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An RA’s perspective on noise complaints and workers’ schedule

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Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) has received pushback over a proposal to shift the schedule of Stanford storekeepers (the people who deliver food to the dining halls) from 6 a.m. through 2:30 p.m. to 10 a.m. through 6:30 p.m. According to a message from dining management cited by a recent Daily article covering the issue, the change is in response to approximately 30 students who have complained about noise from truck deliveries in the early morning. However, workers are worried that this change would be disastrous, forcing them to upend and “rearrange many aspects of their lives.”

I want to start off by saying that the proposed changes to service workers’ schedule (shifting it back four hours to accommodate noise complaints) are, frankly, stupid. As mentioned by a source in the article, a change like that would completely upend workers’ lives. It’s completely unreasonable for R&DE to suggest a change like this.

But that very same article appears to misrepresent the issue of noise complaints, making it seem like the issue is a bunch of “privileged” students complaining. As an RA, I know this isn’t the case. I staff in Faisan (in East Florence Moore), and half of our dorm is right next to a loading dock. I’ve had numerous residents come up to me, telling me about how they haven’t been able to sleep, and how they haven’t been able to focus or pay attention all day because of it. I can physically see the exhaustion they have. I’ve even had residents that were forced to move out because the noise caused so much disruption to their sleep that it severely impacted their mental health. 

People quoted in the article indicate that it’s unreasonable for students to complain about noise from trucks when they acquiesce to the noise from parties. But the two are quite different — while parties may make it harder to fall asleep, shortening the total hours of sleep, noises in the morning can be especially disruptive since they’ll likely decrease the quality of sleep as well. Furthermore, parties should (at least, if RAs are doing their job) be outside of the agreed-upon quiet hours, while the noises from trucks can come as early in the morning as 6 a.m.

Additionally, the survey (mentioned in the article) that was circulated to dorms located near Arrillaga seems to overlook the fact that this is a localized issue. In my own dorm, the only residents that are affected are the ones who live on the side closest to the loading dock — the other side is unbothered. But still, that’s a significant number of my residents that I’m worried about. In the results of the survey, it notes that 90% of the 714 responding students aren’t affected — but that means that around 70 students are. Since it’s likely that only specific wings and sides of dorms are affected by the noise, the fact that 90% of students aren’t affected makes sense. Yet at the same time, that number overlooks the fact that there is still a sizable number of students — likely in specific parts of dorms — that are being affected by the noise.

On a personal note, the noise I hear in the morning has noticeably affected my own mental health. The amount and quality of sleep I get has huge impacts on my ability to focus on work, regulate my emotions and stay functional overall. And when the noise wakes me up intermittently most days of the week, managing all of that gets harder and harder as the effects continuously build up all quarter. And contrary to the suggestions from a tweet cited in the article, I can’t just “put on some damn headphones.” I’ve tried earplugs, changing my sleep schedule and becoming nocturnal. Nothing really helps.

I want to reiterate that this isn’t any reason to support the proposed changes from R&DE. I recognize that my position as a Stanford student is one of immense privilege — and even though the noise makes my day rougher than I’d like, I manage. But the changes that R&DE has put forth would be disastrous for workers’ lives, and I still wouldn’t sleep easy knowing that the changes would so drastically and negatively affect their lives.

Still, I’m extremely frustrated with how the noise complaints are covered in the aforementioned article. Yes, the proposals are ridiculous. But the article dismisses the noise concern as if it’s totally irrelevant or made up, when the frustrations that students feel are completely valid and need to be acknowledged. Dismissing the issue just makes it so that the students who are affected — students who are struggling both mentally and physically due to consistent sleep disruptions — get completely overlooked and minimized.

Instead of minimizing these students, we should be working toward the “creative solutions” that a source mentions at the end of the article. We need to find solutions that maintain workers’ schedule and wellbeing while also finding ways for students to sleep better at night. That requires recognition of both the issues of the proposal, as well as the misrepresentations present in the Daily article.

Contact Daniel Chen at danschen ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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