September 19, 2019 | 47° F

Rutgers custodians share normal experiences

Photo by Camilo Montoya-Galvez |

Maria Espinal, one of the custodians at Alexander Library on College Avenue campus, has worked at Rutgers for 15 years. Her daughter attended the University, graduating in 2002.

Though their beige-colored uniforms might suggest otherwise, custodians around campus are committed and passionate Scarlet Knights.

At Rutgers—New Brunswick, custodians are assigned to maintain most buildings throughout the five campuses, from dining halls to libraries. In spite of the demanding and seemingly reclusive nature of their work, they consider themselves members of the Rutgers community and are proud to contribute to the University's daily maintenance.

“Custodians are a very important part of the Rutgers community. Just think about what the buildings would look like without them … they do a very good job under very difficult circumstances,” said William Puglisi, facilities coordinator of University Services and Library Administration.

Members of the custodial staff work either a morning shift from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., or a night shift from 2:30 p.m. to about 11 p.m., Puglisi said.

Maria Espinal, a native of the Dominican Republic and morning custodian in the Alexander Library, has abided by one principle throughout her 15 years at the University.

“I always make sure to do my best,” she said. “I want everything to be perfect so that students and faculty feel comfortable and at home when coming here to the library.”

Espinal's lengthy tenure is only one of her attachments to the University. She currently resides in New Brunswick with her family, and her daughter graduated from Rutgers in 2002.

Although she enjoys listening to music and watching Colombian soap-operas in her leisure time, Espinal treasures her job and is genuinely passionate about it.

“I really love my job and I love coming here everyday. More importantly, I refuse to be ashamed of it,” she said. “I’m very proud of what I do.”

On the other side of campus, in a building she humorously calls her second home, fellow custodian Elga Velez recalls 16 years of experiences in an ever-changing Tillett Hall on Livingston campus.

“I’m really fond of this building and all of its rooms,” Velez said. “I’ve been here through most of its remodeling and I can even remember when there used to be a dining hall on the second floor of the building.”

Velez, whose son recently transferred to Rutgers, has many memories working at the University, but one experience stands out the most.

“My dearest memory working here in the University was the day when a professor forgot his wallet with a lot of money inside. I found it and gave it to him when he returned,” she said. “His gratitude really touched me, and it felt really good to be acknowledged.”

Despite being born in Puerto Rico, Velez views New Brunswick and the University as her home and always makes sure to take strolls through campus during the summer.

In the Douglass Student Center, students will often run into Yaira Castillo, a morning custodian whose fragmented English does not get in the way of her constant ongoing interaction with faculty and students.

Castillo, who was born in the Dominican Republic, cherishes the seemingly unusual and special relationship she has with the students here at Rutgers.

“There are always students who offer to help me when they see me taking out the trash or lifting something heavy,” she said. “This is really a rare thing. You do not find this consideration and respect in every place you go to.”

When she is not working, Castillo pursues her devoted hobby of reading books, which she said is helping her improve her English. She adamantly believes in the power of education, and would love to see her children become Scarlet Knights someday.

“I have a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old at home. It would be a dream come true if they could come study here at Rutgers in the future,” she said.

Inspired by the amount of gratitude that stems from her honest work, Castillo always eagerly anticipates the start of her shift during her five-minute drive to work from her home in New Brunswick.

“I really feel like my work here is appreciated. Many of the students make sure to thank me for my efforts,” she said. “These are seemingly small gestures, but I really value them because it gives my work here in the University a significance and purpose.”


Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez

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