Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Educational Policy and Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Cassie L. Barnhardt

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation research was to bring voice to university custodians as blue-collar workers by exploring the manner in which four custodians interact with students on a university campus. The following research questions framed this study: 1) In what ways do four campus custodians interact with students during their work day at a large public university? 2) In what ways do those custodians talk about students and their interactions with students?

This study adopted a critical philosophical lens that acknowledged the historically-marginalized voice of custodians as campus blue-collar workers. Extant research on blue-collar worker identity theory and college student-staff interactions and mentoring literature, as well as the author's own blue-collar background, informed and framed the study. Qualitative data sources for this ethnographically-grounded case study were four campus custodians employed in three residence halls during the academic year at a large, public university in the Midwest. A moderate participant observation strategy melded with a semi-structured interview protocol were employed. Data were collected and transcribed during seventy-five hours of observations throughout a six-week time span.

Mutual benefits to both college student success and custodial staff occupational esteem were identified in custodial staff-student interactions. More specifically, custodial staff participants were found to indirectly support college student success via formally acknowledged and performed cleaning and maintenance duties of observing, protecting, and promoting the health of college students. Additionally, custodial staff directly supported college student success via informally-performed actions of remembering, comforting, advising, exchanging and keeping gifts, and participating in events with students.

Based on these findings, this study advises college and university decision-makers to consider custodians as important mentors for, and allies to, college student success. Suggestions for professional practice include 1) Acknowledging and leveraging custodians' unique assets and contributions, 2) Fostering relationships between students and custodians, 3) Increasing custodian's opportunities for professional development, 4) Considering custodians' potential to support student success in custodian hiring decisions, and 5) Training Custodial Staff in Basic Crisis Intervention. Future research should examine custodians as formal mentors, explore social justice concerns relative to blue-collar campus workers, and study the influence of custodian-student interactions on custodial staff job satisfaction and performance.

Public Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation research was to explore the ways in which four university custodians interact with college students. The following research questions framed this study: 1) In what ways do four campus custodians interact with students during their work day at a large public university? 2) In what ways do those custodians talk about students and their interactions with students?

This study adopted the stance that, despite the important role that informal mentors play in college student success, custodians as blue-collar workers are typically ignored on campuses. Current research on blue-collar workers and college student mentoring, as well as the author’s own blue-collar background, shaped the study. Data for this qualitative case study included seventy-four hours of observations with four campus custodians employed in residence halls at a large, public university in the Midwest.

Findings revealed benefits to both college student success and custodial staff work esteem in custodial staff-student interactions. Custodial staff participants were found to support college student success by performing cleaning and maintenance duties such as observing, protecting, and promoting the health of college students. Additionally, custodial staff remembered, comforted, advised, exchanged gifts with, and participated in events with students.

Based on these findings, this study advises college administrators to consider custodians as important mentors for college student success. The author suggests that college administrators: 1) Acknowledge custodians’ unique contributions, 2) Foster relationships between students and custodians, 3) Increase custodian’s professional development opportunities, including how to interact with students.

Keywords

publicabstract, Blue-Collar, Case Study, College Students, Custodians, Ethnography, Mentoring

Pages

xii, 141 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 135-141).

Copyright

Copyright 2015 Jeremy John Reed

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