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Staff Ed: At UMBC, it’s a privilege to pee

While “inquiring minds” may be a top priority at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, functioning infrastructure apparently is not.

On Monday, Sept. 16 water across campus (particularly at the top of the hill) began to run out. This immediately became a problem for any students on campus, particularly residential students. The toilets in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building couldn’t be flushed despite their overuse. Students living in the apartments couldn’t shower, use their sinks or flush their toilets. 

Walker Avenue Apartments’ management sent out an email addressing the crisis early on, at 7:47 p.m. But the campus at large did not receive word of the water outage until 9:40 p.m., almost two hours later, via an email from Residential Life. The email asked students to “refer to your UMBC email for update,” yet none came until the next morning at 9:39 a.m. In that email, students were told that “Residential Life has ordered portable toilets and will alert you when those are available later this morning. Bottled water will be delivered to front desks by 10:30 a.m.” The portable toilets were eventually delivered to campus around 11 a.m.

It’s ridiculous that students had to wait over 14 hours from when water was first running out to when Residential Life finally supplied portable toilets. It’s ridiculous that residential students were being forced to use toilets that didn’t work, or to leave campus and spend money to use local businesses’ restrooms. It’s ridiculous that only one water bottle was being handed out per person at the Walker Avenue Apartment desk, despite it being the area on campus that was hit more brutally. But all this is even more ridiculous knowing how frequently UMBC loses water.

Prior to Monday, the most recent water outage on campus occurred on Jan. 3, 2019 during the winter session and closed campus halfway through the day. Before that, there was one in October. Considering the fact that this is the third water outage within a year, shouldn’t UMBC have a better plan to get portable toilets on campus more quickly? Shouldn’t Residential Life be able to supply enough water to actually keep the students hydrated (which adds up to more than one 16.9 oz. bottle over the course of 14 hours, shockingly)? Shouldn’t the campus be informed of the issue fewer than two hours after it was initially reported?

The UMBC student body often complains about “plagues” that affect our school — power outages, fire alarms randomly going off, unheated academic buildings, snowstorms. But while these plagues are not typically the university’s fault (unless you believe in karmic retribution from God, of course), it is their responsibility to keep residents safe and healthy when they happen. That means making sure we have somewhere clean and safe to use the toilet and to make sure we have enough water to drink. Cancelling classes was a good first step as it allowed some students to go home to shower or to go into Catonsville to use the restroom, but it left students who don’t have cars on campus floundering (while the transit system was still running, no one wants to take an hour round-trip journey just to empty their bladder). Next time — and, yes, there will be a next time — Residential Life must be more proactive.