How to Learn Invisible Labor? Get On Your Knees.

Thomas Rochon, president of Ithaca College in upstate New York, wrote this essay in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s a thoughtful rumination on his experiences working with the school’s maintenance and grounds crews. He spent only three days with them, but that’s a lot more than most (any?) other college presidents would do. His brief stint weeding flowerbeds and cleaning refrigerators taught him that labors of maintenance are even more important than he already knew, while at the same time they are generally overlooked. I wonder what else he might have learned if he had worked with the people who take out the trash?

Rochon’s effort reminds me of John Coleman’s. Coleman was president of Haverford College in the early 1970s when he took a two-month sabbatical to work as a ditch-digger, a short-order cook, and a “garbage man” (his term, not mine). He describes his experiences in the book Blue-Collar Journal.