Custodian keeps Yale looking good

It may not have any buildings named after it, but Laticia Hyman’s family has a long history at Yale.

Her mother was a University telecommunications operator for over 25 years, and her aunt was an employee for 40 years before retiring. Her cousin is currently a custodian on Old Campus, her sister is a guard at the Yale University Art Gallery, and Hyman herself is the senior custodian for Davenport and Pierson colleges.

“I’ve always known about Yale, ever since I was a child,” said Hyman, a New Haven native. “I would go to my mom’s job quite often.”

Hyman, now 34, has been working at the University for 15 years. She started in the dining halls in high school but switched to custodial work 10 years ago, and has since held jobs cleaning buildings from Phelps Gate to 155 Whitney Avenue.

While Hyman said she takes pride in providing a necessary service for the community, she is tired of having her work go unappreciated, and she longs to leave maintenance work to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

Finger paint and condoms

Hyman spends much of her day cleaning the bathrooms and hallways in Davenport entryways A, B, C and E, often tying a designer-logo scarf around her hair to keep it clean as she works. Her job brings her into close contact with students, and while she said they are usually friendly and polite in person, their antics still amaze her after over a decade at Yale.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’” she said. “When I go into the entryways day to day, I never know what I’m going to come across, so I brace myself.”

Hyman said she has seen countless students locked out of their dorms after forgetting their keycards, “look[ing] so sad, like they’ve lost their best friends.” She laughed as she remembered one girl who got stuck outside her entryway in only a towel. Over the summer, she walked into the Pierson Buttery to find a boy’s head peeking over the couch — and two sets of feet sticking off the end. She left without investigating further, but later found condoms “thrown around on the floor.”

While most of the students’ more ridiculous behavior is harmless, Hyman said, sometimes it is simply inconsiderate. She remembered one time she had to wash a room covered in finger paint, and said she often scrubs a dirty bathroom clean only to come back the next day and find it “10 times worse.”

The most frustrating part of her job, Hyman said, is not the puke-covered bathrooms or overflowing toilets, but the disregard many people show for the work she puts into cleaning it all up.

“Some are mindful of it, but for the majority, they’re not respectful at all,” she said. “They really don’t care.”

Director of Custodial Services Robert Young said that when he first came to Yale, he was surprised by how generally considerate the students at the University are of his employees’ work. But, he added, while good custodial work keeps the colleges looking the way they should, and custodians appreciate when people notice, recognition should not be necessary.

Students in the entryways Hyman cleans said they often see her when they are showering or brushing their teeth, and while many said she seems “sweet,” most admitted they do not know much about her. Chris Andrews ’09 said he had never thought before about the work she does, but that he will try to be more conscious of it in the future.

Enjoying the fruits of a struggle

Hyman moved from the administrative building at 155 Whitney to Davenport and Pierson a year ago, and while she said she likes cleaning offices “a lot more” than residential colleges, her new job involves more responsibility and a higher pay grade. As senior custodian, Hyman keeps the supply closets stocked and makes sure someone is covering for the people who are out — in addition to fulfilling her regular duties of keeping the entryways clean.

Linda Gibson, a custodial worker in Pierson College who called Hyman “my buddy,” said her supervisor is “a very good leader,” known for her affinity for the Pac-Man arcade game in the Pierson Buttery. The Davenport-Pierson custodial workers often relax in the Buttery on their morning break, where they read the newspaper, watch TV, or talk about their families.

Access to video games is one perk of the job, but Hyman said there are more substantial advantages to working at the University as well. She said Yale provides its employees with benefits like medical insurance, a homebuyer program and a 401K option to save for retirement.

Bob Proto, president of the Local 35 union — which represents Yale’s dining hall, custodial and maintenance workers, among other service employees — said these benefits represent years of back-and-forth negotiations between the University and union representatives, which many current employees don’t realize.

“Yale didn’t wake up one morning deciding to give good benefits,” he said. “The union had to struggle.”

Hyman said Yale’s favorable benefits for employees — especially the flexible health plan — make it “a great place to raise a family.” Although Hyman has no children, family has been very much on her mind since she became engaged to her high school sweetheart several months ago.

The couple broke up after high school and spent many years apart in their mid-20s, but her now-fiance’s grandmother never stopped asking her grandson about Hyman, and Hyman said she finally picked up the phone to call him after she found herself missing him at a family reunion down South.

“The rest,” she said, “is history.”

The couple plans to wed on August 4 — a year to the day after he popped the question.

Moving on

At this point, Hyman has been working at Yale for almost half her life, but she does not plan to stay here much longer. Despite the benefits she has accumulated over the years, she said, she wants to get a job where she can get more recognition for helping people.

Davenport Building Supervisor Rob Daly said Hyman has developed a “full understanding of her job” as senior custodian, and he is particularly impressed by her patience with students who make her job more difficult by leaving trash in the entryway and dishes in the sink. Daly said custodians fulfill an important function by providing “as clean, safe, and sanitary an environment as possible,” even though their contribution to the community often goes overlooked.

While Hyman said she finds a certain satisfaction in making sure students have a tidy and hygienic place to live, she has wanted to enter the medical profession ever since she was young. While she was growing up, she went through phases when she wanted to be a veterinarian and then a child psychologist.

“I’ve just always felt I had that urge to serve people and help people,” she said. “What better way to do it?”

Although she went to a two-year community college after high school — simultaneously holding down a part-time job at Yale — Hyman said she hopes to someday attend a four-year institution and earn certification to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. Last June, she received certification as a nurse’s assistant, and she is currently looking for a job.

For now, though, she will continue cleaning up spilled coffee and sinks crusted with toothpaste from 7:00 to 3:30, Monday through Friday. Despite their frequent inconsiderateness, Hyman said, she sympathizes with the students at Yale, who are overworked and away from their families, because like all young adults learning to live on their own, “I was once where you guys were.”

“It’s a way to pay the bills, and at times this job can be a bit much,” she said. “But for the most part, we’re all just here to provide a service, and that’s what we do.”

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