NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Most Rutgers University students were hunkered down in the library, strolling around the city or sipping a drink on Sunday, which was perhaps the nicest day of the year.
But not everyone took the day for themselves. Indeed, dozens of students came out to Union Street during the afternoon of April 2 to clean litter and junk from a New Brunswick neighborhood that sits squarely in Rutgers country.
“A lot of the time, Rutgers students forget that they aren’t the only people living off campus,” said Amoli Kulkarni, a senior who works for the school’s Give Where You Live program. “It’s important to break out of our bubble and become more conscientious of the community we’re living in.”
The cleanup was organized by an off-campus office of the university and New Brunswick City Hall. Organizers mobilized students, clad in bright-orange vests and heavy-duty gloves, to clean the area from Somerset Street to Buccleuch Park.
Six teams tackled six zones. Two public works department staffers cruised around in a pickup truck, collecting bags of trash and recycling placed at various corners. A Rutgers police officer, meanwhile, patrolled the neighborhood, making sure the students were safe.
All told, they filled 89 bags with litter, according to the city. That amounted to 1,200 pounds of trash and 615 pounds of recyclables.
While that impact is tangible, another goal of the initiative is more difficult to measure. Instead, those effects can be seen in the relationship between New Brunswick as a whole and its segment of Rutgers students.
“We love having the students here,” said Donna Caputo, the city’s recycling coordinator. “We love the energy, we love the vibe and it’s great for the businesses. But we don’t like the red cups and pizza plates.”
When Rutgers students trash the place, in other words, their relationship with locals can get a bit rocky.
And some in the university are aware of that.
Sophomore Eric Giovannini, for example, said he likes giving back to the community and making it a nicer place to live. But he also is driven by the need to clean up Rutgers students’ reputation.
“If the students are making the streets dirty, it gives us a bad reputation,” he said. “So it’s good to clean up and show that we do care.”
As students roamed the streets, they cleared trash and debris from roadways, curbs and front lawns. Some used brooms to sweep gunk into bins, while others used gloves or litter-pickers to scoop up garbage, like half-eaten pizza slices, red cups and food wrappers.
Some students came because they’ve attended similar events and enjoyed the good feelings with which they waked away. Others needed to rack up community-service hours for fraternities and sororities, the Honors College or clubs.
Prior to kicking off the cleanup, students stood around. They discussed dancing and drinking the night before or studying.
“If my grandma saw me doing this, she’d be so pissed,” one student told a friend, adding that she’d say something like: You don’t do this at home, but you do it here?
But for most Rutgers students, New Brunswick is home—even if it’s only for a few years.
And the people who grow up and live most of their lives here, especially, don’t want it to be a pigsty. Caputo said she has met with schoolchildren who said they feel embarrassed or upset when a friend comes over and immediately sees trash on the streets.
That idea seemed to resonate with Rutgers students who grew up elsewhere in New Jersey.
“It’s like we’re in someone else’s home,” Joyce Macaraeg, a senior, said. “We might as well do our best to make sure we clean up when we’re there and after we leave.”