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The Arts Need Clean Water Too

*CORRECTION: Beloit College does pay for filtered water, not the THDA Department. Beloit College is not in direct violation of OSHA. However, the opinions of this article are not specifically in regard to who pays for the water, but rather critique the financial choices of Beloit College and set long-term expectations for the building.

When I sat down on the first day of our makeup unit in my costuming class, the last thing I expected my professor to say was “if you want to wash your hands, use the warm water, it’s less rusty than the cold.” Why does that even need to be said, and why is it a normality in the department?

Clean water has been a long time problem for the Neese Theatre, and it’s time to get it fixed. Last April a group of students organized a mass email protest to President Scott Bierman. On Mar. 9 of last year, faculty submitted a request to fix the filter, and facilities did show up to fix it. But it didn’t work. The faucets continued to spout “disgusting brown liquid.” Faculty then put in yet another request. At this point, the building had gone five weeks without clean water. Facilities responded by shutting off the only potable source of water.

“Potable” is defined by The Water Education Foundation as drinking water that “comes from surface and ground sources and is treated to levels that meet state and federal standards for consumption.” I don’t think brown chunky water exactly fits this definition, but the levels at the Neese just barely make the quota. At least I hope they do.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guideline 815.88b subpart F is as follows:

  1. “The Employer shall provide potable water for all employee health and personal needs and ensure only potable water is used for these purposes”
  2. “The Employer shall provide potable drinking water in amounts that are adequate to meet health and personal needs of each employee.”
  3. The employer shall dispense drinking water from a fountain, a covered container with single-use drinking cups stored in a sanitary receptacle, or single-use bottles. The employer shall prohibit the use of shared drinking cups, dippers, and water bottles.”

The “employer” in this situation, Beloit college, has not met any part of this guideline. The plumbing system in the building needs to be replaced in order to produce drinkable water, and the college has failed to do so. The filtered water jugs are provided by Theatre Department funds, and the college has not provided a stipend as requested in student emails. The cost and upkeep of that water is a decently large cost, and it can only do so much. The water fountains are not drinkable, they taste dirty and everyone knows the general water system is unsafe.

To put it bluntly, Beloit College is clearly violating OSHA regulations. 

As stated in the student email template, if this is reported to OSHA, it could cost Beloit upwards of $13,000. Students don’t want to bring this burden on the school, but they have considered it. They are frustrated and feel under-appreciated. Theatre majors can often spend on average 40 hours per week in that building between classes, work study, and productions. They need access to an unlimited drinking source to stay healthy and hydrated. Performers need water to protect their voices and their bodies for the same reasons that athletes do. Production students work long hours building sets and props, often working with power tools. Without proper hydration they all run the risk of dehydration and injury.

I understand that this is a large and expensive job. That is not an excuse to let this continue. The department should not need to pay for filtered water out of their own budget. Those resources should be going to students and faculty. Facilities should be responding in a timely and effective manner, and the dismal lack of response faculty has faced is extremely disheartening.

I hate to say it, but if this issue were at the Sports Center or Powerhouse, it would probably be resolved immediately, and that sends a message about Beloit’s blatant disregard for the arts. The email template says so itself, “it says to [the student] that Beloit College cares very little about [me] and my education as an aspiring theatre professional and is fine with halting all current theatrical education by refusing to properly address the need for potable water in our building.”

The theatre department has been dealing with this for months now. Just hold space for that thought for a moment. Months of no drinkable water in the entire building. This is a well respected academic institution, and we’re really having an issue getting clean drinking water? The Theatre department is full of hard working and talented people, who make the program as successful as it is. They deserve respect and appreciation, and frankly, the way this has been handled is insulting. Do better Beloit.


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