Something horrible happened to the bathrooms on John Jay 7. That horrible thing was vomit in the sink and it happened twice within the week.
Before the vomit, intra-floor communication had been sparse—limited to occasional texts about events or requests for help on Spanish homework—but now a deluge of messages poured in as people began to decry the increasingly desperate condition of the floor bathrooms. The truth is, the vomit was only one instance in a long line of bathroom tragedies including multiple clogged toilets, waste on the floor, residual urine on the seats, and used toilet paper in the garbage can. Instead of inspiring us to unite against the common foe of uncleanliness, the continuing incidents produced a culture of paranoia. Suggestions were made (to varying degrees of seriousness) of putting motion sensors in front of the entrances, staging lookouts in the hall, and placing the bathrooms on lockdown. An anonymous hotline number was pasted on the doors in hopes of catching the culprit.
Anecdotes about vomit and amateur vigilante justice aside, the situation surrounding the bathrooms is indicative of larger issues of communal living, particularly in a place like John Jay where the single-use bathrooms and single dorms provide a certain anonymity. Because of John Jay’s closed-door culture, the more intimate and unspoken activities of its residents remain private. Unlike in Furnald, there is no chance of running into a neighbor at the sinks or hearing someone else sing quietly in the next shower stall. There are no eyes on you to guarantee that you flush the toilet or clean up your hair trimmings. There is no mechanism for accountability, no healthy dose of shame.
In order for peace, cleanliness, and courtesy to continue in an environment like John Jay, we must hold ourselves accountable, and self-accountability is often fallible.
However, the consequences of our slovenliness extend beyond the scope of our own inconvenience. After all, there are many others who must face the aftereffects of our thoughtless transgressions.
How many of us actually know the name of the person who cleans our floor bathrooms? Well, on John Jay 7, this man’s name is Reynaldo. I urge you to think about him before you leave the bathroom worse off than you found it.
Although there have been some truly egregious stand-alone moments, the general state of bathroom despair is a group effort. It is rare to find vomit in the sink, but it is a daily occurence to push open the door to discover water puddled on the floor or hair clogging the shower drain. These incidents are not the work of a single malcontent spirit, but an accumulation of the negligent little sins of which we are all guilty. In a communal living space, one person forgetting to aerate the bathroom is never just one person. It’s forty people, each of them thinking that their individual oversight doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, forgetting to think about the next person to use that space or the person who has to clean up after them now that they are no longer at home.
Ultimately, concerns of cleanliness and a lack of consideration are not limited to the bathrooms, John Jay, or even Columbia as a whole. Part of the learning curve that comes with starting college is adjusting to living with others in a space that is both yours and does not belong to you. Cleaning up your own messes is a part of that. And sometimes, as unfortunate as it may be, cleaning up others’ messes is also a part of that. Whether it’s placing a call to Hartley Hospitality about a clogged toilet or removing an abandoned plate in the dining halls (instead of just moving it to the next table), being an adult involves learning to take responsibility for your environment. The mess may not be of your own making, but the consequences are still within your control.
It is not enough to be conscientious of our own failings. Living communally necessitates that we become communal thinkers. In many ways, forming connections with those around us fosters a sense of personal investment and culpability that combats the carelessness of forsaken common courtesy. So fight back against the anonymity of the dorms. Learn your hallmates’ names. Think of every person on your floor as if they are your good friend. You would never leave pee on the floor of your friend’s bathroom or dirty dishes in their dining room. Why is it any different here?
Instead of spamming the groupchat with complaints and accusations or waiting for other people to change, take up the mantle yourself. In the same way that your mess is permission for the next person to leave a mess of their own, your cleanliness acts as a model for them to follow. We are already leading by example. Now, it is time to do better.
The author is a first-year student in Columbia College studying creative writing. She keeps her room quite messy for someone so concerned about the state of the bathrooms.
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