Jackson: Why don’t we have paper towels?

It’s official: H1N1 has arrived at Yale, and with it have come hundreds of reminders from the Yale community about how to protect ourselves.

One significant message is the admonition to wash our hands. The Yale Center for Public Health Preparedness, Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization and the Connecticut Department of Public Health all strongly encourage the simple act of washing hands as a way to prevent the spread of flu. This then begs us to ask: Why has Yale failed to provide its students with paper towels in residential college bathrooms?

It seems obvious (in fact, I feel somewhat ashamed that our esteemed institution should get a failing grade in Public Hygiene 101) that if Yale wants its students to practice good bathroom hygiene, the University would provide us with a fully equipped bathroom. The mixed signals are puzzling: The administration is ready to place me in lockdown, but they won’t give me a paper towel.

H1N1 is a virus that everyone should take seriously, especially since a vaccine is currently unavailable and our close-proximity living conditions create a vulnerable environment. The University is taking numerous precautions to protect us — as it should — but if every e-mail, flyer, announcement and greeting tells us to wash our hands and cover our mouths, why haven’t we been given paper towels?

If this is a green issue (and I certainly understand that paper towels can be wasted), Yale should consider installing automatic hand dryers. If it is a cost issue, then reallocate some of the paper towels reserved for the basement bathrooms (which aren’t in such heavy demand) to residential college bathrooms.

Admittedly, paper towels aren’t necessary for hand washing, but they certainly encourage it. How many of us have watched in disgust as individuals have walked out of the bathroom without giving the sink or their hands a second look? Most students resort to using their clothes as drying mechanisms: the same shirt sleeve into which they cough early in the day they use to dry their washed hands later on. So much for germ containment.

Students should not be expected to carry around their own paper towels or rely upon someone placing a community towel in the bathrooms (been there, done that — nobody ever washes that thing). If Yale is serious about helping us stay healthy, its bathrooms should come equipped with some method for drying hands. I am not alone in feeling this way: fellow students, parents and health officials agree with me.

You’re given paper towels or hand dryers at the most modest of gas stations, stores and restaurants, as well as at our peer institutions, including Princeton and Harvard. The last time I checked, our lack of paper towels didn’t make Yale any greener or less expensive than those schools.

For anyone who is not in the habit of drying their hands, adding paper towels will probably have a positive effect. For the rest of us, those who are in the habit, I ask you, Yale: At the height of this epidemic, please do the right thing.

Lindsey Jackson is a senior in Calhoun College.


  • BR ’10

    I understand the nuisance, but there are ways around it other than what you’ve mentioned. Here are solutions I’ve used in the past:

    1. Leave my OWN (not a community) towel in the bathroom–this worked best when my suite was the only one using the bathroom.
    2. Hang a washcloth on a hook by the door to my room which I bring with me when I go to the bathroom.
    3. Shake them off and then dry more thoroughly when I get back to my room.

    We’re Yale students. We’ve got brains. If we use them creatively, we can deal with not having paper towels. Paper towels WILL be a huge waste. For some reason, the Yalies with whom I share my bathroom already can’t handle having toilet paper (why is it all over the floor, guys? Why?). Paper towels will be a huge mess, making more work for custodians. Also, if you observe Yalies in the public restrooms in other buildings, you’ll realize that most of them use many more paper towels than they need to dry their hands. They’re going to be less, not more, respectful if they are moved to residential college bathrooms. This is a huge waste of paper and money. The money allocated to providing paper towels to basement bathrooms would not be nearly enough to cover stocking all the residential bathrooms.

    Yeah, it is incredibly disgusting when people don’t wash their hands. I’m always shocked when people walk out of the stall and right by me–how little shame can you really have? Nevertheless, I don’t believe those people are not washing just because there are no paper towels. Paper towels are not the answer to your problems.

  • anonymous

    Anti-bacterial hand gel dispensers would solve this problem without the waste of providing additional paper towels.

  • CC’09

    Yale has a history of being pathetically unable or unwilling to stock its bathrooms with necessary items. When I moved into Calhoun as a sophomore, I was excited that we’d be getting SOAP in all our bathrooms.

  • Hieronymus

    @#3 Not “Yale,” but Yale’s unions.

  • @Hieronymus

    Right, it’s always the unions’ fault.

    If Yale were to add paper towel dispensers, it’s true that every Friday night, drunk revelers would stumble out of their parties into the bathrooms, dump paper towels on the floor, and vomit all over them.

    Yale’s custodial staff would have the extra duty of replacing those paper towels. (This is true even if Yale students don’t live up to my hyperbolic expectations.) It’s not reasonable to ask the staff to do more work for the same pay. You’re right that unions would resist the move, but they’d be right in doing so. Yale’s the one in the wrong for being unwilling to pay for the extra service (& supplies).

  • Dan

    Get a life, Hieronymus.

  • Y ’10

    We don’t need Yale to baby us. If you want paper towels, go buy some for yourself. If you want a clean washcloth, get your own and clean it yourself.

  • @7

    Ok, #7, somehow providing a basic amenity that ANY PUBLIC RESTROOM would include is babying you?

    The colleges give you weight rooms, and game rooms, and subsidize your late night snacking, and clean up after your parties, and dispense detergent into your laundry for you, and recycle your cans&bottles for you, and so on ad inf. And none of that is babying you?

  • @#2

    Anti-bacterial anything is the answer if you want the next big disease we worry about to be some superbug. It doesn’t get your hands cleaner than regular soap and water, and it creates resistant strains of bacteria. Bad news.