The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

ABEL/HUSSAIN: Put the cart back, Vanderbilt

We have been presented with all of the tools in the world to treat others with kindness. Let’s start with how we treat our workers.
Emery Little
Do you put the shopping cart back when you go to the grocery store? (Hustler Communications/Emery Little)

To return the shopping cart is the objectively right action to take. However, to leave the shopping cart is convenient and easy. There are no rules surrounding whether or not you have to put the cart back, and it is not illegal to abandon it. The cart dilemma therefore becomes the ultimate litmus test for a person’s character.

We are all taught the idea of character in elementary school. We learn to be a good person when our parents and teachers are watching and when they are not. We learn to share, comfort friends who are sad, use please and thank you and treat others the way we want to be treated.

As we grow up, we replace lessons on character with lessons in calculus and chemistry. We learn how to study hard, get ready for college and find jobs and careers. It’s easy to lose sight of the lessons we learned as young children. 

From blaming dining workers for long lines at Rand to leaving wrappers and coffee cups on tables around campus, many Vandy students lack common courtesy. Whether it’s because we are in a rush to get to our next class, internship or social gathering, it is easy to overlook how we treat our workers. Skipping simple formalities, like saying “hello” and “thank you,” when interacting with servers, custodial staff and employees comes off as arrogant. How we treat our environment and the people around us affects the way our community views us and we shouldn’t take their opinions of our student community lightly. 

So, why the condescension toward those who prepare our food, clean our classrooms and keep us safe?


It starts with us 

Disrespect towards staff and workers at elite universities is part of its long tradition of maligning the working class, a way of enforcing “stay in your place.” Incidents of poor behavior towards our staff illustrate a kind of inequity that continues to exist in academia despite the influence of progressive thinking about issues of socioeconomic class and cultural hierarchies. So, let’s work on moving toward incorporating the ideas that we so often passionately defend in our classes to the people around us. 


In our dining halls 

We know that trying to run from your dorm to the dining halls and back in the ten minutes between Zoom classes is tough; we’ve all been there. But, it doesn’t excuse a lack of manners. It doesn’t excuse getting worked up when there is a line and blaming it on the dining hall workers. Just because you think the place you have to be is more important than your manners doesn’t make it true. 

Take time out of your day to learn the name of the person who hands you your daily Rand cookie or listens to you ask for more vegetables in your salad than the little container can handle. Show compassion to the workers who let you take an extra side and hand you an extra handful of ketchup packets. 

Greeting a dining worker by name is not difficult. It’s a matter of asking a simple, “What’s your name?” or looking at the large and very legible name tag that even I can read through my mask-induced fogged glasses. If you can do it for your classmates, you can do it for your dining workers. 

While you’re at it, make sure to thank them for helping you. Use “please” and “thank you” when you ask for something. Don’t get frustrated when they ask you to repeat something. And don’t blame them when you don’t like the taste of something. It isn’t their fault. If you want to complain about dining, send Dining Administration a polite email. Don’t place the blame on the people who don’t deserve it. 


In our dorms and residences

Waking up from a long night to take a shower takes a lot of energy. By the time you gather all of your toiletries, grab your towel, put on your mask and lumber out of your room half-awake, making it to the warmth of the shower might be a dying hope. Getting there without passing out can be considered a heroic feat. But the achievement of getting there goes totally down the drain when you move the shower curtain and are greeted by someone’s dinner from the previous night. Or a tangled up ball of long hair plastered to the side of the shower wall. Imagine being the person that has to clean that up. Imagine being the person who has to deal with sinks covered in food after dish-washing.

I think we learned from living in the dorms that no one is your mom. No one is going to do your laundry or cook for you. In the same vein, no one should have to clean up after you. When you enter a shared space, make sure to clean up after yourself. If you happen to enter that shared space when the janitorial staff is cleaning it, do not awkwardly stand there. That’s another human being in front of you, probably cleaning up a mess that you or your friends made. Don’t get angry when the security guard asks to see your ID. They are doing their job, and keeping you safe. Build a rapport with them. If you’re nice enough to talk to them, they might just recognize you and not ask for your ID.  Say good morning, say thank you. They deserve it too.


In our community

This concept of cleaning up after yourself should be carried with us. When we are eating at a local restaurant in Hillsboro or grabbing groceries from CVS, we represent the university. When we are viewed, we are “Vandy students.” The way you act in public reflects on all of us. We share the space we inhabit with people from all walks of life. They don’t deserve to be treated worse or better based on who they are. By ensuring that you are interacting with the community respectfully, you reflect back positively as representatives of the university. 

Much like the shopping cart question, you are not required to treat workers with respect. You are not obligated to say “good morning,” to a service worker in your dorm hallway or thank the worker who put together your Randwich. But you should. 

You have been presented with all of the tools in the world to treat others with kindness. We are fortunate to have food on our plates every day, clean and safe facilities to sleep in at night and recreational opportunities provided for our enjoyment. It is us who are going to go out into the world and change it for the better. Let’s start right here with how we treat our workers. 

So, Vanderbilt, do the right thing and put the shopping cart back. 

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About the Contributors
Zoe Abel
Zoe Abel, Former Opinion Editor
Zoe Abel (‘24) is from Washington, D.C., and is a student in the College of Arts and Science. She is majoring in medicine, health and society and child development with minors in biology and French on the pre-med track. In her free time, Zoe loves distance running, good music, coffee and telling terrible dad jokes. She is also an avid Oxford comma advocate. You can reach her at [email protected].  
Emery Little
Emery Little, Former Social Media Director
Emery Little (‘22) is from Birmingham, AL. She majored in communication of science and technology and Spanish. In her free time, she loves to design graphics, follow tech news and run her photography business. She can be reached at [email protected].

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