The UWCM toilet crisis: have we reached the tipping point?

by Karolis Margis, UWCM
12th of July, 2022

Let’s go 2000 years back in time. It’s a sunny afternoon in the ancient Roman city of Ostia. The elite of the city are enjoying their time in Forica, a public latrine. Around 20 citizens of Ostia are discussing the politics, gossip and most important recent events of the empire and the city, while doing their natural business at the same time. Forica is very much the center of the community and there is nothing shameful about it. Now let’s go back to the present times, where the students of UWC Maastricht are living their innocent lives on a Dutch island. 

One of those students, a natural observer, has recently made a poll about people’s experience in toilets. He has wisely disguised the poll as his IA questionnaire, in order to make more people answer the questions. He has done so, for the topic he has chosen is a true taboo in our society. The results that he gathered are simply astonishing and he has kindly agreed to share his findings. 

The first finding is that 66.7% of the students have “felt a sense of alienation or discomfort while being in toilet in our school”. This shows us that many students here don’t feel comfortable when visiting our latrines. On the contrary, most of them have felt alienation while visiting a toilet. When you think about it, UWC is supposed to be a place where everyone should feel welcome and happy. Then a natural question rises – why do we need a place in our school where alienation prevails? We suggest that maybe we don’t need such a place. 

The next findings are even more important – 48.3% percent of our students agree “that the social aspect of our toilets is flawed”. In other words, they acknowledge that we need more socialization in our toilets. Just like in Forica: political debates, gossip, discussions, citing of poetry etc. In such a way our toilets could become the hearth of our community.  Of course one might say that a toilet is a private and extremely intimate place. What happens in the lavatory shall stay in the lavatory. However, we should challenge this status quo. 

When it comes to gender, most of us will agree that it is a social construct. We think the same logic could be applied to our lavatories as well. You see, if you were to put a baby (a tabula rasa if you may) in a toilet, the baby wouldn’t naturally go and hide himself between 4 walls and wouldn’t see any need of privacy for his nature doesn’t see a reason for it. So why should we feel a sense of shame while sitting on the honey bucket? We suggest that this social construct is (very much like gender stereotypes) unnecessary and potentially harmful. Should we not start the rhetorical ball of socialization in the toilets rolling just because our society is prejudiced by medieval social constructs?

We are very much worried that following such social norms will lead to terrible consequences. Now, imagine that a young beautiful man comes to our college next year. He arrives on campus and observes that one thing in particular distinguishes him from other students. That is nakedness, or one might say the lack of nakedness of others. The student (let’s call him Dick) comes from a family of nudists, where lack of attire is considered a norm and he has followed this norm since his early childhood. We believe it would be terribly hard for him to fit in our little society, since we are prejudiced by these medieval social constructs and see naked body as a source of shame just because it is not part of our culture. But do we have the right to blame Dick for promoting his culture and sharing the values that his parents installed in his family? Isn’t celebration of difference one of UWC values? I do understand that some people would feel uncomfortable seeing Dick naked, but we should understand that Dick might not be comfortable seeing our lack of nakedness. Maybe naked Dick is happy Dick. It is even possible that there might be closeted nudists in our current student body, who are not capable of embracing their family traditions just because our community is too conservative for it. There are potential Dicks who can’t be happy because our society does not accept their values.

That explains the next findings: 61.7% of our students don’t think that “the toilets in our school represent their culture or intercultural understanding in general”.  65% agrees that “the atmosphere of our toilets makes it a place where you don’t want to stay for long”. Therefore, 70% of our students say that “the school should take actions to improve our toilets”. 

We already discussed many of the reasons for taking action, but there is one interesting reason to add. According to the study, an average student spends 34 minutes in the toilet every day. 68.3% students estimate that they spend around 30 minutes a day, while 31.7% of the students spend 40 minutes more. 8.3% of the students spend about an hour. 

These 34 minutes (or in some cases an hour) could be educational, social, political, enlightening, but instead they are silent, awkward and deeply uncomfortable. No wonder why people don’t want to stay in toilets for long periods of time. 

So, in the name of our community, we would like to address the administration and student body of our school and invite them to explore the horizons of lavatories. We should make it a place where students are encouraged to explore other cultures, ideas, views and eventually feel like home. Thus making our common bathrooms the hearth of our college. But in order to achieve this, as Newton’s 1st law would suggest, we need a force which would start the motion. We are hoping that our article will be this almighty force. 

Amen and Awomen.