The Writing on the Wall: A Santa Monica College Restroom Odyssey.
Getting people to open up about campus restrooms is no small feat.
After all, it's a dirty subject.
However, we all share a basic truth: we must visit a facility that deals with our bodily wastes several times a day. A disgusting fact, depending on one's comfort zone around such matters, but a fact, never the less.
Students and faculty agree that venturing into many of the public facilities on campus must be done with a certain amount of moxie, a stomach for the possibility of encountering the sometimes unpleasant, sometimes horrific reality of the unhygienic practices of the status-quo.
"Do they do this at home?" A resounding echo asked in earnest, as Nancy Donohue, a Santa Monica College (SMC) maintenance secretary, and an SMC janitor -who wished to remain anonymous- unknowingly matched each other word for word. This was in reference to the unsightly messes, which they both have repeatedly encountered as patrons and officials of the campus restrooms.
"The janitors try to keep the restrooms clean," said Donohue, "But people are slobs. Especially in the Liberal Arts (LA) building. It's all custodians can do to keep up with it."
Just what kind of evidence, left by those slovenly individuals among us, are we talking about?
"It's not funny. It's really nasty," the Janitor said. "Especially the women's rooms. You would think that the guys would be sloppier. But there are females who don't dispose of their sanitary napkins properly. They stick them behind the toilet bowls, or up underneath them. They stick them in the toilet-seat-cover dispensers. Even if your mom didn't teach you proper hygiene, you know what you'd want to see."
Every half an hour, nine janitors have campus restroom routes that overlap each other in order to provide consistently clean facilities. They continuously clean between the times of 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays. Then why do the restrooms seem so consistently unkempt?
"There is never paper to dry my hands with," said Akram Esmaeili about the second floor women's restroom in Drescher, "It wastes my time."
"The Math Complex and Letters and Sciences are the worst," said Charles Yoon. "It seems like they never clean them there. There are paper towels and urine on the floor. People should learn to aim well."
There are 65 to 70 student restrooms on campus, according to Jeffery Peterson, Director of the Campus Operations Facilities Department.
"They (the administration) are trying to determine if there are enough restrooms for the number of students enrolled here," Peterson said, "I don't know if they have determined that or not."
The faculty is generally wary of the subject of cleanliness because complaints about student restrooms are often in reference to those that maintain them vs. those that use them. Where else does one place the blame, when one muses on the fact that we are all under suspicion for whatever is left in a restroom that we vacate?
There have been incidences of irrepressible graffiti in most men's facilities, "prolific nose pickers" decorating the walls of the men's cafeteria bathroom, transients in the Music Complex restrooms, and according to Peterson, homosexual encounters in the second floor men's room of LA.
"The stalls on the second floor are made of rubberized plastic so that graffiti can be sanded away," Peterson said. "They found a way to drill a hole between stalls. We patch them when we find them."
The maintenance sector has been requested to do a complete inventory of all restrooms to determine the need for things such as new partitions, sinks, fixtures, and paint. Once this information has been collected, it will be submitted for consideration, and will almost certainly receive funds from a bond measure entitled "Measure U" that was voted and approved by the districts of Santa Monica and Malibu in March of 2002.
This money will be awarded in the fiscal year of 2005-06, which begins on June 30th. How much money will be allotted, and what it will address remains to be seen.
Perhaps at this point we should all pause and take notice of what, if any, contributions we as individuals make in creating an un-restful restroom experience.
Some of us will undoubtedly be completely exempt, or almost so, of any unorthodox potty practices.
But ask yourself; have I ever tossed a paper towel in reckless abandon, ignoring it as it found its final destination outside the wastepaper basket? Have I ever pushed a button, pulled a lever, or tripped an electronic trigger on a toilet without looking back to be sure that the flush was successful? Have I, under the pretences of privacy, indulged in behavior that I would otherwise avoid at home where I might have to face the consequences?
If you find these questions distasteful, what about some of the practices that are apparently running rampant among SMC student restroom users? Consider that, and maybe you will find where the true dirt lies.