Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: The Free Laundry for All campaign is a disaster

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Charlie Emhardt is a senior in the Boston University Questrom School of Business.

Dear Young Democratic Socialists of Boston University,

The “Free Laundry for All” campaign is a disaster of an idea. Not only is it destined to fail, it damages the credibility of socialist movements.

BU YDSA has launched a “Free Laundry for All” campaign last semester that aims to collect signatures and the broad support of student university groups and to approach the University with the demand that laundry is made free for students on campus.

YDSA believes the University will yield under their demands for reasons I simply can’t understand. Do they believe their sheer will and passion will overwhelm the administration? Do they believe University Provost Jean Morrison will have a Grinchesque epiphany and her heart will grow three sizes?

Perhaps the Trustees — a collection of veteran founders, presidents and CEOs — will be intimidated by this cadre of spunky activists.

BU’s budget is colossal and absurdly complicated. There are hundreds of decisions to make and never-ending trade-offs. I agree with the YDSA: The way the University manages its finances is unjust, but there is simply no real incentive for the Trustees to make this change.

Let’s look at the situation. YDSA has effectively zero leverage. Boycotting simply isn’t an option. Not enough students would have the capacity or will to boycott, and laundry machines aren’t going to depreciate without use.

Directly petitioning the university with demands has been unsuccessful in the past few years. Upperclassmen may remember student admission ambassadors — rightfully — petitioning to be paid.

The Tour Guides of BU met with the Director of Admissions and Dean of Admissions in 2018. The students were disappointed in the result and the campaign’s Facebook page has not posted any significant updates since. They got their meeting and the effort was exhausted.

Two other recent petitions — reinstating Credit-No Credit for the Fall 2020 semester and reduced Summer 2020 Tuition — have been attempted with meager results.

I’ve seen petitioning this university with demands with lackluster results for over three years now. This is not to dismiss the importance of activism but rather to show that this strategy of petitioning and requesting a single meeting, from what I’ve seen, simply doesn’t work. It’s time to think of new strategies.

Most importantly, the plan itself is weak. YDSA is locating a problem and demanding one solution.

In their official policy proposal, the group speaks of a partnership, but that “committee” would be composed of the administration and YDSA members who will implement their demands. The entity “will be given a month to come to the determination of how to best implement the reform.” This time pressure appears almost intentionally combative, and YDSA appears to be interested in creating problems rather than solving them.

Socialism is strawmanned as “give me free stuff” far too often. This campaign is a disheartening realization of that strawman. YDSA has taped small posters around campus to gather signatures. One of the posters reads “You deserve free laundry.”

I’ve seen three different types of posters and not one encourages students to join the cause to help low-income students. This is an embarrassing marketing misstep at best, or an insidious appeal to selfishness under the disguise of equity at worst. The messaging is muddled: Is this campaign for the people who want free laundry or for the people who need free laundry?

What I see here is one organization approaching another and saying, “You have more money than me, and you should give me some of your money because that’s the right thing to do.” This kind of socialist activism is seen by moderates as aggressive laziness.

A more elegant and thoughtful solution would be to try to work with the administration to develop a program that can provide convenience points or laundry credits for students who apply. These credits could be automatically applied to the accounts of students with a certain need-based financial aid threshold as part of the financial aid package.

Maybe certain eligible students could have special permissions on their Terrier cards, such as free dining hall access and free laundry. The Trustee members are business people — talk to them about how they can invest in their students and invest in justice. Persuade them of the true social impact of the way they run this university and how this social impact causes a financial and prestige impact.

The University should do more to help low-income students, and it is worth exploring ideas and fighting for solutions. BU’s Young Democratic Socialists, please do more to help low-income students in need instead of helping yourselves.


Alexia Nizhny, the layout and graphics editor at The Daily Free Press, is the YDSA treasurer. She was not involved in the editing of this article.


  1. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that we here at Beaver Industries wholeheartedly support the free laundry initiative. We’ve fought for years to make this change, and we’re glad YDSA has finally joined the cause. Additionally, I’m proud to announce that we’re launching our own alternative to BU’s laundry service. Beaver Laundry will launch on April 1 for all BU students. Our machines won’t take your money, they’ll only take your Beaver Coins, which you can get by taking pictures of various beavers throughout Boston and the greater Massachusetts area. Happy beaving!

  2. To classify this as “you have more money so give me it” is a fallacy in and of itself. While some of YDSA (probably most) might agree with that sentiment as well, it simply does not apply to a university students are giving 70k to already. This basic service should not be price locked for students who are already paying that much to be here. It’s not that difficult to grasp. This campaign does help low income students, and the author’s suggested solution involving a “petition” or “application” is unpractical for these students, just look at the difficulty of acquiring accommodations for disabilities at the university. Take a moment to think about the greater implications of the campaign before criticizing it. Maybe sit down with YDSA and discuss these things. This is not very well thought out and seems to just be a rant against “socialism” by someone attempting to be a “moderate” even when the sides are the student body the author is a part of and the admin that the author themself declares to be heartless.

  3. Free laundry on campus generally isn’t free. It is typically an added fee in the housing program where everyone pays a set amount to cover the overall cost of the operation. You could call it socialized laundry I guess but the fact is if you surveyed universities nationwide you may find over 50% of them are doing this.

    There are many benefits for the school, student, and parents:
    Cleaner residence hall rooms
    Less beg bug issues
    No out of pocket weekly expense for students
    Parents see less dirty laundry coming home
    Laundry becomes less of a negative chore