Perhaps, the first thing that we see when we wake up in the morning is a janitor cleaning and emptying the waste bins at the dormitory hallway. Head off to class and we see more janitors working hard in the lecture rooms. The organizers of Chungsohak, a student organization devoted to improving the working conditions of janitors and form more trust between students, were available for an interview during their most recent seminar held on October 7 at the Student Council Meeting Room.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Hello, my name is In-ho Choi and I am a sophomore student majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Currently, I am a member of Chungsohak student group.
What was the motive behind forming this organization?
We noticed problems with the working conditions of janitors. The first problem that we were concerned about was the resting area for the workers. For example, the room where they would stay to rest was usually only small spaces under staircases. Also, they would sit on the grass around the campus instead of the cafeteria when they eat together. Having seen these problems, we decided to gather people who are concerned and who are willing to change these conditions.
While we were organizing our group we noticed that other universities, such as Yonsei and Woosung University, already had organizations working actively and trying to improve the working conditions of janitors. We became more confident about our work in progress after knowing this. We also got connected to civil advocacy groups that have more experience in this problem, so we have decided to open a seminar to benchmark and learn from other groups outside KAIST and to share with the students how important this matter is.
You have been one of the main organizers for the Chungsohak group. What are some of the roles the organizers are doing?
Me and two of my other friends started organizing Chungsohak. We gather together with our group members each week to analyze problems and propose solutions to improve janitors’ working conditions. First we will attempt to gain the janitors’ trust but we realized this is quite difficult because many janitors try to avoid students. Students from Yonsei University also advised us that gaining trust is the first and foremost step.
Hopefully we will begin campaign activities starting in mid-November to promote food waste separation, since janitors have a hard time separating recyclables and food waste in the dormitory trash. Although our work may be on a small scale at first, hopefully we will bring about some changes to the school.
What were some of the subjects discussed in this seminar?
Before the seminar that was held on October 7, we organized a seminar during which we invited an organization from Yonsei University. In this seminar, we presented successful results from universities in the Seoul area. We learned that a thorough survey must be conducted and that we must provide support to the janitors to successfully bring about the desired changes. We weren’t able to fully stage out our work just yet due to the exam periods, but we are planning to meet with the janitors to talk and communicate personally what can be done to improve working conditions.
Why do you think janitors need this attention from students in KAIST?
Students overlook the fact that janitors are very important members of the KAIST community. They play a very special role in our campus by keeping the dormitory and facilities clean for people of KAIST to use. However, many people ignore this fact and don’t pay attention to their needs. For example, when workers clean up the restrooms, students don’t notice them at all. They are so called ‘ghosts of the campus’ since many students ignore their existence. They may work in KAIST, but they don’t interact with other people in KAIST. Perhaps this may be an important motive in making this group and we hope we can gather more attention from students too.
What do you hope Chungsohak can achieve in the future?
Although it will be great to provide a better working environment and higher wages to the workers, we want them to realize that they play an essential role in KAIST and that they should be proud of it. Many of the janitors think that they are just cleaning and doing their work. However, they are doing much more since they are giving something more valuable than that. We want them to be a part of the KAIST family, and that’s what we are hoping to achieve.