Haverford made laundry free to use during the 2020–21 academic year, under the theory that students should be able to wash their face masks as much as they pleased without considering a potential financial sacrifice. It was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal year. But as students began classes this month, they found an unwelcome surprise: the laundry machines had been returned to the prior pay-to-use system—with new and higher prices. The prices were inconsistent across campus, but in most dorms, the washing machine was $1.75 and the dryer was $1.50 for each use, a full 50 cents more per load than before the pandemic.
Students were not pleased. Within the first week of the new semester, a petition called “Keep Laundry Free at Haverford,” written by Madeline Webster ’23, attracted attention around campus. The petition asked Haverford College to keep the free laundry policy for “as long as masks are worn on campus” in order to match the already set hygiene standards for the pandemic. Webster pointed out that “Haverford’s room and board already costs upwards of $16,000” and argued laundry should be included as an amenity within that charge. The petition also mentioned that nearby Bryn Mawr College has always kept laundry free.
Webster’s message was well-received by the Haverford student body and community. Within four days, the petition reached its goal of one thousand signatures, at a campus whose enrollment sits a little above 1,300 students. “I was impressed with how quickly it gained traction,” Webster said in an interview, “Haverford is great for that kind of stuff.”
As the petition was gaining support, students were struggling with the laundry system. On September 5, an update was added to the petition, calling attention to the fact that in addition to the new prices, the laundry machines were not working properly either. Webster wrote, “Because most of us didn’t do laundry during the first week of classes, many of us are now running out of clean underwear, towels, socks, cloth face masks, bras, and other undergarment essentials. There has been no communication from maintenance regarding whether these machines will be fixed.”
Kara D’Ascenzo ’22 echoed the feelings about the new per-pay-use system and the dysfunctional machines. On that same day when the update was posted, D’Ascenzo went to use the laundry machines in the college apartment where she lives. She had enough quarters for one load of laundry, but the washing machine “ate the quarters.” Put simply, she said, “the machines wouldn’t start.” She tried going to Central Services to get a roll of quarters. However, Central Services could not give D’Ascenzo quarters because a national coin shortage limited them to giving out four rolls per day, and they had already reached their daily limit. Because it was Sunday and the following Monday was Labor Day, she would have to wait nearly two full days before getting access to laundry.
Even if she had more quarters, D’Ascenzo realized that she would not be able to access the laundry machines in other apartments because of the College’s COVID-19 protective measure, which only allows students to access their own dorms. She tried going to nearby laundromats, but quickly realized they were closed on Sundays and on Labor Day, too. Her laundry crisis was finally resolved late on Monday the 6th, when her boyfriend offered to drive her clothes across campus to his dorm at 710 Yarnall, where the laundry machines happened to be working. Reflecting back, D’Ascenzo said, “I didn’t realize how demoralizing it was to not have clean clothes. I didn’t want to wear the same dirty clothes again.”
Responding to the student concerns, on September 13, Dean of the College John McKnight sent out a campus-wide email that addressed the laundry situation. He wrote that “our third-party vendor for laundry is on-campus and working methodically through the process of making necessary repairs and other adjustments” to the laundry machines. More importantly, McKnight also announced that the goal of the petition authors had been met: for the remainder of the academic year, laundry machines would be available for free. On behalf of the administration, McKnight apologized “for the inconvenience of having a number of machines not working properly over these past two weeks.”
Webster is happy that there has been some resolution to the problem with laundry. “It’s getting a lot better,” she said. “[Facilities] actually came in and cleaned the Barclay laundry room, which shocked me. I just washed my sheets earlier today.” Although the problems are not yet completely solved—“there’s still an issue with leakage in Barclay”—Webster is hopeful that they will be fixed soon.