Crystal Hayes wants you to take out your trash
A conversation with a UD custodian of three decades
Crystal Hayes couldn’t possibly tell you how many greasy pizza boxes or empty containers of macaroni and cheese she’s whisked away during her 32-year tenure cleaning UD’s residence halls and apartment buildings. Those aren’t the moments that resonate. Here, an all-star custodian offers a glimpse at the ones that do — good, bad and messy.
When you started at UD, your mother, two aunts, uncle and cousin also worked in the custodial unit. What’s it like clocking in with family? When we worked side-by-side, my mom was no longer my mom, but my best friend. When she retired 17 years ago, it was extremely hard. But we kept up our lunchtime walks around campus, even after she left. 10,000 steps a day.
Best spot to walk at UD when you need a moment of peace? Laird campus. It has the best [osage orange] trees.
What do people get wrong about your job? It is so much more than cleaning. When I scrub a stovetop, I’m potentially keeping a grease fire from breaking out. Custodians are the first line of defense. We keep kids safe.
Do you have one especially memorable example? When I worked at Rodney, I noticed the bagged vomit that a student was putting into the trash chute repeatedly. I suspected bulimia, and I filed the report that led to her getting help. Then, because the University really followed up, I noticed the flyers popping up with information for other students who might be struggling. It’s a great feeling being able to help — you want to protect these kids.
Trash can tell you much about an individual, but what does it tell you about how this demographic as a whole has changed over time? When I started, I noticed all the beer cans, but I think students are drinking a lot less now. I see them studying more.
And how have 18-to-22 year olds stayed the same? These kids have been wearing shorts and flip flops in the wintertime ever since I arrived, even in the snow.
Weirdest thing someone has snuck into a dorm? A hamster.
Any other mischief you’ve had to deal with? The students pull pranks on one another — toothpaste on doorknobs, buckets of water over a door frame. I think I still have a picture of the time a couch ended up in an elevator. In Dickerson, students once carried the washer and dryer from the basement laundry room to the third floor.
So many places require the work you do. Why spend three decades at UD? I’ll give you one example: Covid. When it first happened, I felt terrified. But the University made sure I had everything I needed to be comfortable and safe. The higher ups really care.
You have perhaps the most unfiltered view — What’s your impression of the Blue Hen student body? They say thank you, which is very nice. A few don’t know how to turn on a vacuum when they arrive, but they appreciate it when you show them.
How much of your job is relationship building? All of it. If you’re cleaning up after a pipe bursts and soaks through a student’s belongings, that student needs to hear it’s going to be okay. For the kids having a hard time away from home, holding open a door or simply listening as they worry about a test can make a big difference. I’ve stayed in touch with some students after they graduate — it is so nice to see who they become. A couple of years ago, at my tax lady’s office, I ran into a student whose room I cleaned 17 years ago. I didn’t recognize her at first — she is a grown woman now with a husband and children — but she remembered me. That is rewarding.
Any advice for Blue Hens, past or present? Take out your trash.