May 11, 2005: On the Campus
Maid in Princeton
By Christian R. Burset ’07
A student’s parents are coming to visit. As he recycles old Snapple bottles and returns unwashed plates to the dining hall, the student realizes he doesn’t have a vacuum — or a broom, disinfectant, and other items needed to paint his dorm as a picture of cleanliness and responsibility. But with a paper due in two hours and a Sox game to watch after that, his best hope for impressing Mom and Dad might be to misplace his room key for the weekend.
Enter DormAid, a dorm-cleaning service that a Princeton freshman and his brother at Harvard hope to introduce to the University later this year. The service is already available at Boston and Harvard universities, where students can schedule cleaning appointments online. According to DormAid.com, a one-time cleaning for a single-occupant room at Harvard costs $22.99, with the cost rising to just over $100 for a four-person suite with a bathroom.
DormAid describes its services as a necessity for college students whose busy schedules don’t even allow them to sleep, much less clean up after themselves.
“After a long week’s work most college students do not close their books, get out the Windex and vacuum and start cleansing away,” the company’s Web site says. “The average college student sits in dust and dirt and drinks until they pass out (on a dirty floor).”
Whitney Spalding ’07 put the situation differently. “I think the real question is not are students so busy, but are they so lazy?” she said. “I would say yes.”
Putt Yancich ’07, who called his own efforts at tidiness “a failed experiment in responsibility,” acknowledged the appeal DormAid holds for students. “[Cleaning my room] is the first thing to go when I’m stressed,” he said. But he also said a maid service was unnecessary.
Professor Maggie Browning, master of Wilson College, agreed, calling DormAid “excessive.”
“I think it’s ridiculous. People should just clean their own rooms,” she said, adding that her words reflected her personal attitude and not her opinion as master. “It’s not forever — it’s for four years. The rooms aren’t that big.”
But DormAid has sparked more than a debate about students’ personal habits. Some fear the service could accentuate economic differences between classmates. The Harvard Crimson even urged readers to boycott DormAid.
“By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on campus, DormAid threatens our student unity,” a Crimson editorial warned.
But Matt Kopko ’08, DormAid’s co-founder and CEO, called the Crimson’s alarm “completely unfounded.”
“A minority is worried,” said Kopko, who plans to concentrate in economics. He said that DormAid hires outside workers, so that students would not be cleaning their classmates’ rooms.
And while some students consider DormAid unnecessary, they don’t object to the service’s operating at Princeton.
“I think [DormAid] is totally fine,” Kristin Kelly ’07 said. “I wouldn’t use it because I think it’s a waste of money, but I have no problem if other people do. What if someone has an iPod? What if someone has a huge TV? Are these wrong because they show class differences?”
Spalding pointed out that nobody seems uncomfortable with the Student Laundry Agency, which students can hire to pick up and wash their laundry. And Yancich said dining halls — where work-study students often prepare food for their classmates — present a more public show of students’ income levels than would DormAid.
But Browning shared the Crimson’s concern. Although she acknowledged that the University cannot eliminate differences between richer and poorer students, she said it should strive to generate the “best aspects of the ivory tower” by fostering equality.
“The campus community is a reflection of ... society at large, but we are also trying to create an artificial but helpful sense of being a community of peers,” Browning said.
Despite the controversy, Kopko expressed optimism about DormAid’s future. The company has requested permission from the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students to begin operations at Princeton, but no decision was announced by the end of last month.
Kopko and his brother Mike, a Harvard sophomore, the company’s sole investors, put up more than $10,000 to cover initial expenses, so they do not expect an immediate profit. But DormAid expects to draw $200,000 in revenues by the end of next year, and the company is investigating expanding to Yale, Penn, and several other schools.
As for his own room: Kopko described it as “pretty neat,” despite an “intolerable” dust problem. But his brother Mike “most definitely will be using DormAid” at Harvard, he said.
Christian R. Burset ’07 is from Bernardsville, N.J.