Free Laundry for All policy proposal

Updated: Jul 6

Boston University students are constantly placed under financial stress due to a combination of the tremendous costs of tuition, housing, and their daily necessities. The University should work in the students best interest and try to lower these costs, but instead, the administration forces us to pay $1.75 per wash/dry cycle. While at first glance this may not seem like a lot to some, putting this number in perspective is key. In a survey that we conducted, 55.5% of students pay more than ten dollars a month for laundry. This is money that could go to food, school supplies, or other necessities.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has also illuminated many issues with the University’s laundry system. It is infuriating to see signs across campus seeing the University encourage all of its students to wash their bed sheets every week to protect themselves from the virus without subsidizing those costs. The University is putting students in the position of having to pick between being safe from the virus and making sure their other necessities are met. If the University truly cared about its students' wellness, it would not make disposable income a condition for hygiene.

The current laundry policy is unjust, immoral, and shameful for an institution that has revenues of over two billion dollars. The YDSA of Boston University therefore proposes a partnership between members of the administration and members of our organization to create a new laundry system that will do nothing less than provide every student with free laundry at the point of use.

A. Comparison: The Laundry Model at BU

Boston University currently charges the highest price among selected market basket schools for laundry. With students spending ten dollars a month on laundry, many are spending close to $40 per semester. This is a tremendous cost when compared to other universities around the country.

Market Basket Research

As is evident from the table provided above, Boston University has the largest laundry costs among universities within its similar market basket. At $3.50, laundry at BU costs nearly double the market basket average. It should also be mentioned that the Universities that are labeled as “Free” offer unlimited free laundry, while three other schools provide a certain number of free cycles per semester.

George Washington University is a noteworthy example of a university that has changed its laundry policies. Before implementing their current laundry system that provides a basic number of washes per semester, GW was tied with Boston University for the most expensive laundry services, at $1.75 per wash/dry cycle. However, the University later changed its policy and adopted its current system. GW had a contract with Caldwell and Gregory (CG), an organization that provides laundry services to universities, in which CG leased out their machines to GW. Despite their deal with this company, the University was able to change its laundry system to better work for the student body.

The YDSA is under the impression that BU students in the past have attempted to gain free laundry for their peers, but were not successful. During recent negotiations, the University argued that it has a contract with Huebsch that somehow blocked their ability to take action on the issue. The YDSA will not stand for that excuse. We demand that this contract be released by the administration to the YDSA. It is our belief that Boston University’s contract is similar to George Washington University’s former contract with Caldwell and Gregory, and may be broken or allowed to expire following GW’s example.

B. Benefits to Students

Providing free laundry services to the student body will lead to multiple benefits. Firstly, taking this financial burden off the backs of students will enable them to spend more money on food, school supplies, and other necessities. It is important to mention that, in nearly all cases, students who receive need-based student loans and financial aid cannot use this aid to cover laundry costs. This directly impacts the students who need help the most. In addition, students who are not as affluent as their peers will be likely to have less clothes, forcing them to do laundry more often. In this case the University is enforcing a type of cyclical poverty that can be alleviated if the University adopts a more equitable laundry services system.

The second benefit to students will be the improved mental and physical health of the student body. When students feel as though they cannot afford to wash their clothes, they will likely put off the chore as long as they can. According to Hygiene for Health, a hygiene initiative in Australia, “Dirty clothes, especially underwear and socks, can harbor microorganisms. Re-wearing dirty clothes many times or sharing dirty, sweaty sport equipment can lead to skin infections.” These are ailments that are completely preventable if the University chooses to contribute. Additionally, COVID has exacerbated the need for a universal laundry service program. The Center for Disease Control recommends people wash their clothes when they come back from high-risk environments. If the University wishes to be an example of how to keep an institution like ours safe, they should be making it as easy as possible for students to follow the CDC guidelines, not harder.

On top of physical health, not being able to wash clothes is a symptom of certain mental health issues, particularly depression. Eliminating the economic barrier that may prevent students from washing their clothes more frequently is an important way to support our peers who are having a difficult time. Being a university student is stressful and can easily lead to or worsen mental illness. It is University’s responsibility to take any steps it can to make life easier for students.

Overall, the potential benefits of the Free Laundry for All initiative are significant and can improve many students’ quality of life at the University.

C. Student Sentiment

The student body of Boston University is clamoring for reform on this issue. The YDSA has assembled a list of almost 1,200 students who have signed on to our campaign to fight for Free Laundry for All. They are tired of paying too much for too little, and the YDSA is the organization that will take their demands to the administration. Below are some student opinions on the Free Laundry for All campaign:

“I am so glad this movement is happening to get free laundry. Coming from a low income family means I do not have a lot of extra money to spend month to month and the little expenses add up. One would think a tuition/room and board fee of over $75K a year would get us free laundry so hopefully BU listens and takes action!”

“Laundry should be included with housing, because it's a necessity for students, so it's unfair (especially to students in poorer socioeconomic situations) to have to also pay for laundry on top of other college needs.”

“I would do my laundry way more often if it was free. The cost prevents me from staying on top of my hygiene in regards to cleaning my clothes and masks.”

“Considering that we pay a large amount just for room and board alone, the extra price of laundry (that most colleges already include in their tuition) is an extra barrier for hardworking students.”

“If the best thing for our health and safety in a pandemic is to be frequently washing everything including bed sheets and clothes, it’s not fair that it’s behind such a high price barrier. Additionally, we pay $10,000+ for room and board and you’re telling me it DOESN’T cover our laundry??”

On top of these individuals who have expressed to us their frustration, we have assembled a coalition of on-campus organizations who have joined us in our struggle. These include:

  • BU College Democrats

  • The Environmental Student Organization

  • Action BU

  • BU Student Immigrant Alliance

  • CAS Anti-Racist Initiative

  • And many more to come.

The administration at Boston University has a responsibility to respond to students’ voices.

D. Implementation Methods

In order to implement free laundry for all at Boston University, BU YDSA is looking to discuss with the administration how to best achieve this goal. With this document, BU YDSA proposes the creation of a committee made up of members of the administration and members of BU YDSA who will be given a month to determine the best implementation of this laundry reform. BU YDSA will approach all negotiations proposing a similar laundry policy to that of the University of Rochester, in which all students have free and unlimited laundry access.

E. Conclusion

To summarize briefly, in this document BU YDSA demands:

1. That the contract Boston University has with Huebsch be released by the administration to the BU YDSA;

2. A breakdown of exactly how much each wash of laundry costs the university (maintenance included) to better understand the actual cost of use;

3. And the creation of a committee made up of members of the administration and members of BU YDSA who will be given a month to come to the determination of how to best implement the reform.

Students should never be forced to pick between doing their laundry and eating breakfast. Still, some students at Boston University are forced to make that choice every day, and the administration has not acted on the issue. Our peers face the adverse effects of socioeconomic inequality constantly, but BU has the opportunity to put an end to that in the laundry room. We must provide free laundry at the point of use to all students. It is an affordable goal that will mitigate many students’ financial woes, promote good mental health, and show that the University takes COVID and our physical health seriously. We hope that the Boston University administration agrees with BU YDSA and will work with us to build a more equitable future, one wash at a time.


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