Why are university student dormitories so unpleasant to live in?
By Chloe Tam
Ruby Shum* and her two roommates have been living in a dormitory of Hang Seng University of Hong Kong (HSUHK) for six months since September 2022 and only managed to clean their toilet for the first time in February 2023. They hope they will not have to do it again till the end of the school year in May 2023.
“Cleaning the bathroom is very disgusting and my roommates and I are too lazy to clean it,” the year one Journalism student says.
The smell of the bathroom was so strong that the trio had to think of a “quick fix”.
“We just poured some bleach into the toilet bowl, used toilet gel stamps and sprayed freshener to cover the unbearable odour,” Shum recalls, adding that she does not know how to clean the toilet as her mum cleans it for her at home.
For Shum’s roommates, their domestic helpers do it.
“We could not stand the smell anymore. There were also stains on the toilet bowl so we decided to carry out this ‘big job’. We used a clip to hold wet wipes to clean the toilet bowl. The primary aim of the washing was to remove the stains,” Shum recalls the first time cleaning this year.
“We did not wash it thoroughly as we are too afraid of dirtiness. I hope we will not have to wash it before the end of semester in May,” she says.
“Most residents also do not clean their bathroom because of laziness,” she adds.
Jolene Chan*, a student living in Wu Yee Sun College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), shares Shum’s experience.
She is particularly frustrated by the situation in the bathroom on her floor that is shared by 60 students.
“We have a big rubbish bin in the bathroom but it is always full. I have seen used sanitary pads on the floor near the bin two to three times. Is it so difficult to throw their rubbish into another bin by walking a few more steps?” the Year One Linguistics student says.
She points out that other than the big rubbish bin, smaller ones are also available in each of the four toilet cubicles.
Chan is also upset by her peers’ behaviour when flushing water supply was suspended in November 2022.
“I don’t understand why people do not flush the toilet. Why would they expect someone to flush for them? I wanted to go to the toilet after class but I could not find a clean one on my floor, UG and first floor. It was a nightmare!” she says.
She ended up walking ten minutes to the toilet in the University Library from her dorm to answer the call of nature.
The university student is also troubled by noise problems in her dorm.
“Some girls scream and chat loudly in the corridor during midnight. Some even use hair dryers in the common area when others are sleeping. It is really disturbing,” she says.
Notices have been posted to remind students to be considerate and not to use hair dryers in the common area. Chan finds the soundproofing design of the hostel poor. She can always hear noises in the common area even when she is in her room.
“Most students are born in small families with one or no siblings so parents spoil their kids. They are not taught to be considerate and empathetic. They put their convenience before others and do whatever they want,” she says.
“Many Hong Kong students are machines trained to perform well in exams. They have excellent exam skills but none or few life skills. They have no idea how to get along with others, especially when they need to live together,” she continues.
“I believe university students study hard and become well-educated. But some of the residents’ behaviour makes me doubt their education. A university student is not supposed to be so inconsiderate. They may think that no one would find out who has messed up toilets and common areas so they are free from responsibilities,” Chan adds.
Photos of the unpleasant condition of the toilet bowls were sent to a Whatsapp group used by resident tutors and residents to spread information. Residents sometimes use the group to complain about the living conditions and ask others to behave well. Noise problems and the untidiness of the toilet and pantry are primary concerns.
Senior hall tutor at Wu Yee Sun College Michelle Hon Ka-yan is responsible for managing residents’ affairs, providing guidance and organising floor activities. She has received residents’ complaints about problems living in student dormitories.
“After receiving complaints, I remind residents to put themselves in other’s shoes in the floor Whatsapp group. I also stick notices in the bathroom to remind them to clean it after using. As a hall tutor, I want to teach residents to be considerate, but not to blame them. Empathy and responsibility are very important,” Hon says.
“I tell residents to think for other students, especially international students who do not have a home in Hong Kong. They live here every day,” she adds.
Residents should take good care of all public properties and keep the hostels clean and orderly at all times, according to the Student Hostel Regulations of Wu Yee Sun College.
Professor Yu Wai-mui from the Education University of Hong Kong shares Hon’s view in educating students to be better residents.
“Living in a dorm is a transitional period for university students to become mature grown-ups and responsible leaders,” Yu says.
“While university students are blessed with loving parents, families should teach their children to be more independent from primary school. Parents can teach their kids basic skills like cooking, using the washing machine, and most importantly, eating healthily. It is better to develop good habits at a young age,” she adds.
Yu is part of a research project published in 2022 titled “Strengthening the Alignment of Residential Education and University Educational Aims”. She visited some top universities including University of Cambridge, Harvard University and Nanyang Technological University and found out residential education was highly valued at these universities.
Yu and her fellow researchers suggest increasing human resources and providing more funds for residential education development. They also encourage organising more hall activities that help students understand the value of residential education.
“Hall life education should be provided in Hong Kong to improve the living quality of dorms. The University Grant Committee (UGC) only focuses on hardwares of university but there should be more resources on developing communication channels, organising cooking lessons and providing counselling sessions,” says Yu, who is also the Warden of the Grantham Hall at the Education University of Hong Kong.
“Self-discipline is the key. If students can manage their time well, they can better manage themselves and their interpersonal relationships. They can gain peer support and be more considerate to others,” she says.
“Young adults are easily influenced by their peers so mutual support can bring positive influence to their well-being,” Yu adds.
*Names changed at interviewees’ request.
Edited by Victoria Fong
Sub-edited by Charmaine Choi