Ways to persuade someone to stop spitting in a shared kitchen sink
December 2, 2017 3:19 AM   Subscribe

How can we stop this person from spitting in the shared sink? They also do not wash the lugie and/or spit down.

I am on a college campus in Seattle, WA. A graduate student spits (often lugies) multiple times a day in the sink in a shared kitchenette area. 25+ people (faculty, graduate students, and staff) use the kitchenette. Undergraduate students see and hear the spitting. There is a single-person bathroom 25 feet away. The kitchenette does not store any research materials - it is a normal shared office kitchenette with a sink, a microwave, a fridge, a dish rack, trash/recycling/compost, and a paper towel dispenser.

The first step was a sign saying "Please do not spit in the kitchen sink. Please use the bathroom." This did not end the spitting. The next step was direct confrontation - 3 faculty members (at least), upon hearing the spitting, walk over to the kitchenette and have asked the student to not do this, appealing to hygiene, etiquette, etc. The student replied that there is no law against doing this and continues.

Some of the faculty members have authority over the student - they are the TA supervisor or the student is in one of their classes. This seems to make no difference in the student's response.

Other relevant details:
- This student is female and in her mid-late 20s.
- This student is from China.
- This student is not in good academic standing (hasn't met certain requirements on time, etc.).
- This student has burned bridges with nearly all faculty in the department, often due to underperforming as a TA or RA.
- This student is notorious litigious and has threatened multiple faculty members with legal action, especially regarding TA or RA work loads. This student has also been the likely source of multiple FOIA requests of faculty emails (ex. requests for emails that include the student's name).

I realize that the "solution" is to get the student out of the graduate program, but that is above my paygrade and there seems to be some hesitation or caution on how to do this, especially given the student's litigious history. I just want this person to stop leaving lugies in the sink where I'd like to rinse out my tupperware and to stop doing this while I'm meeting with colleagues or students in my office, as it is embarrassing to me.

Seeking ideas about a new poster, a different way to confront the student, new appeals, etc.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Install a cover for the sink- can be removed for kitchen tasks but makes it more hard than walking to the bathroom, assuming that the issue is laziness.
posted by freethefeet at 3:42 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the only thing people respond to is being reprimanded. If there was a consequence for the behavior it might stop. Is there anyone in authority who could issue a warning and escalate if it continues in some fashion?
posted by marimeko at 3:46 AM on December 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

A dashcam installed above the sink? Collect the evidence and when they get litigious you have proof.
posted by spitbull at 3:58 AM on December 2, 2017

Also, this student sounds mentally disturbed. Have you considered consulting campus security?
posted by spitbull at 4:01 AM on December 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

She clearly has wider issues - what she is doing is antisocial behaviour but whilst revolting you’re unlikely to persuade somebody who doesn’t care about social norms in their environment to abide by such norms. This is unlikely to get resolved until those in charge manage to remove her from the program. In the meantime I’d keep a note of any such behaviour you observe with dates and times and provide it to those in charge. And keep the sign with ‘kitchenette rules’ going including a rule to rinse the sink after use and to leave it clean and pleasant for the next user.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:13 AM on December 2, 2017 [18 favorites]

Spitting is not unacceptable or antisocial behaviour in China. Some Chinese people can actually get extremely grossed out at the idea that westerners swallow spit rather than spitting it out. I've mostly seen it in older people as the Chinese government has been trying to cut down on it, but I can imagine there are some (rural) regions where it is still more prevalent. I've seen older women spitting in bathroom sinks in public toilets in the past. How long has she been in the US?

Are you sure you don't have a case of an extremely culture shocked student who isn't doing very well academically and who feels as though everyone is ganging up on her? If so, you won't get very far arguing from a position of etiquette if she has the feeling that she's not the one being rude. That would also kind of go along with the legal stuff-- if she feels she's being treated unfairly, she could react unpredictably.

Is there someone there who is genuinely her friend who might be able to speak to her?
posted by frumiousb at 4:39 AM on December 2, 2017 [18 favorites]

No. I'm an international student in Japan in a program with LOTS of Chinese students (they're probably in the majority) and just because this may be normal in China does not mean it has to be tolerated elsewhere. Every international student knows that they have to adhere to the social code in their host country. Sure, I can see some of my class mates try "it's perfectly normal in China" (some do rude things, as all of the non-Chinese students do from time to time), but that would get shut down really fast. If they told their PROFESSORS "it's not against the law so you can't stop me", culture shock is not the problem.

There is a huge difference between someone doing something unknowingly and doing it repeatedly after being told to stop. It seems like she has a ton of other problems as well. Surely underperforming in one's job is not a Chinese thing. This person isn't being rude because she's Chinese, she's rude because she's rude. I'm all for cutting people some slack in getting used to a foreign country, but this person isn't clueless, she seems hostile.

I'm sorry, OP, but I'm not sure what you can do. Could you ask someone who has some power over her to step in a little more forcefully?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 5:36 AM on December 2, 2017 [40 favorites]

This student sounds like she is trying (consciously or unconsciously) to get kicked out as a way to save face, because then she can blame her poor performance on something other than her own actions and abilities -- possibly also so she can pursue legal action instead of just crashing and burning/failing out, but possibly just so she has an excuse to salve her ego and some people to point to so she can say 'it's YOUR FAULT not MINE.'

Unfortunately, now that she knows (again, consciously or unconsciously) that spitting in the sink is another faculty/program alienation tactic to add to her arsenal, she's probably not going to stop spitting in the sink until she leaves or gets kicked out. I don't know what to suggest about the tupperware situation, but the only person who really needs to feel embarrassed is the student, not you. Maybe consider getting a white noise machine for your office to help block out the paraglottics?
posted by halation at 5:58 AM on December 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

We had a Chinese student living with us and he considered spitting ordinary. A faculty member or administrator should explain to her that spitting in a kitchen sink is unacceptable behavior in the U.S. Cultural sensitivity means the visitor gets a fair chance to learn what is acceptable. If this has already happened, then she should be reprimanded, and if she cannot stop, she should be banned from the space. Whatever options exist for academic support and counseling should be explained to her.
posted by theora55 at 6:10 AM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I want to stop the Chinese cultural derail. If you overheard her on a phone call home saying, "I've been running into the bathroom every time I have some phlegm because these crazy foreigners won't let me spit in the sink like normal people!" that might be cultural issues. Telling multiple professors and her supervisor that there's no law against spitting in the sink is definitely an individual issue. (If anything, I would expect Chinese people to be more deferential to authority than Americans, on average and allowing for individual variation etc.)

I suspect that, for the level of effort you're likely willing to put into this problem, the best solution is for you to rinse the sink before you rinse your Tupperware. Which is not in any way fair or reasonable, but it does work. Not sure about the noise issue---does your office have a door? That might help by making it less obvious that someone is spitting into the sink as opposed to a tissue or some other destination that would be more socially acceptable in the US.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:12 AM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ugh, I wish I had a solution for you. Getting her to stop sounds like it would have to come from a person in (high) authority, and they seem unwilling to take her on?

Short term, keep a spray bottle of a disinfecting spray cleaner by the sink. Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner is decent, or haul out the big guns and get Lysol Kitchen Cleaner Spray. Spritz the gunk she leaves prior to rinsing the sink. A bit longer term, convince them to change the faucet on the sink to one with a pull out sprayer, to make it easier to rinse the sink.

I'm really sorry you are dealing with this. (Is this the place I can complain about the person who stands to pee in my work women's room, and leaves pee all over the seat ... sigh.)
posted by gudrun at 8:05 AM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

This person sounds like she has mental issues and, given the very appropriate steps taken already have not persuaded her, I am not sure what else could persuade her. She needs to be kicked out of the program or banned from the building. I think the best you can do is raise the issue to people who have the authority to get rid of her. Maybe you and other students who are negatively impacted by this can band together in asking for action. Another sign isn't going to do anything.

As a last resort, you could cover the sink in some way, then she can't casually spit into it when walking by, but she might just open/lift it, spit, and walk away like usual anyway. Guess you'd have to try and see.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:31 AM on December 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Straight up passive aggressive. Heavy on the aggressive. She knows exactly what she's doing and she's getting high on it, she's eat up with resentments and she's spraying her toxic unhappiness all over everyone there.

There are people who like to fart in elevators. She's one of them.


When the IT department at First Interstate Bank in Houston was ripped apart with a massive layoff, there was a meeting called at 9 AM, all hands to be at the meeting, and then those who were laid off -- almost all of us -- leave the building. As soon as the meeting begins all staff gets their password changed, no access to the computer. It's over. It's surgical, it's the least messy way it can be done. Sometimes your personal items will be given to you in a box the next day, sometimes you get to go in the next day to get your personal belongings.

At that layoff at First Interstate we were allowed to come get our personal belongings but not all of us at the same time and all of us had a security guy right there -- you get to take your plant and the pictures of your niece but you don't get to take the laptop.


This is why god made lawyers. Somebody in your department needs to contact legal ppl in the school to make sure that all of the dots are connected, and then she will be called to someones office, and An Official Letter placed in her hands telling her that she's out. No cleaning out her stuff. No nothing. Everybody else in the department is in a meeting so she's not humiliated more than need be. Melvin the security guy is going to parade her out the door. Almost certainly you're going to want local cops walking with Melvin and this sad, miserable woman so that when she goes over the line of what Melvin is responsible for -- and she almost certainly will -- then the cops can cuff her and out she goes.

And then she's not your problem anymore. If she doesn't cool her jets by the time the cops get her out the door she is in the legal system now. Consequences. Her behavior caused this, not anyone in the school.

She's got to go.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there a door to the kitchenette? If so, put a lock on the door and everyone else who regularly uses the room gets a key, except her. Or just have a master key or two and whoever needs it, checks it out when needed. If the door already has an electronic lock on it that allows people to scan their university ID to access the room, block her credentials from accessing the room. And when she inevitably complains about the situation, explain to her that she's no longer allowed access to the room because she has been repeatedly asked/warned to follow the rules, but has continued to not do so by spitting in the sink, so she is banned from using the room.

First, you probably want to install a videocam and make another sign above the sink warning that violations will be subject to being banned from the shared space -- like three strikes you're out. Also make sure to warn that the room is being monitored.

I agree that she is being willfully antisocial, for whatever reason, and this issue isn't likely to be resolved by another sign or reprimand alone, so you'll have to enforce the notion that shared spaces are for people who follow the rules of said space and others will be denied its use.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

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