Minerva Students Petition for Public Restrooms for San Francisco’s Homeless

Dec 31, 2016

As part of experiential learning at Minerva, students take part in co-curricular programs, which give them access to local individuals and organizations, as well as helping them to better understand pertinent concepts, people, places, and perspectives. Challenging students to close the traditional academic gap between theory and practice enables them to utilize their interests and passions for the betterment of the communities in which they live.

Following a recent event Minerva hosted with Care2, Zane Sand, a first-year student in the Class of 2020, recognized that he did not have to wait until graduating to make a real impact. Below we talk with Zane about his work with the organization:

Minerva recently partnered with Care2, one of the world’s largest petition websites, for a co-curricular focused on changing the world through advocacy. Can you share some highlights from that experience?

I loved this co-curricular! It started with a brief overview of exactly what the Care2 platform is and how it functions, then quickly moved into a design-thinking sprint aimed at creating a petition and publishing it on the Care2 site. After my group members and I got together to discuss potential topics, we decided that 24-hour restroom availability was perhaps the most pressing issue we discussed, so we ran with it! I think the best part of the experience was presenting our ideas at the end and seeing just how many signatures we got in a mere 24 hours (over 1,000!).

Now that you have collected over 15,000 signatures, your petition was recently picked up by The San Francisco Examiner and will be forwarded to San Francisco’s Department of Public Works. Did you ever imagine you’d have this much support?

Neither my group members, nor I, could have guessed the petition would gain this much support when we were creating it. However, it is worth mentioning that this issue is a genuine problem that the city needs to address. Whether the petition gained a mass following was irrelevant to the validity of the problem. Rather, it was important to raise mass awareness.

Beyond practical considerations, why is this something you believe to be important?

Minerva is a community of international students, seeking to impact the world around us in genuine — yet realistic — ways. Working on this issue was about more than starting the process of addressing it; our efforts also underscore the importance of activism for the modern student. With a community as diverse as Minerva’s, the challenges we are passionate about solving are plentiful. I hope this is one of many steps Minerva students will make in pointing out, and solving, societal problems. I believe my point on this matter was summarized best in an article on Hoodline, in which I am quoted proposing we, “not only keep our streets sanitary, but also provide a link to humanity that oftentimes homeless people do not get.”

We have to ask: what HCs did you draw from?

I have to be honest, this question made me chuckle. If I can narrow it down to three (and let’s face it, most HC’s are applicable everywhere), I’d have to say I drew from #fairness, #ethicalframing, and #openmind. The last is probably the most obscure, so let me elaborate. Open-mindedness is something we learned about in our first week at Minerva; the ability to put your own biases and worldview aside and assess a situation from a blank slate is important in real world situations. Viewing this particular problem from your own framework is challenging — odds are if you have a bed, you have a roof, and if you have a roof, it’s illegal to not have a toilet in the vicinity. But what if you don’t have a bed? What if you don’t have a roof? Well, the logic follows that you won’t have a bathroom open to you in the middle of the night, a very real issue that the homeless of San Francisco face every day.

Tell us about one of the most memorable moments of the journey so far.

I personally have two. The first was reading my Complex Systems professor’s comment: “Great idea. #fairness. Which ethical approach is being used here?” For those that aren’t well acquainted with Minerva’s academics, #fairness is one of the HC’s previously mentioned. Everytime I apply an HC to real-world situations or casual social conversations, I cannot help but smile. Simply put: I just can’t believe how applicable our curriculum is!

The second was reading a comment left by Melissa H., a member of the homeless community attesting to the issue: “I am currently a homeless female in San Francisco and finding a restroom to use {EVEN IF YOU OFFER $$$} is basically impossible. And that is during normal business hrs. AFTER 6pm-ish…FORGET ABOUT IT!!!” I think this problem arose from a lack of empathy for the people of San Francisco that live on the streets, and with Melissa’s contribution, we have actual evidence (besides the aftermath) of how it affects their day-to-day lives. It’s pressing to say the least.

What would you like to accomplish next?

This idea really needs to be pushed in the city government, so this system is included in the existing PitStop campaign that the city has already spearheaded. While it is mildly successful, it is not doing enough to eliminate the issues it was conceived to solve.

How might the public — local and otherwise — do more to help?

Steve Jobs said: “Everything… was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it.” I have only one thing to add to such a beautiful idea, “… you just have to notice what needs to be changed.” My dad used to lecture me about the dangers of wearing a hood in public because, “it takes you out of your reality, you can’t see in your periphery,” etc.; today, there’s a lot more than just hoods to distract us from our surroundings. If you really want to help, take your headphones out and listen to what’s going on around you. Really pay attention. Odds are you’re going to have plenty of realizations. There’s only one person with your take on the world, and it’s your responsibility to make sure your voice is heard.