By Sarah Siock
Toilets in residence halls and academic buildings across campus have been so excessively and repeatedly stuffed with paper products that Rider has experienced over 50 sewer backups since November of 2021.
The bathroom incidents have cost Rider over $50,000 due to cleanup, repairs and outside contractors. In a campus-wide email sent on Feb. 3 Vice President for Facilities and University Operations Mike Reca announced that the situation has escalated to the point of involving the Lawrence Township Police Department. If identified, persons responsible for the bathroom vandalism may be subject to criminal prosecution, in addition to Rider’s disciplinary process.
“We filled that out with the Lawrence police because of the value. It’s costing us close to 60 grand right now. Something of that magnitude, if it is vandalism, we wanted to make sure that we got a report filed,” said Reca.
Reca said typically there are seven to eight sewer backups a year but in the fall semester, there was one nearly every day. The backups have occurred in various buildings but most often in the Bart Luedeke Center, Gill Chapel, Bierenbaum Fisher Hall, the Fine Arts building, Hill Residence Hall, Lincoln Residence Hall, Kroner Residence Hall and Ziegler Residence Hall.
According to Reca over winter break there were no sewer backup issues but on the second day of the spring semester, the incidents started again.
“We were finding excessive amounts of paper towels and toilet paper. People were just pulling paper towels out and sending them down the toilet intentionally. There’s no way any one person using the bathroom would put anything like that unless it was intentional,” said Reca.
Freshman business administration major Jeffrey Kuhl, who lives in Conover Residence Hall, said his wing’s bathroom has experienced at least four sewer backups over the past year. Kuhl described the incidents as disruptive to his daily routine since the bathrooms are often closed while Facilities Management fixes the issue.
Kuhl said, “The school is suffering financially because of this. It’s also taking away people that should be doing other things, such as janitors. They should be worried about just cleaning the bathroom and getting in and getting out. But instead, they have to go in and face these unnecessary problems. It’s not fair to the people that work here that they have to deal with these extra issues besides the job that they’re doing already.”
Reca explained that as a result of the many sewer backups, other campus repairs and projects have been put on hold since funds have been diverted to pay for repairs and damage restoration.
Sophomore English major and resident of Hill Residence Hall, Marissa Harding said only two of the three stalls in the bathroom closest to her room are currently operating. Due to the sewer backups, Harding often has to find other places on campus to use the bathroom.
Harding said, “We’ve experienced a lot of clogged toilets and little floods in the bathroom. It’s disgusting. Our water has even been shut off a couple of times.”
Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown said last fall there was speculation that the incidents were spurred by a viral TikTok challenge called “devious licks.” The challenge encouraged high school and college students to steal or vandalize school property, most commonly bathrooms, and post it to TikTok. However, Brown said there is “no proof” that the incidents at Rider were connected to the “devious licks” challenge.
In an attempt to lower the number of paper products entering toilets, in some buildings paper towels were removed from bathrooms in which electric hand dryers are installed.
Reca said, “We know that the majority of our students are great and it’s unfortunate that this happens this way. But it’s not just the sewer damage. We’ve had to replace flooring, we’ve had some sheetrock damage and we’ve had ceiling tiles replaced. The more this happens the more it’s going to cost and the more it’s gonna affect people’s day-to-day academic pursuits.”
Reca and Brown encouraged students with information about the situation to contact Public Safety at 609-896-5029 or report online anonymously through the Silent Witness Form.