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2 Years After Plenary Resolution, Paper Towels Still in Dorms

At Fall Plenary 2012, Haverford’s student body passed a contentious resolution to remove all paper towels from dorms. Now, two years later, the College has still not wiped its hands of the issue — paper towels are still being stocked in bathrooms.

The original resolution asked the College to stop stocking paper towels in dorm bathrooms, and to install hooks in bathrooms for personal hand towels instead. However, after concerns from the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) and Health Services, Earthquakers has made changes to the proposal. These implementation changes will be considered by ResLife, Student’s Council, and the President’s Office after spring break.

The Earthquakers, an environmental sustainability club, were prompted to draft a more concrete implementation plan by Student’s Council, which member Harris Rothman ‘14 described as coming as a surprise.  After plenary, they assumed Student’s Council would be responsible for implementing the resolution as passed. Instead Rothman says the process has entailed “some more granular policy making that wasn’t maybe considered.”

“Student’s Council asked us about a little more than a week ago if we could send them an implementation policy which took us by surprise. We were ultimately happy to do it,” Rothman said.

Health concerns were the major reason for Earthquakers’ altering the plan.

“I can’t support it because of the public health piece,” said Catherine Sharbaugh, Director of Health Services. “I expressed my concern because hand washing is the best thing that you can do, public health-wise, to keep people healthy when you have communal living.”

Sharbaugh says after washing their hands in a public or dorm restroom, students should take a paper towel and use it to both turn off the faucet and open the exit door handle, which has been shown to transfer the most germs, before throwing it away.

Rothman, and other Earthquakers members, feel that Sharbaugh is not thinking realistically.

“[It] sounds like a cool bit of choreography,” Rothman said. “I haven’t seen anyone do it. She also expressed a concern that people were going to stop washing their hands if we removed paper towels, which we thought was just totally unreasonable.”

Rothman also gave student apartments as an example of a campus living space where there have never been paper towels. Sharbaugh raised concerns that towels in the dorms might transfer germs and viruses, whereas apartment housing is a“family-style” environment where it would make more sense to use a communal towel.

“If one of your family members got sick, one of the first things you’re going to do is clean the bathroom. That’s a little harder to do in a dorm environment. Who’s going to take responsibility for those towels that are sitting there?” Sharbaugh said.

ResLife also asked Earthquakers to consider exemptions for people with immunological disorders, based on Sharbaugh’s recommendations, and to consider having paper towels available for party cleanup.

For those with medical issues, the procedure will likely work like those with medical need for air conditioning, where a doctor’s note can provide towels.

Earthquakers also came up with a number of different ideas for how to provide paper towels for party cleanup. One strong possibility is that paper towel dispensers will remain and will simply have a limited number of towels available for each semester and will not be refilled.

Sharbaugh and members of ResLife are still skeptical of removing paper towels.

“I think signage, don’t waste, it’s got to become part of the culture. I think that Haverford students are very respectful, but some forget, and just need a point in that direction. Use one, not ten,” Sharbaugh said.

Until the different groups come to a decision, paper towels will remain.

“It seems like people weren’t aware of [the resolution]. When it went into effect, and people heard about it, they were outraged,” Fern Hall, director of Housekeeping, said. “Until the two groups come together and work this out how they’re going to do it we’re just standing fast.”


  1. Oscar Wang March 16, 2014

    I think the biggest issue here is not of paper towel dispensers, but of Plenary resolution implementation. Clearly, this needs to be a wider discussion about the student body’s role in crafting new policies and clear steps in how administration can work with the community to actually soundly implement them.

  2. Alexa Ray Santomero March 17, 2014

    I wouldn’t dream of touching anything in a dorm bathroom without using a paper towel as a shield. Additionally, a quarter of the bacteria that you are trying to eliminate by hand washing come off when you dry your hands. I certainly don’t want millions of bacteria sitting and multiplying on my hand towel over the week. This is all just so unhygienic. Sure, don’t waste paper towels, but don’t force students into unhealthy habits either.

  3. usedtobeconservative April 22, 2014

    I’m outraged to discover that a progressive institution like Haverford countenances the use of paper towels on campus.

    I’m even more disturbed to find that the students have not yet acted–even by articulating a clear statement of principles–to eliminate the usage of toilet paper on campus. The environmental insensitivity on display here is staggering.

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