Beyond Trashing the Half-Floor

On the issue of the half-floor trash, and what we should take away from it.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Sabrina Chen

On the first day of school, I clambered up the grand staircase, weighed down by my heavy bag and exhausted from navigating an enormous new school. There, I first saw the half-floor: a small but impressive marble expanse that sat between the first and second floors, cut through by smooth pillars. This polished wonder became my oasis amidst the confusion, stress, and rush of the school day—to this day, I eat lunch and spend my free periods on the half-floor among a sea of freshmen.

However, this marble oasis began to serve a second purpose: the students’ unofficial trash dump. Discarded items ranging from torn plastic bags to crushed crackers to history worksheets lay scattered across the small floor, sometimes swept under the air conditioners or packed around the iconic pillars. Crumbs, stains, and patches of unidentifiable liquids have diminished both the shine of the half-floor and its worth as a haven for Stuyvesant underclassmen.

After a few weeks of both trash and inaction accumulating, a few students took to Facebook, posting jarring pictures of the mess and calling on students to clean up after themselves. However, the post, and an additional morning announcement the next day, which urged students to refrain from trashing the half-floor, went unheeded. Other schoolwide attempts to go trash-free, be it the administration’s addition of cafeteria monitors to roam the floors or the Environmental Club’s Green Team’s hallway trash stations, were ineffective. Even complaints that the trash was disrupting school-wide SING! rehearsals sparked little improvement—the half-floor remained as littered as before.

Perhaps more concerning than the trash, however, was our refusal to take responsibility and instead fight over who must bear the heavy burden of not littering.

In spite of the ensuing inter-grade conflict about who was to blame and who should clean up, there remains the ironic fact that, on either side of the half-floor, there lies a trash bin, two types of recycling bins, and an easy-to-read info guide on what goes into which bin. It takes little energy to walk the short distance to discard one’s handful of trash. Thus, it is not just inconvenience, but indolence, that has prevented us from alleviating this supposedly heavy—but actually nonsensical—burden.

In the aforementioned inter-grade dispute, when underclassmen and upperclassmen alike disregarded the easy opportunity to clean up after ourselves, instead choosing to point fingers at one another, petty arguments appeared in Facebook comment sections. Moments of hostility erupted across the half floor, in which various individuals were publicly shamed. As expected, many vehemently denied their role or accused others, creating a chain of blame that accomplished nothing but foster resentment.

When we reached the end of the chain, we then resorted to targeting school custodians. Some protested that they did not see the purpose of throwing out their trash. It is the custodians’ job to clean the building and—as these students claim—their responsibility to clean up after us. Such behavior is utterly disrespectful to the kind individuals who spend early and late hours alike laboring over cluttered classrooms and dusty corridors so that we can enjoy a clean and comfortable learning environment. To exacerbate their already difficult jobs by leaving behind garbage in nooks and crannies difficult to access undermines their hard, grueling work.

Though small improvements in the half-floor are finally beginning to emerge after three weeks, what worries me is what this half-floor apathy reveals about Stuyvesant. We expected others to clean up after ourselves, forcing them to waste valuable time and effort in dealing with the consequences of our own selfishness. When we were called out on it, however, we tried to deflect the criticism while the half-floor remained trashed. We were reluctant to acknowledge our mistakes in mistreating school property. In essence, we ignored easy fixes and instead created an issue greater than the trash problem.

When we leave the bubble of high school and enter the real world, how will we deal with countless life-determining decisions? We cannot simply rely on others to take care of us—be it those whose jobs are to do so, or those who do it out of kindness. If we maintain that line of flawed reasoning, we will accomplish very little on our own. Thus, at the very least, we must accept that dealing with the consequences of our actions is our responsibility—not anyone else’s. From there, we can move toward helping others with genuine struggles—not just the indolence we Stuyvesant students face. Only then can we occupy a world worth living in—one in which people are willing to take care of both themselves and each other.

Stuyvesant is renowned for being one of the nation’s best schools, boasting a top-tier education and countless extracurricular opportunities. Yet there are non-academic lessons that we must learn on our own to contribute to a better society. That includes learning how to clean up our mess, be it literal or figurative.