The Great Toilet Seat Cover Debate: Waste of Resources or a Necessary Precaution?

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The University of San Francisco has it all; the private Jesuit school boasts educational prestige, small class sizes, and a beautiful campus.  Yet, its public restrooms don’t provide toilet seat covers.

The absence of toilet seat covers in bathroom stalls has annoyed some USF students, while others are apathetic.

“Some people have an incredible ability to not make it in the toilet,” said junior nursing major Regina Fessler.  Fessler admits to using pieces of toilet paper to cover the toilet seat when using the bathroom.

In the past, signs have been posted in the bathroom stalls of certain buildings, such as Phelan Hall, urging students to not  waste toilet paper by covering the seats before use, since  according to the post, no diseases lurk on toilet seats.

These signs have irritated some students, but have persuaded others that toilet seat covers serve no purpose.  “I just don’t think they’re necessary because of studies that show you can’t get sick from a toilet seat,” said junior communications major Jenna Jones.  “I just use my quads, and I squat and it’s all good.”

Junior media studies major Jessalyn Hill claimed she is not upset at the lack of toilet seat covers at all.  “I am an anti-germophobe. I don’t use toilet seat covers even when they are available, and yet somehow in 23 years of life I have not contracted any toilet-bacteria-induced diseases. I don’t feel that a circle-shaped piece of tracing paper placed beneath my rear end is going to ensure my good health.”

The real reason behind the absence of toilet seat covers at USF has proved hard to determine and has been a hotly-debated topic at ASUSF meetings for years.

At an Oct. 27 meeting, sophomore and international studies major Maggie Kennedy addressed the VP of Facilities Management, Michael London, regarding toilet seat covers.  He dismissed her inquiries on supplying the covers in the future rather abruptly when he said, “there is no empirical evidence that they protect against bacteria.”

Kamal Harb, the Director of Health Promotional Services at USF agreed with London’s statement.  “That thin piece of paper doesn’t constitute a strong barrier.”  Harb also referenced Colombia University’s Health Q&A website, Go Ask Alice.

According to Go Ask Alice, “It’s virtually impossible to catch diseases from toilet seats. Whatever microorganisms might lie on the seat’s surface very rarely infect or contaminate the skin on your thighs and buttocks.  This is especially true of most sexually transmitted infections.”

Dr. Brian Robert Thornton, a microbiologist and professor at USF also sides with London and Harb.  “I do agree.  There isn’t any reason to think they do [protect against infection].  Toilet seats are actually not a source of contagion.  Even though they seem gross, they’re touched by a part of you that stays in your pants all day.  You need to worry more about your orifices.”

An common misconception about skin to toilet seat contact is the ability to contract an STD. “That’s incorrect.  If you engage in sexual intercourse on a toilet seat you could.  But STD’s are fragile, they die after leaving the body,” said Thornton.

Other individuals were unsure.  “I really don’t know if toilet seat covers decrease the spread of bacteria, or not,” said nursing Professor Angela Banks, PhD.

Junior psychology major Keri Svendson said, “It wouldn’t surprise me that a thin sheet of paper doesn’t create a real barrier for bacteria. I think toilet seat covers probably just give people’s paranoia a bit of rest more than anything.”

Another reason could be that the school administrators find toilet seat covers a waste of paper.  Svendson said, “I was bothered at first, but then I realized that toilet seat covers are kind of a waste of natural resources anyway. You can use the hover-technique or a couple squares of toilet paper.”

Georgia-Pacific, the company that USF currently buys it’s toilet paper and other hygiene products from, also supplies Safe-T-Gard toilet seat covers.  These Safe-T-Gard covers offer a “hygienic barrier at an economical cost,” while protecting against germs and minimizing cross-contamination, reducing unnecessary waste resulting from people creating makeshift covers from toilet paper, and eliminating the risk of toilet clogs from other brand toilet seat covers.

Potentially the biggest factor against supplying toilet seat covers could be the finances.  Filling every single bathroom on the USF campus may cost a good deal.  Upon calculation, 20 boxes containing 250 covers each (equally 5,000 covers) costs $76.86 at the supply company Grainger.  Considering the number of bathroom stalls on campus, and the cost of consistently replenishing the supply, this could add up.

Svendson and Thornton would like to see that money delivered elsewhere. “Honestly, I think that the money it would cost to supply toilet seat covers could be used in better ways, like maybe for the art department,” said Svendson.  Thornton would like to see the toilet seat cover money put towards building improvements, like new lighting in the Harney Science Center.  “You have to think what else we are going without for these covers.  I’d rather have the lighting.”

After looking at a recent USF 990 tax form and seeing that student tuition, which comes to around $236,000,000, pays for almost all university fees, one may think that student’s wants and needs should come first.  Because, after all, students are supporting the university almost entirely.

Hill, in support of students’ wants, said, “I think tuition money is being spent on far worse things than toilet seat covers. If students feel that toilet seat covers are a large priority, I think it is USF’s obligation to respond by supplying the seat covers. This is part of a greater dialogue on the way tuition money is spent; perhaps the students should have more weight in determining how tuition money is budgeted and spent.”

When asked if USF doesn’t supply toilet seat covers because of financial reasons, Charles Cross, the VP of Finance said “I have no idea and I don’t get involved in issues of toilet seat covers.”  Like Cross, many other faculty members and professors at USF evade questioning regarding toilet seat covers.

When San Francisco State student Natalia Chavez heard that USF does not issue toilet seat covers in bathrooms, she said, “That’s incredibly disgusting.” Chavez said that all SF State bathrooms have toilet seat covers, mainly because the general public, including homeless people, come in their bathrooms to use their toilets.

Thornton said, “I’d be fine with [toilet seat covers]  I wouldn’t use them, but it wouldn’t bother me.”

Emami said he would rather walk to his apartment to use his own bathroom as opposed to using a public restroom entirely.

Hill was most enthusiastic: “Absolutely…just because I don’t feel the need to use them doesn’t mean others should be denied that right. I am all for ensuring that every citizen has a clean and pleasant bathroom experience!”

12 COMMENTS

  1. I’m glad this student concern is generating interest– good article. The ASUSF Senate has spent a lot of time working on resolving students needs surrounding this issue. We passed a resolution in 2009, and are currently working on launching a pilot program to measure student use. This has been a great debate that has a long history at USF; we’ve found a resolution for the addition of Toilet Seat Covers dating back to 20 years ago!

    To comment on where funding would come from, from what I’ve learned if toilet seat covers were to be added, the cost would be taken out of the facilities yearly budget.

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