Alina Wong made a rather unpleasant discovery at the Intercultural Center (IC) one Thursday night. “I was there cleaning up, and I noticed a liquid coming in under the door,” said Wong, who serves as dean of the sophomore class and director of the IC.
That liquid, she soon found out, was urine. And it wasn’t coming from a leaky sewage pipe.
Over the past year, there have been three reported cases of students urinating on the Intercultural Center door. Swarthmore is not alone in this experience. Several years ago at Harvard University, 36 LGBTQ books were damaged when a bottle of urine was spilled in their library.
The incidents have all occurred on different weekends on Thursday nights, leading some to link the incidents to alcohol consumption at Pub Nite. But regardless of what the motivations might be, Wong’s conclusion about the incidents remains the same. “It shouldn’t have happened, and it needs to stop,” she said.
Wong is not alone in her bewilderment. “My initial reaction was just confusion,” said Samiul Haque ’15, one of the co-presidents of Deshi. “It just seems really odd and I’ve never heard of it happening before.”
However, as Haque continued to consider the incidents, he came to the conclusion that they were completely unjustifiable. “I tried to kind of find ways to rationalize it,” he said. “Maybe this person was really intoxicated, and they just needed to go urinate somewhere.”
But, according to Haque, intoxication could not by itself cause this act. “This was on a doorstep,” he said. “Even if you were to use a place that wasn’t a bathroom, I don’t think a doorstep comes to mind.”
“They are not just choosing to urinate in the courtyard or a bush,” Wong said. She continued that while she could not speculate about the intentions or motivations of those involved, she imagined that the reasons had to go beyond alcohol consumption. “The unconscious bias or the thought behind it has to exist in the first place,” she said. “The behavior or the thought is there to begin with.”
Haque shared Wong’s thoughts. “There’s something deliberate, maybe even malicious, in what they did,” he said.
Not everyone, however, feels the episodes were targeted at the IC. “I wasn’t particularly surprised that it had occurred mainly because people get drunk and pee outdoors with some regularity,” said David Hill ’13, one of the coordinators of the Party Associate program. “As a somewhat concealed area, the IC door would naturally be a popular, though inappropriate, place to relieve oneself.”
Anushka Mehta ’15, who is in i20 and the Middle Eastern Cultural Society, agreed. She said that while her initial perspective was something to the effect of “wow, people suck,” it changed when she discovered it was occurring on Thursday night.
Mehta believes that the act was not directed against the Intercultural Center. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone who has a personal vendetta against the IC,” said Mehta, pointing out how the center incorporates many different campus organizations and their members. “I’m more inclined to think that people have a better head on their shoulders than that,” she said.
But Mehta felt that regardless of intent, the incidents are still unacceptable. “It is still happening and it is still a problem,” she said.
Mehta also agreed with Haque and Wong that the act of urinating on a building itself is offensive. “What would people do if people saw people urinating on Parrish Hall or right outside a dean’s office? That would never be okay.”
While the perpetrators were never caught, Mehta said that if they were identified, they would need to recognize how their actions were distasteful. “I think the first thing is for them to understand how disrespectful the act of urinating on a building is to people who feel very strongly about the space,” she said.
Wong had a similar idea. “I would want to sit down and talk with them and understand what motivated their behavior and actions,” she said, adding how she would emphasize to the people involved that “we are all responsible for the kinds of communities we create here at Swarthmore.”
Hill said more awareness is needed. “I think the best way of dealing with the issue is more education about what the IC is and why peeing on it, or any structure, is wrong,” he said. “That said, if students observe individuals doing such, they should report it to the PA on duty and we will take the appropriate measures,” he added.
But Wong also believes the response should go beyond just talking to those who committed the act and that the conversation must go beyond the Intercultural Center. “This is not an IC problem,” she said. “This is about a collective community responsibility.”