Typical dorm bathrooms are gross. They’re ridden with hair clumps and vomit-residue and there’s always the faint, nauseating smell of someone’s post-Chipotle shit. But thanks to the work of our wonderful and dedicated custodian staff, our bathrooms here don’t usually show the nasty symptoms of collective overuse. However, they do suffer from the bystander effect. People assume that with so many people using the same bathroom, if there is a problem, it’s likely someone else will fix it. Thus, there are two main non-cleanliness related issues spawned by the bystander effect that plague my dorm bathroom: an almost ceaseless lack of toilet paper, and an entirely broken door handle. While the former leads to the unfortunate side effects of frequent drip-drying and frantic phone calls and pleas to hall-mates to be your toilet paper deliverer/savior, the topic of interest here is the latter. For reference, here is the state of the door handle:
To clarify, both sides of the door handle are missing, and the only thing keeping people from being permanently locked in the bathroom is the door handle placed around the wall as a door stop—talk about living on the edge!! At first, the entire ordeal was almost comical. How did this even occur? I wonder who will get locked in the bathroom first! But, as we verged upon a full week of intensely fearful bathroom visits, I began to notice the complete lack of action to fix the issue. No one had called facilities, and in Kitty Genovese-esque fashion, everyone assumed someone else would deal with it. So, I decided to perform an experiment of sorts and keep track of how long it took before the door handle got fixed. I eliminate myself from judgment here, since I only avoided calling for the sake of my little experiment (I swear I’m not a horrible person and normally would’ve called!! I made a sacrifice for science!)
I asked a floor-mate, Erik Kromer ’20, what had kept him from engaging with the problem, and he replied “I honestly don’t care whatsoever about the door, because I never use that bathroom anyway.”
To which I countered, “Doesn’t it bother you that this is affecting other people? Do you feel any sort of obligation to help these people?”
And he dishearteningly replied, “They can do it themselves because it affects them, not me. They have just as much power as I do.” *insert IRL sad face :(* However, his answer does make practical sense. What really confused me were the responses of people who actually use the bathroom. There was often either a misconceived notion that someone else would call, an overwhelming sense that it was amusing and didn’t need to be fixed, or a claim that there just wasn’t time to make the call (which would probably take around 2 minutes…).
Luckily, on day 12 of my experiment I walked to the bathroom in my Velcro towel (I’m not sponsored so this is a genuine plug for these towels. 11/10 would recommend to a friend or other random human on the internet), emanating palpable fear of being locked in, and realized that THERE WAS A HANDLE. Miraculously, someone had taken the step and actually called facilities. Incredible. My experiment now turns to sleuthing as I search for the lovely human being who made the call.
In conclusion, I now know that most of my floor-mates are sadistic human beings who would love to see someone eternally stuck in a bathroom, and that people even procrastinate on things unrelated to schoolwork. But most importantly, I will never again take a door handle for granted. @ my bathroom door handle: I treasure you <3.
Image via Annie Warner.