Carnival Triumph disaster has got nothing on Yale graduate housing

Think back to the media fixation that came before the whole meteor in Russia thing, to the story that received — in the words of Jon Stewart — “wall to shit-covered wall coverage” just one short week ago.

You may recall the voyage of the Carnival Triumph, which was stranded in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to an unfortunate engine fire (while I’m at it, a crucial note for any ESL students out there: an engine fire is quite different from a fire engine). Here’s a fairly mild description of what happened in the five days between that fire and journey’s end:

Weary and miserable, sickened by the stench of sewage, the last of more than 3,000 passengers walked off a hobbled cruise ship Friday after tugboats lugged it to the Alabama shore and finally brought an end to a five-day floating nightmare.

Safely ashore, the passengers told horror stories of a ship with corridors reeking of sewage, long lines for meals and people sleeping on deck to get out of the sweltering interior of the vessel. One person said it smelled like a zoo. [Editor’s note: I would have said “like Noah’s Ark”, but thankfully, I wasn’t there.]

But what happened aboard that ship has nothing on Helen Hadley Hall, which offers housing to Yale graduate students. What follows is an email that was sent to the building’s residents by the manager of the Graduate Dormitory Housing Office just two weeks ago. If you’ve been skimming until now, slow down and savor every word of what follows:

Hello HHH –

It has been brought to my attention that there have been some “accidents” in the bathrooms over the past few weeks.

Because we have some many students and so many cultures represented in HHH, it is often necessary to clarify what is acceptable use for the bathroom facilities. I’m willing to believe there have been some smaller issues noticed and handled within the floor-level community but because of our bathroom renovations, we have people from any given floor, using several other restrooms these days.

Regardless of the many cultures represented in HHH, I need all students to follow the standard US/western culture for restroom use.

  • Students should use the toilets only for urinating and defecating.
  • I discourage the use of chamber pots in student bedrooms but if you use one, it must be emptied into a toilet, NOT a bathroom or kitchen sink.
  • Please do not wash your feet or your genitals in the bathroom sinks. There is a tub/shower unit in each bathroom for students to use for a smaller style of sponge bath if desired.
  • Please do not wash any kind of clothing in the bathroom sinks. Use the sink in the laundry room for hand-washing “delicates”, i.e. underwear and bras, and (especially) larger pieces of clothing.
  • If you accidentally urinate, defect or vomit in the bathroom, and don’t quite make it to the toilet, please clean it up. If you are really too sick to clean it up, you MUST contact Yale Customer Service Dispatch at 203-432-6888 to report it. (You don’t have to tell them it was you who made that mess but report that it’s there, is unsanitary, and it needs attention as quickly as possible.)
  • It is extremely unhygienic to have vomit, urine, or feces wiped on the stall walls or left on the floors near the toilets. The bathrooms get naturally dirty with 30 or so individuals using the same sinks, toilets, and showers throughout the day. We do not need to exacerbate the mess and germs, by accidentally or intentionally, leaving these kinds of body fluids in places where other people touch or walk.

(As a quick aside, we had a few students ask for a bidet to be added to each bathroom at the renovation. The request was brought forth to several of the Planning groups at Yale working on this project but it was not approved.)

I know the vast majority of you absolutely follow these standard hygienic procedures and I thank you all for your cooperation!

I’m not going to go into too much detail about why this email is both hilarious and wrong, but I will briefly address why I felt OK posting it, as promised.

The reason in favor is obvious: comedic gold.

But I did have some hesitation. First, it risks embarrassing and stigmatizing students who live in HHH, particularly those of “non-standard/Eastern culture.” Second, it risks embarrassing HHH management and perhaps the university as a whole.

Then I discovered that the exact same email has been sent around at the same time of year in three of the past four (years). That fact has a few implications.

One, concerning any “non-standard” students, nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s all been done before. See, Ecclesiastes 1:9. I spent four months in Nepal, and the wonderful people there were very accepting of my “non-standard/Western culture” proclivities in private. I don’t remember ever getting an email like this.

Two, it means HHH has now had three opportunities to tone down the cringe-inducing insensitive tone of the message and has not taken a one of them.

Three, HHH goes into every year perhaps knowing this is going to be a problem, so why wait until February — once someone may have inadvertently violated one of the standards and has something to be embarrassed about — to send it around?

I’m sure the email has been shared before — I mean, I don’t live in HHH, so it’s obviously been shared before — but I couldn’t find a copy anywhere online. Maybe those who came before me didn’t have blogs, or maybe they did and decided it wasn’t worth posting for some of the reasons I outlined above, or out of other valid concerns, or just out of disinterest.

But now that the email’s out there — and discoverable by the google — it’s conceivable that this post will make it up to the people responding for sending it. And maybe seeing it in public will encourage them to reconsider the wicked error of their ways. And maybe, just maybe they will decide to clean up their act.

For act-cleaning services, I believe one would call 203-432-6888.

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