The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

OPINION | Free Laundry Should be and Could be Done

A washer out of order in Gillespie Hall last December.
Alan Wang ’24
A washer out of order in Gillespie Hall last December.

In this article, I go over reasons why free laundry should be implemented at Bates, but what I mean by “free laundry” involves a small increase to the room & board fee.

As a transfer student, many have asked me about the difference between Bates and other institutions. I spent the first two years of my college life at St. Olaf College, a liberal arts school in Northfield, Minnesota. To be completely honest with you, I haven’t noticed much of a difference when it comes to class dynamics or campus life. In fact, the biggest difference is that I lost free laundry.

Northfield is home to two colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton, both of which have free laundry. Living there gave me the impression that all liberal arts colleges should have free laundry since it was genuinely a boon to students’ quality of life.

Having to fumble through my wallet for a credit card every time I want to do laundry is obviously undesirable, but there are many other reasons as to why free laundry should be instated. The first one is hygiene equality. Currently, all students are required to pay $1.50 for washing and $1.50 for drying, regardless of their financial situation. Some might argue that the reduced room and board fee in financial aid packages can be seen as compensation for laundry costs, but if students choose to do laundry less frequently to save money, that decision should be theirs to make.

Let’s set aside the question of whether or not this can truly be considered a form of reimbursement for now. Instead, consider the logic behind it. When the government is trying to help the needy, they always prefer handing out food stamps rather than cash. Because with cash, you can’t control if people are spending it on food, alcohol, or putting it into the bank. Even though Bates may claim that those with financial aid already have their laundry cost covered, in reality if students are still paying out of pocket, they will try their best to avoid that cost. 

I interviewed a student who wishes to remain anonymous about this. The student hand-washed all of their laundry during the 2022 academic year. The student receives full financial aid for tuition and room and board, plus a little bit for textbooks. Nevertheless, they decided to hand-wash their laundry because they wanted to be as frugal as possible, prioritizing income towards textbooks and travel. The student attributed their decision behind hand-washing laundry to financial concerns. “It was very hard because all of my classes required a lot of [money], and just for one course I spent $150 for the online platform”, the student stated, “also for Chinese I spent $100 last fall”. “I definitely can find several dollars out of those they give me for textbooks [to pay for laundry]…”, the student conceded, “but I personally prefer to spend more money on travel, rather than wasting them on Starbucks, or kind of wasting them on laundry, as bad as this sounds.”

The second reason is sustainability. Contrary to popular belief, free laundry will in fact help with sustainability rather than damage it. This September, Bowdoin College implemented free laundry under the initiative of their Sustainability Office. When students are charged, they might choose to do laundry every other week instead of every week, thus overloading the machine. Detergents cannot agitate properly when the washer is overloaded and clothing won’t be cleaned properly, wasting water and electricity. In extreme cases, overloading will lead to broken machines that need to be repaired at a high cost. Paul Wang ‘24, the Bowdoin Student Government President, told me that free laundry will lead students to do laundry at a more reasonable load, thus reducing machine overload.

The third reason, and the biggest in my opinion, is that my rights as a consumer are being violated. This has happened to me at least three times this semester: I put my clothing into the dryer, pay for it, only to return one hour later to find out that my clothing is still wet. I have no choice but to pay for another cycle, knowing that I will never get a refund. 

The biggest resentment I have towards the current laundry system is that I’m blindly paying for a monopolistic service. There is no way to know if a machine will function properly or not, until we actually pay for it. This is only exacerbated by the fact that CSC Services is a de facto monopoly over Bates’ laundry service. When my clothing was not dried after I paid $1.50, I had no choice but to pay them again, despite the fact that I hated the company and would like to use a different company for laundry service.

“I don’t want to do a summoning ritual every time I do laundry and pray the machine will work,” John Baxter ‘24 said, while expressing immense frustration towards CSC’s quality of service. Fiki Hunt ‘24 agreed, adding the following: “the biggest problem right now is I’m essentially doing two loads of drying, because the dryer never works the first time.” I actually researched how I can get a refund; the quick answer is I can’t. I went on CSC’s website and entered the faulty dryer’s machine number. The website prompted me to download their app and submit my refund request there. In it, the only two refund methods were refund as credit to the app or refund to a card that was already linked to a CSC account. So, for someone who doesn’t use the app when they paid, there is no way to get a refund.

It is important to address some of the concerns about the implementation of free laundry. Most people I have talked to say that they are worried about machines getting abused and overused. However, it is important to note that Bates already has free printing, but students are not printing 100 pages every day. I could borrow every book from the library and photocopy them, but would I in reality do that? I don’t think so. Just because students can wash one sock per load doesn’t mean they will; especially when you factor in the time opportunity cost. During my interview with Wang, the Bowdoin Student Government President, he stated that: “from my assessment, there has been no abuse, people are responsible about their laundry, and things pretty much stayed the same if not more seamless”.

I know some are less convinced by conceptual arguments and prefer empirical data; I have that as well. Trinity Monstwillo ‘26, who serves as a class representative for Bates College Student Government, interviewed Keisha Payson, the Director of Sustainability at Bowdoin College. During it, Payson stated that before implementing free laundry, students’ clothes were not being washed/dried effectively, and they were receiving a lot of calls about faulty machines and card readers. After the implementation, however, they are receiving fewer calls and requests about issues. This suggests that the imaginary abuse scenario is not in fact happening at Bowdoin; free laundry can even decrease maintenance costs.

Now, let’s talk about how free laundry can be implemented at Bates. If there is one thing I’m certain about, it is that free laundry can be done. My old school has it, Carleton has it, Williams has it, Amherst has it, Colby has it, Connecticut College has it, Colorado College has it, and now Bowdoin has it too (Amherst, Williams and Bowdoin even provide free detergent to reduce plastic waste). I have to admit, calling it free laundry is a bit of a clickbait, since someone has to bear the cost, and that still has to be us the students.

I’m proposing that the school should implement what it is already doing with our meal plan and printing. Bates’ meal plan allows unlimited swipes once students enroll in it, the same goes for our printing system. The school should charge us a fixed amount of money as a part of the room & board fee, and give us unlimited swipes at the laundry machine, like a buffet. This is what Bowdoin did to transition to “free pay” laundry as well, the increased charge was so insignificant in comparison to the annual tuition increase that Wang couldn’t even recall how much they were charged in our interview.

Assuming that students want to do their laundry once a week. At the current rate, that will be $3 for a week, $45 for a semester and $90 for a year. Of course, there are breaks we have to factor in, but let’s be conservative with our estimations for now. The school should increase the room & board fee by this amount, in order to give us “free pay” at the laundry machine. Those with high financial aid can receive an increased room & board coverage accordingly. In fact, I estimate that the final negotiated price to implement unlimited laundry access will be lowered due to bulk purchasing. I’m confident that CSC Services will cooperate with us on this transition, since it was previously they who provided laundry service for St. Olaf. Keisha Payson also expressed that CSC would have been willing to cooperate with Bowdoin, though ultimately, they decided to use a different contractor. She also believes that CSC will work with Bates on the transition even before our contract expires.

All in all, this is a sensible thing for Bates to do; when so many schools already have free laundry, it is hard to justify its absence. I would also like to remind everyone that Bates students voted in favor of free laundry in a 2022 referendum by 94.53%. The student body has been advocating for it for years now and the school has not been cooperative. Monstwillo characterized her conversation with the administration as “frustrating”; previous dialogues, including with Vice President for Finance Geoffrey Swift, have led to nowhere. If Bates still insists on not cooperating with students to implement free laundry in the near future, I have no choice but to advise prospective students to choose Colby and Bowdoin—institutions made “superior” because of their willingness to listen to students.

As of publishing, CSC Services has not responded to The Student for comment.

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