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Chalkboards Over Urinals

Dan Scolnic

There are chalkboards over the urinals in Walker Memorial. I’ve seen some pretty crazy things at MIT, but nothing as crazy and yet so perfectly representative of this university’s culture as these chalkboards.

Before I try to explain why these chalkboards are so fitting at MIT, let me pose a couple of scenarios for why one would need the chalkboards over urinals. There are two main reasons for being in Walker Memorial: exams and dining. Using the chalkboard over urinals during exams is logistically difficult and thus not immediately obvious. After all, this special feature exists only in the basement bathroom and there is another bathroom on the exam floor.

Still, despite where they are situated, the chalkboards remain appealing. There have been so many times when a student is on the verge of a solution if only he (in this case, he/she is not applicable) could suppress his biological urges for one moment. But he can’t, so he goes down to the bathroom, and just when his biological wishes begin to be granted, he is ready to think again. If he really had to go badly enough to leave the exam, he probably has another minute during which he is just standing there. If only he had something to write on. And so, chalkboards over urinals. The student can then run back, write down his solution, and then, full of energy and concentration, resume his exam.

The other possibility is cheating. A student can plan with a fellow classmate to go to the bathroom during the exam, and when the classmate comes back, the student goes to the bathroom and sees the answer. If only they had some way to write their answers so they could cheat. Of course, the best way is chalkboards over urinals. Although there are many easier ways to cheat, it would at least be the type of cheating you could brag about.

The second reason one goes to Walker is to eat. A student may be so programmed to work but so conscious of people thinking less of him because he works during his only free time that he runs to the one place where he can do his work without being watched -- the bathroom. If only there was a good way to work in the bathroom, and what better way than chalkboards over urinals?

So as you can see, there are various possibilities for which the chalkboards over urinals can be used. Whoever came up with this specific spot to place the chalkboards definitely had some such purpose in mind.

But I’m sorry; I cannot continue defending this idea’s plausibility any longer. It is not physically possible to utilize the chalkboards and urinals at the same time. I tried it. At first, I just could not concentrate on writing anything, and then, when I focused on my work, I made quite the mess of myself. It’s not possible. It’s not some simple pat your head and rub your stomach routine. And if you can do it, if you have inherited this unearthly talent, then I say you are blessed and you, my soon-to-be-friend, will do wonderful things in your life.

The rest of us, however, who are not as talented, should not be surprised by the chalkboards over urinals when looking at them in the context of MIT’s culture. There have been countless times when we heard someone bragging that they pulled an all-nighter or last slept for more than eight hours during summer vacation. There is a pride here in working at the expense of physical health. Chalkboards over urinals. Within all my scenarios, there is this feeling that the physical activity of urinating must be sidestepped lest it quench one’s hunger to work. Since our administrators do not do anything about it, we can only assume that, at least in essence, they encourage it. After all, kids did not put the chalkboard over the urinal. Perhaps MIT’s administrators think that if we can completely disregard our bodies in order to work, then we can do anything. Maybe they think that if we can work while urinating, we can take over the world.

And maybe we can.

Dan Scolnic is a member of the class of 2007.