The college experience: Ripped, see-through shower curtains and hand dryers that wake up the floor

Charlie Roiland

Picture this: you come home from a long night at work, covered in grease and worn out. You’re looking forward to taking a nice hot shower and climbing into bed, so you grab your shower supplies and head to the bathroom. 

On the off chance that you can actually find an open, working shower, you know you’ll struggle to get the sheer plastic curtain to stay closed enough for even a semblance of privacy. Most days, the only open shower is the one that, despite countless work orders, only faintly sprays cold water in your general direction.

This is the reality for the majority of first and second year students who live on campus. Sophomore Katie Janas has experienced this firsthand while living in Erickson. “We have six showers in total in our bathroom,” she said. “Three of them work, three don’t. We’ve put in multiple work orders as a floor and there’s still no hot water.”

Sophomore Emmeline Kenealy, a CA in Andreen, has experienced a similar issue. “Only two people can shower at the same time, simply because it is awkward to use stalls only separated by an old, ripped curtain,” Kenealy said. 

Unlike most other residence halls, Andreen’s third floor bathroom does not have walls separating the showers. This lack of privacy causes an overall feeling of discomfort in the students who have to use these showers. 

“I believe that every communal bathroom should be equal in terms of amenities and updates,” Kenealy said. “Communal bathrooms in the residence halls are not equal and are even uncomfortable and outdated in the instance of Andreen.”

In addition to problems with the showers, many students have to decide whether to use the hand dryers and disrupt others on their floor or walk out of the bathroom with wet hands.

In Westerlin’s second floor bathroom, the hand dryers can be seen with a sign that states ‘do not use between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.’ However, there is no alternative given, such as the paper towels that are provided in many other buildings around campus.

Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many residence halls were provided with paper towel dispensers to slow the spread of the virus. “This year, there are no paper towel dispensers and we have to use a hand dryer that isn’t very effective,” Kenealy said. 

This can become problematic for students who live close to the bathrooms, especially on weekends when people are out past quiet hours. For Janas, who shares a wall with the hand dryers, the noise has been more than just a mild annoyance. “Whenever somebody uses the hand dryers at night, you can hear it and it wakes you up. It’s just been really frustrating and annoying.”

For some floors in Westerlin, Andreen and Erickson, residents have had to come up with their own solutions to these issues. According to Janas, the residents of Erickson’s second floor have worked together to accommodate the needs of others. 

“The people on my floor are really sweet. They know that I get off work around eight and usually make sure to have a shower available for when I get back,” she said. “I work in food service, so I’m usually covered in food after work.”

In addition to scheduling their showers around each others’ schedules, the residents of Erickson’s second floor take steps to keep the bathroom a sanitary place. “A lot of the girls will step up to clean the bathroom so that the facilities people don’t have to,” Janas said. “Everyone’s pretty respectful. We haven’t had any issues with messes or stealing.”

Janas’ is one of the more positive experiences that first and second year students have had living on campus. First-year Robert Kaluza, an international student from Germany, has not had such an experience since arriving at Augustana. Kaluza lives in the international house, a TLA that consists of ten students from various countries. The house has two bathrooms with one shower each, and residents are in charge of maintaining the space themselves.

Similar to the dorm showers, the showers in the international house have weak water pressure and various plumbing issues. “They work, but don’t really have a lot of pressure,” Kaluza said. “The water doesn’t drain, so after you shower the whole bathroom is wet and flooded.”

“To be honest, it’s very filthy,” Kaluza said when asked about the bathroom situation. “There’s no real cleanup plan, so it always falls to the same person who has to clean it up. I think a TLA with nine or ten people is too big. It’s easier when you have only four people.” 

When there are multiple people making a mess and only a few cleaning it up, it causes unnecessary stress for those involved.

This experience is not unique to the international house. “Sinks are almost always out of order in some capacity and are sometimes completely unusable,” Kenealy said about the third floor Andreen bathroom. In addition, coordinating showers is difficult depending on your floor level. The first floor of Andreen has fewer residents than the other two floors, making crowding less common. It’s all a matter of location.

Messes in general are a problem in the majority of campus living situations. Bathroom use is not solely limited to residents of that floor, and oftentimes people from other halls like to cause commotion. “There were issues at the start of the year where people would dip toilet paper in the toilet or the sink and then throw it against the walls,” Janas said. “It’s not facilities’ job to clean that, to have to scrape toilet paper off the walls when they come in on Sunday.” 

While the majority of Augustana’s first and second year housing has a janitorial staff that cleans the bathroom a few times a week, it is not their job to fix Andreen’s broken shower curtains, Erickson’s extremely loud hand dryers or Westerlin’s lack of water pressure. The concept of communal bathrooms causes many issues for students, and a continuation of these issues can contribute to an increasingly negative college experience overall.

Additional reporting by Janey Locander.