In February and March 2012, the Green Living Council and Aquacue, a water system electronics and monitoring company, sponsored the “Water Wars,” a month-long competition between the different dorms in Florence Moore (FloMo) to see which dorm could reduce its water consumption the most. The winning dorm was promised a prize of $1,000 for general dorm funds. A similar competition at the University of California, Merced incentivized students to cut their water consumption by 14 percent, an impressive reduction. This was to be a pleasant, good-spirited competition in support of a greater cause, right?
Alas, according to Aquacue, early in the process, someone tampered with one of its monitoring devices by inserting wood chips so that the device stopped reporting any water flow. A backup device was left functioning, so no data was lost. More troubling, however, was that someone entered Loro’s bathrooms and left the showers and spigots running overnight, wasting copious amounts of water. By the end of the competition, Loro used 17,585 more gallons than its previous baseline consumption. For comparison, the winning dorm Faisan cut its previous consumption by 1,306 gallons and the most-improved dorm Gavilan cut its consumption by 10,301 gallons.
The irony of the situation is painfully obvious. The person(s) who wasted incredible amounts of Loro’s water clearly missed the point that these Water Wars were intended to reduce water consumption – wasting water to give another dorm an edge defeats the entire purpose of the competition.
The Editorial Board is concerned that this kind of behavior is part of a broader lack of respect for the community in many Stanford residences. This particular action is not typical of most Stanford students, yet many smaller acts of disrespect take place daily.
In general, as Stanford students, we are incredibly blessed. Dorm residents have access to essentially unlimited food up to 19 times a week at dining halls or 10 times a week in self-operated houses, prepared with little to no effort on behalf of the students. Most residences have the luxury of a cleaning staff. It can be all too easy to become complacent in such an atmosphere.
On occasion, we see this complacency rear its ugly head in the form of stacks of dirty plates abandoned in hallways or dorm kitchenettes, common spaces torn apart by weekend revelers and the accursed phenomenon of vomit in bathrooms and hallways. In addition to being inherently distasteful, these acts of disrespect attack the very social fabric in residences – they promote an environment of unaccountability and strain relationships within residences and between students and staff. Perhaps we are spoiled by all of the services we receive.
To that end, the Editorial Board believes that more ownership and accountability would create a residential environment that truly makes a home out of student housing. Although difficult to implement, one option is to have students participate in the upkeep of their residences even in a small way, as self-ops do with hash. Such a policy would complement, not supplant, existing custodial staff. If students were partially responsible for the upkeep of common areas and bathrooms, for instance, social attitudes among students toward behaviors like excessive intoxication and vomiting would be vastly different. The sink you puked in won’t be cleaned by some invisible force while you sleep or are in class – it will be cleaned by your neighbor and peer, who will not be pleased with your disregard for the community and will exert social pressure on you to show respect. Of course, these characteristics are present in Stanford’s co-operatively run residences, but the Editorial Board does not expect every Stanford residence to be a co-op.
Nevertheless, it is clear that student attitudes need to change. The current reality in which costs of room and board are paid by some combination of funds from parents, students and financial aid means that students take Stanford and the lifestyle we are afforded here for granted. Wasting thousands of gallons of water to disadvantage peers in a competition would be unthinkable in the “real world.” Assisting custodial staff in maintaining residences makes students directly accountable for the actions they take that negatively impact residences. Programs like Stanford Habla build community a different way, giving hard-working Stanford employees the benefit of English practice and making students more cognizant of the people who tirelessly work “behind the scenes.” Even before this, pointing out generally disrespectful attitudes on the part of students who are undoubtedly intelligent will begin to cause much-needed change.