustle of a restaurant dinner rush, she said the job’s steadiness provides a different form of camaraderie than waitressing did. Though she has only worked for Dartmouth for about a year, Sargent said she believes the relationships she has formed with her coworkers will last well into the future. 

“We have a really good group of people in our department with a very happy-go-lucky atmosphere,” she said. “Dartmouth really does care about their employees. They respect our personal time and time off, and [my coworkers are] all very funny, good people.”

I was curious about the day-to-day experience of life as a custodian, and I found that Sargent’s daily routine begins quite similarly to my own. 

“I do my 10,000-step skincare routine,” she said. “I drive into work blaring music in my car, sing my heart out, come in and walk over [to the Fayerweathers] with [fellow custodian] Ryan Villeneuve from the parking lot.”

Once she and Villeneuve arrive at the Fayerweathers, the two “take care of the trash” and then have their morning break, where they sit in the common room and chat. According to Sargent, she then cleans North Fayerweather Hall, before moving on to the private bathrooms in South Fayerweather Hall. 

While this is a typical day for Sargent, the nature of the work changes with the seasons and the time of the week.

“The winter is a pain with all the salt … it tracks everywhere and there’s nothing anyone can do about it,” Sargent said. “It’s [also] way busier on the weekends and you have a lot more party messes.”

Sargent said the job also differs depending on building assignments. When she started working at Dartmouth, Sargent was initially assigned to the North Park senior apartments. She said she felt that cleaning individual apartments allowed her to develop more genuine connections with the students who lived there. Although Sargent said she enjoys cleaning the Fayerweathers — which involves more common areas than the North Park assignment —  she said she misses the opportunity to connect with students.

Although students and College employees often occupy the same spaces, many students pass the custodians cleaning their residence halls without giving any greeting, Sargent said. While she attributed this to a communication barrier rather than disrespect, she pointed out that students likely have more in common with some custodians than they might think. 

“It’s really important to understand, especially for [custodians like Ryan and me] … we’re the same age group as you guys,” Sargent said. “We understand that [students are] busy. But it’s nice to say hello, especially when you see people every day. … Talk to your custodian because they’re probably pretty funny.”

Like many Dartmouth students, I frequently find myself overscheduled, leading me to strut laser-focused from place to place with my airpods in. But taking the time to talk to Sargent added so much to my day, giving me a new understanding of the moving parts of Dartmouth’s campus culture.