We cannot rely on custodial services to maintain restroom cleanliness

When it comes to residence hall bathrooms, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

The problem, of course, is needlessly dirty bathrooms. To some degree, communal bathrooms are an inherently dirty business. But they by no means need to be as unpleasant as they sometimes are.

Assuming reasonable use of University facilities, the University’s custodial staff can assure reasonable standards of cleanliness. Our bathrooms aren’t gross because of custodial negligence; they’re gross because of student abuse.

I don’t think I need to provide a definition for abuse. Using a toilet for its intended purpose is one thing. Projectile vomiting all over a stall is another.

If you throw up onto the floor of a bathroom – or in a hallway, or in a shower, or in a water fountain – it’s your job to make sure it gets cleaned up. Not doing so is incredibly disrespectful to both your hallmates and the custodial staff.

First, your hallmates have a reasonable expectation to a clean bathroom. They also already have to put up with you for the entire year, so you shouldn’t make it any harder on them than it has to be.

Second, waiting to let a member of custodial services clean up your mess is both inconsiderate and degrading. Yes, you are paying for their services, but that does not mean they should have to clean up such a gratuitous mess.

Failing to clean up your own vomit, however, is only one example of the larger issue at hand: an absence of shared responsibility for the upkeep of the bathroom. It’s one of the reasons why our bathrooms tend to get so gross.

Residence halls (and their bathrooms) occupy the weird middle ground between temporary and permanent housing. You want to take care of the hall while you live there, but ultimately you know your time is limited and you don’t feel responsible for its long-term wellbeing.

There’s a similar effect at work when people trash hotel rooms. Hundreds of hotel horror stories all stem from the fact that guests don’t feel responsible for the condition of their rooms. To a lesser extent, this same theme plays itself out in residence hall bathrooms.

Essentially, if no one feels responsible for keeping the bathroom clean, no one will keep the bathroom clean. Custodial services will clean up periodically, but in the meantime, the cleanliness of the bathroom is entirely dependent upon the cleanliness of its occupants.

Furthermore, the cleanliness of a bathroom tends to affect how you act in it. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle. If you think the bathroom is gross, you won’t try to keep it clean. If you don’t try to keep it clean, the bathroom will get dirty.

Even the smallest acts of carelessness can perpetuate this cycle. A scrap of toilet paper dropped on the floor, a gob of toothpaste smeared on the sink or a hair left on the toilet seat all send the same message: that this bathroom is not worthy of being kept clean.

Here is where everyone, not just those too sick to puke in the toilet, begins to be indicted. Unless you’re actively cleaning up after other people, then you are likely perpetuating this cycle.

Small acts of carelessness, however accidental, add up. Let’s say you share your bathroom with two dozen other hallmates who each use the bathroom twice a day. Even if everyone is careless only two percent of the time, that means, on average, there will be one instance of carelessness per day.

Compounding this problem is the fundamental attribution error, our tendency to blame others’ mistakes on their personalities instead of their circumstances. If someone leaves used dental floss on the counter, we assume its owner was too lazy and selfish to clean it up – not that its owner hadn’t slept in forty hours and simply forgot to throw it out.

To be clear, I do think some people are neater than others. But the fact remains that all people, even unintentionally, make messes. As such, our bathrooms are going to naturally get dirty over time. If you want to change the condition of your bathroom, you need change your behavior first.

First, be aware. Pay attention to what you’re doing and clean up what you leave behind. If something’s broken, file a service report or at least tell your RA.

Second, be responsible for the bathroom. If you help keep the bathroom clean, you’ll help stop the self-fulfilling prophecy and inspire others to do the same. Don’t worry about mopping the floors or anything, but do pick up that piece of toilet paper someone dropped. It will only take you a second and you’re (hopefully) about to wash your hands anyway.

And finally, please throw up in either a toilet or trash can and take care of the resulting mess yourself. (Or maybe consider drinking a little bit less – your call).

For the most part, it’s not the University’s fault the bathrooms are disgusting – it’s yours.




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