March 9, 2020

WU | Can we get some two-ply toilet paper?

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Last year, during finals week, I studied in the Statler for the first time. There’s this little nook on the second floor down the hall from Banfi, isolated from the hardly-studying library crowds. About three hours in, as I was re-writing the citric acid cycle for the nth time, I needed to use the restroom (and take a much-needed break from biochem).

Cornell’s public restroom game is generally strong (except for Plant Sciences), but Statler’s restroom was beautiful. It had white lights, a spotless countertop and, to top it all off, motion-activated air fresheners in every stall. Like a five-year-old, I waved my hand in front of the air freshener in my stall at least 10 times. I had to. Then, I went to wipe. Alas, I was greeted with that infamous Cornell half-ply toilet paper. Needless to say, I was disappointed that my opulent bathroom experience ended in a scratchy wipe.

Fast-forward to last Friday, I was watching Parasite (mild, non-damaging spoilers ahead). In one, now famous scene, Chung-sook, the housekeeper for the wealthy Kims, cooks ram-don — a combination of instant noodles and hanwoo, one of the most expensive Korean beefs. In that moment, I was reminded of the Statler bathroom, my motion-activated air fresheners and my sandpaper-y wipe.

Like the ram-don in Parasite, our Cornell sphere often seems to present itself in dichotomies. On one hand, our experiences are so often embellished with such small things as the motion-activated air fresheners that, at times, it can be hard to detect the abnormality of it all. In our classes, extracurriculars and daily living, we are often afforded experiences that few get. Yet on the other hand, it feels that sometimes our basic needs are not being adequately met.

Take Cornell Health, for example. It was renovated and rebranded from Gannett. More than once, as I’ve made my daily trek to Olin, I’ve contemplated how nice it would be if I could study inside Cornell Health instead. With its clean aesthetic and white lights, it’s almost a better Cocktail lounge. Yet, when I’m sick, the last place I want to go is Cornell Health. Its incompetence is notorious across campus. To quote one friend: “I’d rather die in my room than go to Cornell health again.”

Along the same vein, Cornell is currently constructing new dorms on North Campus for underclassmen. When they are completed, I am sure they will be luxurious, providing students with a similar experience to West Campus, Mews or CKB. Yet, just last year, students in Balch had their heat go out. And despite multiple complaints, the University maintained that “the heating system that services North Campus is fully functional.”  Likewise, Low Rise 6 and Mews Hall flooded last year on two separate occasions. And even if you describe these as one time events, you cannot ignore the plight of students cramped into forced triples.  Cornell has taken few steps to mediate these glaring housing issues, yet it is building brand new housing right next door.

It is apparent that Cornell is fixated on looking good, but not necessarily feeling good. Its investment in a better-looking building for Cornell Health, shiny new dorms, and motion-activated air fresheners shows that much.  Cornell has a certain reputation to maintain. On the “About” page of Cornell’s Ithaca campus, there are three words in bold: “Tradition, Beauty, and Innovation.” Beauty. Or vanity, perhaps.

Though hanwoo and ramen together make a killer dish, you don’t need hanwoo to have a good ramen. Making things beautiful means nothing if what’s already there isn’t solid. We need to focus on the practical first.

So while the motion-activated air fresheners were nice and fun, they served no tangible purpose. Next time, could we get some two-ply toilet paper instead?


Lei Lei Wu is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. This is the first installment of Get Lei’d, and the column will run alternate Mondays this semester.