How can I get college freshmen to clean up after themselves?
September 30, 2007 7:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I get college freshmen to clean up after themselves?

I'm a college junior living with about 25 freshmen in a dorm as an RA. Each suite has their own common room, and there's a common room for the entire floor as well, which happens to be attached to my bedroom. Many of the freshmen choose to hang out primarily in this universal common room, because it has a television and cable.
The first "dorm meeting" we had I explained that my absolute biggest pet peeve was food being left out in the common room. It's disgusting, attracts mice and bugs, and is disrespectful to both me and the custodial staff. Since the beginning of school, there has been food left in this common room *constantly*--mostly old takeout containers with food still inside of them. For a while, I just picked up after them, but it's really starting to grate on me. I did one last giant clean of the common room (thinking about the "broken window theory"--maybe if the room was really clean, they'd be less likely to muss it up) and sent out an email to the floor basically saying, please clean up after yourselves and emphasizing the potential vermin problems and issues of disrespect. The very next day after the superclean and the angry email, there were more old takeout containers left out on the floor etc.
I know who is primarily behind the mess--it's a group of 4-5 boys who are constantly in the room and constantly eating takeout--but I never seem to "catch them in the act," as it were. I'll ask them to throw out their trash when I see them eating, they'll agree, and I'll come back later to find garbage in the common room which they will then deny is theirs (the "takeout containers" I am referring to are the generic cardboard boxes from my university's dining halls).
Every solution I've come up with seems incredibly passive-aggressive to me--taking the garbage and putting it in their common room instead of in the trash, for example--and difficult to accomplish because I don't know, at an individual level, who is responsible for what.
I could ban everyone from eating in the common room, but that's not ideal because there are plenty of people who use the room, myself included, who are capable of eating takeout while watching TV and cleaning up after themselves. (Not to mention I don't really have the authority to accomplish that to begin with.)
I'm not a clean freak, but there is a line between messy and dirty. Old food being left out crosses that line for me. I've read all the old roommate questions about living with a dirty roommate but the solution always seems to be "move out"/"kick them out," which is not possible in this case.
I am so beyond frustrated with is stressing me out and affecting my quality of life, and I don't know what to do. I suffer from mild OCD and it is sending my anxiety levels into overdrive thinking about the mess and the potential vermin.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the only way out is to live alone. You said that's not possible, but for the sake of your mental health you may have to reevaluate that. You can't police other people's cleanliness and in a dorm situation you are always, and I mean ALWAYS going to have messy/dirty dorm-mates.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:40 PM on September 30, 2007

Not to mention I don't really have the authority to accomplish that to begin with

This implies someone else does. Have you talked to a superior/housefellow/housing staff member?
posted by ALongDecember at 7:43 PM on September 30, 2007

You can't be the only RA dealing with this.

Poll your fellow RAs to see if they've developed successful strategies. Is fining them possible? You'd want peer pressure to take effect, so ideally if you fined the whole floor, the other students would get the messy ones to straighten up.

posted by rtha at 7:44 PM on September 30, 2007

You are an RA. Use your power and enforce things. I'd say the first thing to do is see who is really making the mess, and make sure it is that group of people. Then start to punish people. Maybe ask your advisor what you can do to enforce cleanliness. (Charging fees, locking up the room, etc.) I know in my dorm if we left a mess, we would be forced to clean the entire floor.
posted by lain at 7:45 PM on September 30, 2007

I've worked in residence life for awhile. I was an RA for two years, and then a Resident Director for two more. It sounds to me like you're probably living with boys, in which case you're in for a pretty tough situation.

I would recommend holding a floor meeting and talking about community responsibility. Talk (again) about how it's disrespectful and that if the grossness doesn't stop repercussions will be taken. I'd also recommend putting a trash can in the common room. Sometimes the sheer effort of walking down the hall to throw trash out is too much for some people, as absurd as that sounds.

After you've talked about it (again), if the problem doesn't get any better, you need to follow through and there need to be repercussions. I bet that you do have the authority to take away eating privileges in the common room. Talk to your RD (or the equivalent) about it. If that doesn't stop it, I would recommend closing off the common room all together for a small period of time to get them to appreciate the space more.

I understand that it's tough to "punish" the group when it's probably only a few individuals who are causing the problem, but keep telling them that they're a community and that part of community responsibility is being responsible for each other. The only real route to go is to enforce things on the entire community and hope that if that in itself doesn't get the messy folks to stop, that the other people who want to keep using the common room will.

Good luck.
posted by plaingurl at 7:47 PM on September 30, 2007

When I was a freshman in college, some of the people in my dorm liked to stack chairs on the top-floor balcony and use them to climb onto the roof. In addition to this being really unsafe and immature, it really upset our RAs. All of them taked to our residence hall's director, who agreed to disallow all use of the balcony for a few months.

Is there a higher-up, like a hall director, who has the authority to ban eating in the common room? If so, it sounds like an effective strategy, and it has the added bonus of making it seem like your superior is the "bad guy" instead of you.
posted by arianell at 7:51 PM on September 30, 2007

The only tactic I can offer was used in a smaller scenario to good effect: those who left dirty dishes in the common room later found them in their bed. But the perps were known. :)

Since you don't know for sure who's doing it, the only thing you can do as an RA seems to be to go to each room on your floor and have a chat with them personally. Explain how it's disrespectful to everyone else in the group and if it continues that eating privledges will be revoked for *everyone*. There has to be a consequence, otherwise it'll continue (esp. if someone cleans up after the mess is made.) Emails are a good start but impersonal; a 1:1 chat is much more meaningful.

I would also recommend going to a superior in the residential system to see if they have any suggestions.

Good luck dealing with this. :/

On preview: what everyone else said. :)
posted by absquatulate at 7:52 PM on September 30, 2007

It's disgusting, attracts mice and bugs, and is disrespectful to both me and the custodial staff.

It's their living space as much as it is yours. The problem with group living is that the person with the least tolerance for mess is always going to do the most cleaning. Sounds like in addition to the OCD you have some general control issues, which would align with my opinion of most of the RAs I had in college.
posted by electroboy at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2007

Get a webcam and set it up discreetly in the area they leave the mess. Get a few clear screenshots of them eating then leaving the mess (maybe put a time stamp on there?).

Get some dead cockroaches from your friendly local entymologists.

Tape screenshots and a dead cockroach on each door of the perpetrators' and some in the main hallway.

Public shame will work best with apathetic first years fresh from mumzy's teet.
posted by spec80 at 8:01 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

How about creating a punishment in the all-for-one, one-for-all manner? Post a sign/send an email to everyone first. Then, remove the cable from the TV if you find food containers. 1st offense = 12 hours, 2nd offense = 24 hours, etc. Or lock up the room. It will send the message to the community that their actions cause everyone "suffering". That was how our lounge worked in high school. If food was left out, the lounge was taped off (literally, duct tape across the doorway) for a certain period of time. It worked.
posted by nursegracer at 8:02 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

The technological solution would involve a motion activated miniature surveillance camera, an electronic combination lock on the door with logging, allocating each common-room user a unique access code, and cancellation of access codes that the log and camera prove have been used by people leaving their crap in the room.
posted by flabdablet at 8:07 PM on September 30, 2007

Stopping cleaning up after them would be a good start - as long as you are doing it, why should they? Letting them wallow in their own filth for a while may make them realise just how much mess they really make.

Given your OCD situation, you should also consider that some of this at least is you, not them.
posted by dg at 8:20 PM on September 30, 2007

When you see them eating in the common room, mark their takeout boxes with their name. Do this for anyone in the room, even the ones who cleanup after themselves. Then later when there is a box, it will have their names on it. Then take away privileges selectively.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:23 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

My former dorm (female residents, though) didn't allow the girls to throw their takeout containers in the bathroom trash cans. We had to take them out to the dumpsters in the parking lot, which was at the other side of the world. Naturally, the girls would toss their takeout containers (and room trash) in the bathroom trash cans.

The custodial staff and RAs would buckle down and rummage through the trash for any sort of ID. Names on test papers, etc. The stuff would then be chucked back into the appropriate room.

That MIGHT work. But seeing as it's a group of 4-5 friends, probably rowdy college boys - I don't know. I take it they'll be all Fight The Power and rebel against anything set upon them. Unless the entire community is affected because of their actions, and they become the bad guys.
posted by Xere at 8:24 PM on September 30, 2007

Oh, come on. At this point, they're doing it on purpose. If I was one of them, I would probably have done it on purpose too.

What electroboy said above is key. You have some degree of theoretical (and perhaps actual) power, but it's their home. Disrespectful to the custodial staff...uh, sorry, but as weak arguments go, that's right out there at the front. As they see it, the fact that they have a custodial staff means that they don't have to clean up their own stuff. And, as you've just explained, they're right, whether you like it or not.

The way to bring about change is to approach the miscreants, apologize for being such a dick, and ask what you can do for them to so that they'll feel better about doing you this favor. Maybe, as some have said, they could use a bigger trash can. Or maybe they feel slighted by you in some other area, and this is their way of getting even. Maybe you need to lay off on the ban on alcohol or pot or girls spending the night or any of the many other RA issues that I'm guessing you take way too seriously.

But of course, you won't do that, because you believe that you should have their deference, regardless of whether you have their respect. See you next semester.
posted by bingo at 8:36 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]

I second Johnny Gunn and suggest making this a rule. No one can eat in the common room unless they put their name on the container. If unnammed containers get left out, the common room will be temporarlily closed.

I would further suggest that there should be a policy that no one should leave the room without first cleaning it up. Oftentimes people *intend* to come back later and clean up, and then forget. It has to happen immediately. This will work best if they police each other. These policies should be discussed at a floor meeting.
posted by mai at 8:38 PM on September 30, 2007

While the outlook isn't hopeful, this isn't that hard:

(1) See if you can get the tv w/cable disconnected so that the relevant common room is less attractive. Or at least speak to the powers that be so that you have sole power to turn it on and off.

(2) Find out what your actual powers to punish are. The real ones -- what happens if you say X and the freshmen just ignore you? I suspect you'll find that your powers are very limited, which the Takeout Eaters already know.

(3) Speak to the food services people about this problem, probably through whoever manages the RAs and dorms, and see if you can get them to stop putting out takeout boxes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 PM on September 30, 2007

I second Johnny Gunn and suggest making this a rule. No one can eat in the common room unless they put their name on the container.

What happens when people just don't do it? If anonymous doesn't have the power to dish out real, no-shit mandatory fines or get people easily evicted, (s)he really doesn't want to start laying down the law and be exposed as a powerless fraud.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:44 PM on September 30, 2007

After posting, I see that bingo seems to think you have been a dick. I see no evidence of that - expecting common courtesy and respect for common space does not seem to be asking too much, and nothing you have done so far seems over the line. I would say, on the contrary, that you haven't been direct enough with them. They are lying to your face about food being theirs and you are letting them get away with it.

(I speak from experience working with 6th graders, but its seems like the students you work with have approximately the same level of maturity.)

If it turns out they are doing it on purpose, well, I'm guessing there are higher authorities than you who can step in.
posted by mai at 8:44 PM on September 30, 2007

Next time it happens, remove the TV if it belongs to the college. If it happens again, lock the commons room. Assuming you have the authority to do either, which you should.
posted by emelenjr at 8:52 PM on September 30, 2007

[shrug] No food in the common areas. Peer pressure should take care of the rest.
posted by desuetude at 9:21 PM on September 30, 2007

Ban food from the common room entirely.
posted by anastasiav at 9:26 PM on September 30, 2007

Lock the room/don't allow anyone to use it for 24 hours after you find it left messy. This way everyone will be held accountable for their mess, either by their own self-interest or their friends telling them to pick it up. So long as you post a sign stating the rule, that from now on if the room is messy it will be "closed for 24 hours afterwards for decontamination purposes," everyone will get the hint, if not right away then certainly after the first time you lock it down.
posted by SassHat at 9:33 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

You gotta put yourself in their position. They've lived, all their life, under family authority, and now they aren't. When they get one of those emails from you, if they even read it, they're thinking, "Who does he think he is? He's not my mom or dad, and I don't have to listen to him."

Even if you did catch one of them in the act, what are you going to do? Lecture them about responsibility and respect?

Ease up. Try to get on a friendly relationship with them so that they WANT to do something to help you out. This will probably involve a situation where you're a little lax about some rules in exchange for being a little stricter on others, and it's good therapy for your OCD, too.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:41 PM on September 30, 2007

Based on the 1,200 year history of the University model of education, there is no way to get college freshmen to clean up after themselves. Seriously: everybody who comes into this thread who has been through college knows you're basically out of luck. College kids are incorrigible slobs. The fact that they require a live in nanny in their first pseudo-apartment away from home is indicative of their general fitness for social existence.

You might catch them in the act if you're willing to put way too much time into it. If you do you've proven a single minor incident, not a pattern of behavior so welcome to your tiny and ineffectual arsenal of disciplinary solutions, and now if these chuckleheads didn't already harbor malice in their hearts towards you they sure do after they get a verbal reprimand from the Dean of Student Affairs. Try to think of cleaning up after these little turds as part of your horrible job and focus your energy on plotting your escape, because doing it yourself is going to be far and away the lowest energy momentary solution to your problem and the only complete solution is to get out of the damn dorms.
posted by nanojath at 9:43 PM on September 30, 2007

I think the suggestions to enforce temporary, communal punishments (like turning off TV, closing room, disallowing eating, etc.) are the best. But, that's not my main peace of advice.

My main bit of advice is this: the other (good) kids will not blame you. If you've had multiple talks with the whole floor, and your rules are reasonable, they will only blame the messy kids. They will know exactly who is to blame, and they will hold those kids accountable, not you.
posted by oddman at 9:52 PM on September 30, 2007

Who does he think he is? He's not my mom or dad, and I don't have to listen to him.

If they say this, say "I ain't your mom or dad, and neither are the custodians. Clean after yourself."

Seriously, this is cleanliness in a common room. He's not busting down doors saying "Hey! No girls!" He's not even saying "Your room is too messy." This about courtesy of a common space. Their room is their home, but the communal space is everyone's.

Also, do people not have TVs? Everyone on my floor did. Banning a common room's TV wouldn't be the end of the world.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:55 PM on September 30, 2007

Put a big garbage can in there (no lid). That is all you can do.

Yeah, you can threaten them, impose penalties, etc, but do you really want to be that RA? You've already got to deal with keeping them from drinking and smoking pot in the dorms, so I'd say let this one go.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:05 PM on September 30, 2007

Is there a big-ass garbage can in the common room? Could you put one there? Perhaps they are not so much inconsiderate as they are lazy.

That's a really good point. If there isn't a trash can, and a big enough one to hold a reasonable amount, people will be less motivated to take trash with them to throw it away.

People have gotten a lot better at not littering over the years but I'm still sometimes surprised by cities that make it more work than it should be to dispose of trash properly. Frequent (and frequently emptied) trash cans prevent the lazy from just throwing it on the street. And really, who wants to carry their burger wrapper or coffee cup eight blocks just to toss it?

But that aside, the next step is probably to to ban food and then take away privileges like cable/TV or the room itself for a day. You should also post a sign asking them to dispose of trash because I bet a relatively small percentage even bothered to read the trash email from their RA with as much junk email as there is. You could also make a point to ask every member of the dorm to throw away trash as you see them.
posted by 6550 at 10:19 PM on September 30, 2007

In my dorm they charge $25 to *everyone* if trash is left in common areas.
posted by brittanyq at 12:22 AM on October 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Surveillance cameras. Fines. Get authoritarian on their ass.
posted by tehloki at 3:55 AM on October 1, 2007

After posting, I see that bingo seems to think you have been a dick. I see no evidence of that...

It's not about whether he's actually a dick; it's about the kids' perception of him as a dick.

This has nothing to do with the actual garbage. It's about power. The RA wants the kids to acknowledge that he has the authority to make them change their ways just because he says so, and they won't, because he doesn't. Go ahead, close the common room, and deal with an escalated level of disrespect that will come in the form of more insidious littering and maybe calls from parents to the RD letting him/her know that a common room and a custodial staff is part of what they're paying for, and they couldn't possibly give two shits whether the RA doesn't like it when their son leaves food boxes around.

Freshman boys don't care about this stuff, and they won't, no matter what you do. But they do care about proving to themselves and everyone around them that they run their own lives and make their own decisions. You can work within those constraints and try win their respect, or you can drive yourself crazy over your cleanliness issues while your residents have their minds on girls, classes, and a myriad of other things that seem (and, in fact, actually are) much more important than making the jobs of the dormitory custodial staff easier.
posted by bingo at 5:30 AM on October 1, 2007

To keep some of his parks clean, Robert Moses would hire clean-cut college boys to stoop over and pick up litter right in front of the litterers. This apparently made the litterers feel so ashamed/guilty that the parks were sparkling-clean. Perhaps you should simply pick up the trash, quietly, without complaint, in front of them for a few weeks? It's a possibility, anyway.
posted by Malad at 5:42 AM on October 1, 2007

I don't happen to agree that general cleanliness is not important, especially cleanliness of shared spaces. Hygiene and cleanliness are things that follow people and things that other people notice. You can appreciate clean spaces and hate dirty ones without being OCD. Food trash is among the worst, because it gets into things, and makes smells and stickiness and greasy spaces and invites all sorts of smaller things that like to eat food. Anyone who thinks that leaving food trash un-trashed is okay has never had an ant/cockroach/mouse/rat invasion.

If you have a dorm-wide adult in charge, I would take some time out to talk to them about this. Ask them what they think good methods are for dealing with this, and ask them what is in your power to do, or what they could give you the power to do.

Managing the freshmen without seeming over-controlling and obsessive is hard, and people who can do it while seeming cool are an amazing breed of people in and of themselves.
posted by that girl at 6:01 AM on October 1, 2007

There's a basic conflict revealing itself in this thread. On one side are the people who think that leaving garbage in a shared space is (a) no big deal (b) inevitable (c) clearly your problem because you're some kind of neatness freak; on the other are those who think it's disrespectful, immature, asshole behaviour.

I'm with the crowd that says it's asshole behaviour, and that if people are going to behave like assholes, then they deserve to be treated with contempt. I recommend that you do everything within your power to make that contempt apparent.

College is supposed to educate people. That's kind of the point of college. If people come to college with no conception of a decent way to treat a shared space, and a sense of entitlement that says that their desire not to have to deal with their own greasy old takeout containers trumps your desire not to have to deal with their greasy old takeout containers, then those are people in need of education.

So, take this seriously. Seek support from above, if you need it. But because you're dealing with assholes, you won't get any response to emails, and you won't get any response to notes, and you won't get any response to subtle hints like garbage bins left easily accessible. You are going to need to get right up in their grills and make your displeasure known in person.

If the assholes end up thinking you're some kind of control freak, that's fine. An asshole's opinion doesn't matter. So, go as far up your local power structure as you need to to find the force you need to use, and use it mercilessly. You will find support, because apart from self-entitled dipshit frat-boy losers, everybody is going to be on your side.
posted by flabdablet at 6:02 AM on October 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is it possible for students to reserve the room/TV for certain times/shows? If so, make the ability to reserve a privilege dependent on taking up a shift in some sort of daily cleaning rotation. So because people clean the room once a week on Thursday, they ensure that the TV is theirs to watch House on Tuesdays.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:28 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Flabdablet, your options aren't mutually exclusive.

It's possible for leaving takeout containers out to be both disrespectful and assholish, and also nigh on inevitable in the context of a college dorm.

The problem is going to be that anonymous's ability to actually punish them is very limited. Your parents can actually make you pick up because they can hit you, or take away your property, or deny you income -- RA's can't. The problem is not going to be telling a group of students that they can't use the common room. The problem is going to be that if anonymous does, they're going to do so anyway.

So, go as far up your local power structure as you need to to find the force you need to use, and use it mercilessly.

It's not going to be there. The college is very unlikely to evict a student for failing to put takeout containers in the garbage, which is about the only force that they'll be able to use, apart from retaining a deposit on the room.

You will find support, because apart from self-entitled dipshit frat-boy losers, everybody is going to be on your side.

Nah, it's going to be very easy for a few people who can keep their cool to make anonymous look like Captain Queeg.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:14 AM on October 1, 2007

Listen to ROU_Xenophobe and keep in mind that AskMe self-selects responses that may not be representative of your college first-years.

My experience is that making it easier to be clean (trashcan), making any consequences very clearly issue-based (mice) and non-passive-aggressive (i.e. don't just leave up a sign) is the way to go. If you get too personally emotionally involved in this it will become a nice game for some of them to fuck with your head.

Fucking with people is legitimate college learning for those going into commerce or politics.
posted by anthill at 7:28 AM on October 1, 2007

#1, make it easy for them. there should be a big industrial size garbage can right next to the couch or tv, with a big sign on it that says, "trash" (if there isn't already). This is just engineering for human behavior (ie-- don't expect the frosh to drag their trash back to their rooms with them).

#2, put up another sign, one that looks like it was from Student Life or something, that says: "There will be no more warnings. Any trash or food left behind will result in loss of television priviliges for one week, per piece of trash."

You'll have to buy some sort of device to lock the coax cable, or the plug, so that they can't reattach it themselves.

All you're doing here is two things: removing excuses and setting Singapore-level penalties (in the mind of an 18 year old) for failure to comply. If anyone bitches to you, you can sincerely say that despite repeated warnings, nothing changed, which is why the current system was set up. (Avoid using I-- make it seem that this is an edict from your bosses, or something like that-- beyond your control to change.)

Good luck. Let us know how it goes. If it comes down to it, the next step could be removing furniture.
posted by raconteur at 7:40 AM on October 1, 2007

bingo: "It's not about whether he's actually a dick; it's about the kids' perception of him as a dick."

Exactly. Lead, don't lecture.

flabdablet: "There's a basic conflict revealing itself in this thread. On one side are the people who think that leaving garbage in a shared space is (a) no big deal (b) inevitable (c) clearly your problem because you're some kind of neatness freak; on the other are those who think it's disrespectful, immature, asshole behaviour."

No, I think bingo agrees that the kids might be assholes(correct me if I'm wrong). Many college freshmen are assholes. But the suggested approach my many is to try to out asshole them. I don't think you want to get into that contest. Unless you're a 6'7" drill sargeant, you're not going to win many arguments by swinging your dick around and demanding respect.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:52 AM on October 1, 2007

You're an RA. Isn't there an RD or someone above you with authority? We had situations like this a lot in various dorms I lived in, and taking away the privilege is really the only thing that worked.

Send out notice that if the nastyness continues, the common room will be locked and available to no one.

Yes, that penalizes everyone when only a few asshats are really responsible, but maybe it will make them get with the program.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:53 AM on October 1, 2007

No matter what, if cleaning is not your job, stop cleaning. That makes it everyone else's problem, not just yours. You'll have an easier time working on the slobs if they are making things unpleasant for everyone, not just for you.

And kick things upstairs if you can. If you have no authority, someone else must have. The person with authority can shut down the cable, for example.

Then maybe you can get other people to let the 5 slobs know that what they're doing isn't cool. Because you're an RA, to them you're the petty authority these petty anti-authoritarians feel obligated to cross. Aggravating you is the game they play after eating together. If attractive girls (other than you, of course, if that's what you happen to be) or very large guys told them to clean up, things might be different.

Also, is the room used for other purposes such as meetings? If so, would it be possible to schedule other activities for when the slobs would usually be watching their favorite shows there. This is not just to be petty: you might get them to find an alternative place to watch stuff and shift the problem elsewhere.

(By the way, don't do that stuff about leaving big trash cans in the room unless you know they'll be emptied and cleaned regularly every day.)
posted by pracowity at 8:02 AM on October 1, 2007

Exactly- once they use the cans (and hopefully they will), whose job is it to empty them? The custodial staff?

Or will you then expect the same kids to empty the cans?

So far Robocop's ideas about allowing them to reserve the TV based on complying with a shared common-room cleaning schedule is good. Of course in reality it might not work.

Slob college kids will be slob adults. I hope the future wives/girlfriends of these guys are ready for them.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:04 AM on October 1, 2007

To echo what many others have said- ESCALATE. There's no shame in telling your superior that you've got a problem that's more than you can handle alone; that's what they're there for and they know it. The same shit happens year after year.

DO NOT attempt to go renegade and unilaterally hand down punitive action against either the instigators (or worse) the entire floor without speaking to higher-ups first. Stuff like Cable TV and access to the common area are privileges, but they might not be yours to revoke.
posted by mkultra at 9:22 AM on October 1, 2007

Definitely stop cleaning up for them. If it means the common room gets so gross you can't bear to go in, then that sucks. I'm not sure how much cleaning the custodial staff is willing to do in the common room, but if it's anything less than emptying a trash can every other day and vacuuming once a week then you should make it clear to students that if they want to eat in the common room, they need to make sure that it gets cleaned at least that often.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:48 AM on October 1, 2007

Try a great big trash can in the common room for a week. If that doesn't work, lock it. Saying "HAY GUYS NO EATING IN THE COMMON ROOM" is going to be completely ineffective.
posted by moonlet at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2007

I'm a 3rd year RA at a small liberal arts college. The biggest thing here is to not sacrifice your relationship with your residents. It's not worth it. Period.

If you've done what you can, put it in the hands of your hall / residence director. Pass the blame up to them.

It's nice to be able to say "Hey, I just got an email from ResLife. They've had complaints from Custodial. If our lounge isn't clean by 8am Wednesday, [they'll lock it for a week/the floor will be fined for cleanup]. That'd suck. Please help out."

Boom. You're being truthful, and you're not the bad guy. It's super awesome if your RD/HD can send a similar email themselves if you don't see an improvement. Just make sure they don't place it back on you. "Hey [your floor], your RA said that the lounge has been really messy..." is bad. "I've noticed that the 3rd floor lounge is unreasonably messy..." is much better. It's their problem now.

This sort of redirection is also useful if you don't quite agree with a policy.

Again, you're not the bad guy. You're there to build community. Make your superiors put their neck out for policy enforcement.

One last-ditch option: "Guys, if the lounge is clean at [your bedtime] every night for a week, I'll bake a batch of [delicious confection of your choice] for each room. [Delicious confection]!"

Good luck!
posted by SemiSophos at 10:43 AM on October 1, 2007

Aggravating you is the game they play after eating together.

This strikes me as just exactly perfectly right. Which is why I don't think you have a relationship with these pricks that's worth preserving. So, you need to revert to straight power concepts.

The first step is to gain access to the power needed to apply New Miracle Force™ (Solves Everything) to these mummy's boy dipshits, and the second step is to get it applied without mercy.

Trying to do these steps in the wrong order will get you nowhere.

You will probably have much less trouble dealing with people up the responsibility chain from you than you will dealing with dickhead slobs, because by and large, those people will be adults.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 PM on October 1, 2007

Ahhh. Second year college student chiming in here.

Nth-ing the garbage can and stop cleaning it up ideas. I'm the same way about food/food remains/packaging being left out -- it drives me NUTS. (and it's not always the fault of the students -- the custodial staff at my school left garbage cans in the lobby of a lecture hall overflowing so now we have fruit flies...AGH!) But you need to grit your teeth here and leave it alone.

If you can't, or if the custodial staff will just clean it up every day, find photos of pests (cockroaches, mice, etc. Also preferably gross rather than cute.), print them out, and post them on everyone's door. The fact it's disrespectful to you and the custodial staff is a notable consequence to those who actually respect the residential/custodial staff, but these guys probably don't. Maybe put little plastic bugs all over the common room, if they still don't get the point after one photo-posting.

Also, the bribery (it was ice cream, for us) for good behavior thing actually worked for a group I was in. Also, a group of my friends last year spent half an hour to an hour making brownies or cookies (just plain from a mix) every thursday night. The RA helped fund the effort, they were available for everyone. Maybe if you merged these two ideas it'd work to keep the common room clean? (i.e., free chocolate chip cookies every wednesday evening if the common areas have been clean the whole previous week.)

Best of luck. College students are often (unintentional and intentional!) real asshats sometimes.
posted by mismatched at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2007

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