Let’s Talk About Bathrooms
Issue 7, Volume 112
Every day in the Stuyvesant restrooms, the janitorial staff battles with the forces of dampness and disrepair. Paper towels and toilet paper are cleaned up and changed. Solid surfaces are wiped. This war cannot be won, but they fight it anyway, making the bathroom clean enough for its various activities, which include, but are not limited to, changing, hanging out, and carrying out the occasional bodily function. The bathroom is a place of personal struggle and communal solidarity. We have endured the dismal disappointment for so long that we can no longer envision something greater than what lies behind those sturdy beige doors. We must drain the swamp, rebuild this five-minute refuge from academics, and make Stuyvesant’s bathrooms great again.
The first step to meaningful reform begins in the boys’ bathroom, where barriers between the urinals should be constructed. Instead of separate stalls, like in the ladies’ room, the boys’ urinals are placed right next to each other without dividers. While most establishments assist with a plastic or metal barrier that demarcates territory between urinals, Stuyvesant has no such divide. Men denude themselves multiple times a day to their classmates without having a choice. When free stalls are few and far between, the urinal becomes the only option for relief. We have accepted this situation for too long. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis established the constitutional right to privacy a hundred years ago. Stuyvesant, a public school paid for by our tax dollars, needs only to install a few small dividers to protect it.
Speaking of denuding oneself, will anything be done about the senior strippers? There is, it turns out, a branch of Flashdancers a few blocks away from Stuyvesant on Murray Street, but that’s no reason for seniors to jumpstart their careers in high school physical education class, flinging off their clothes in abandoned supply closets and the Hudson stairwell. With no gym lockers, what choice do seniors have? The more chaste might consider going to the bathroom to change. But space is scant, and jostling occupants are many. The queues for the two to four coveted stalls reach the bathroom entrance as seniors desperately run to the restrooms to change in cramped stalls with wet floors and other unspeakable conditions. If you don’t have a free period before gym class, good luck running to the first or second floor to grab your gym clothes, then to a nearby bathroom with hellish wait times, back to your locker, and to physical education, just to be marked late. Occasionally, the door swings wide open and… FLASHED! Cui bono?
Within the bathrooms themselves, particularly the girls’, there are further problems that need reforms. Several stalls in many girls’ bathrooms do not properly lock, often leaving students in compromising situations. For instance, two out of the six stalls on the fifth floor lack proper latches, significantly reducing the number of usable stalls. Additionally, several faucets do not turn off without the intervention of a janitor, while others do not turn on at all. On top of the faulty faucets, there are broken paper towel machines and empty soap and hygiene product dispensers. As evidenced by the masks everyone wears, COVID-19 is still rampant—and the yearly plague imminent—meaning that proper hygiene is of utmost importance. The bathrooms, typically a hub of sanitation, should reflect this principle.
While much of the physical infrastructure in the bathrooms needs to be improved, students also have a shared responsibility to keep the bathrooms clean. Paper towel-covered floors, ominous substances in the toilets, and the distant smell of a mango-flavored Juul are all the results of students, rather than errors in (or lack of) proper equipment. When sharing communal space, it is important to keep the bathrooms habitable. It shouldn’t be solely up to janitorial staff to clean messes that could have been easily avoided or handled by a student. If students want the public facilities to become a place void of terror and disgust, students too must do their part. But that said, changes must be made. Walls erected! Locks installed! Bathrooms reformed.