Bio-cleanup warning falls on deaf ears

Students left three more messes that required bio-cleanups this weekend, bringing the total number of bio-cleanups to 27 this year. The incidents occurred after Dean Merrill declared such behavior “reprehensible . . . degrading and unacceptable” in an all-campus e-mail on Thursday. She has also detailed consequences for the guilty individuals, hosting organizations, houses or entries associated with the bio-cleanups.

According to the new policy, any student who admits to creating and leaving a biohazard – urine, vomit or excrement outside a toilet – is responsible for cleaning it up using a special cleaning kit provided by Facilities. A refusal to do so will result in disciplinary action, including possible suspension.

If no one comes forward after an incident takes place at a party hosted by a student organization, the organization is expected to clean up using the kit and will be fined and barred from hosting events for a minimum of one month if they do not comply. If neither culprit nor event organizer is identifiable, responsibility falls on the residences. If residents do not clean up, they are billed for cleanup; and the residence is placed on residents-only card access and denied registered parties for a minimum of one month.

The policy is the result of many weeks of discussion between the Dean’s Office, Campus Life and Facilities, in consultation with Neighborhood Governance Boards (NGB), faculty and other schools in the region.

Morgan House was one of the first to feel the pinch of the new policy, after vomit was left in the second floor bathroom around 3 a.m. on Sunday. Baxter Fellow Tim Ryan ’09 e-mailed the Morgan listserv requesting that the responsible person step forward. When no one confessed, he notified the College authorities, and by 9 p.m. custodial staff cleaned up the mess.

In an e-mail to Morgan residents on Monday, Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life, explained that the students in the middle of the second floor would cover the cost of the cleanup. The house is now on residents-only restricted card access for two weeks (Oct. 23 to Nov. 6) and cannot host registered parties until Nov. 22, he said.

Other incidents requiring bio-cleanups this weekend were in East, for excrement, and in the Rice House apartment breezeway, for urine.

“It’s certainly not the custodian’s job, but cleaning the mess up dehumanizes anyone who has to do it,” Ryan said. He pointed out that many of the second floor residents were out of town when the incidents occurred. “How can we hold them responsible when they weren’t even on campus?”

Ryan also expressed concern regarding the health risk to students who do not know how to access bio-cleanup kits or take proper precautions, the burden of fines for students on financial aid, and the possibility that the individual who caused the mess was too intoxicated to remember it.

“The truth of it is that I think the policy is unfortunate, but probably as good as it can be,” said Jon Prigoff ’08, president of Wood Neighborhood. “Definitely, as a neighborhood board, our responsibility is to our residents, and if we think the administration is applying a policy unfairly in specific mitigating circumstances, we’d sit down with the dean and try to change that.”

Most agree that the policy was necessary, although far from ideal. “Many people feel that the campus-wide letter was harsh, but I also understand the position of the administration,” said Ellen Song ’11, whose bathroom in Willy A was vandalized one weekend night a month ago. Three holes were punched in the wall, and a line was drawn with a dry-erase marker, in the form of a smiley face. Song and her suitemates will have to pay for the damages, which have yet to be repaired.

“What really annoys me is that since a few students are not acting like responsible adults, we are all losing the privilege of being treated like mature people,” Song said. “It is embarrassing for pre-frosh to come to Williams and read on the front-page that ‘fecal cleanups’ are continuing.”

The bio-cleanup debacle has also made headlines elsewhere, including the North Adams Transcript (“Students gone wild,” Oct. 18, 2007) and an independent blog run by Wesleyan students (wesleying.blogspot.com). Bea Miles, director of Facilities, lamented the bad publicity, but anticipated that it will bring about a change in student attitudes. “Before all of this became so public, I think it wasn’t accepted, but it wasn’t acknowledged either,” she said. “The hope now is that the silent majority is going to stand up and say this is not acceptable.”