By Derek Stiles
“All students have the right to expect that residence halls will be reasonably quiet and well maintained. The College recognizes that a student’s residence hall is his/her ‘home away from home’ and should be treated as such. The College assumes the responsibility for maintaining the buildings, and students must assume responsibility for establishing an atmosphere where all students may study, sleep, and live.”
This direct abstract from the “Residence Life” section in the Washington College 2014-2015 Handbook is far off from the experience I’ve had with on-campus living here at WC.
After having an on-and-off fever for almost a month with difficulty breathing I was suspicious that the mold in my dorm’s air conditioner could be the cause. After having a chest x-ray I tested positive for upper-lobe pneumonia and was told by Health Services that I would need to move out of my dorm in Hartford due to the moldy air conditioners that were found in both my room and the common area.
You would think that after the inconvenience of dealing with pneumonia, paying medical bills, and moving my belongings for the second time this year that the school would offer some sort of apology for their poor standard of living. If you thought that would be the case, you were wrong.
Mold has existed in WC dorms for over a decade and the college has done very little to aid those students who have been affected by it. In 2007, The Elm published “Students Return to Dorm After Mold Scare” by Alice Horner, which recounted the mold issues that seniors dealt with in their Western Shore dorm. Those seniors were moved out of their Western Shore suite for a period of time so that the college could clean the room. According to then-senior Austin Murphy, he and his friends returned to a room that still had mold in the air conditioner. He also said that none of the residents received any reimbursement or apology from the school.
“It’s frustrating, especially when it’s something that’s preventable because we all pay tuition,” Murphy said at the time. “[The situation is] ridiculous. The school is acting less than apathetic.”
The average for on-campus housing for students is just over $5,000. According to Vice President of Finance and Administration Mark Hampton that fee goes largely towards maintaining the residence halls and covering the people who clean it. It’s ironic that the money spent to live in dorms filled with mold goes towards the cleaning services of it.
According to Hampton, the summer camps run at the school cause lots of wear and tear on the dormitories due to the usage of showers and air conditioners. Hampton said, “This past summer, with the camps and the rainstorm that flooded the turf, there “hadn’t been enough time to clean it up.”
This is simply unacceptable.
With numerous reports of sicknesses and trips to the hospital in the past 10 years due to the mold in the dorms, one would think that the school would show some sympathy for students. However, it’s become a norm for students to move mid-way through the year because their respiratory system becomes infected. I understand that tests have come back saying the mold isn’t toxic but it’s apparent that this mold still harms students. Just because it’s similar to mold in the natural environment doesn’t mean the school should lack the urgency to fix it.
Action was only expedited once my parents and suitemates’ parents began to call the school and complain. Despite my former room receiving a new air conditioner the suite still awaits a dehumidifier that was supposed to solve the problem.
It’s become obvious that the focus of the school is primarily monetary rather than to improve students’ living situations. The school knowingly put in moldy air conditioners rather than have them cleaned prior to our arrival, which has been a practice for years now. Simply because standards are currently mediocre doesn’t mean they should stay that way.
Whether this is the fault of Buildings and Grounds, Residence Life, or other parts of the administration, accountability needs to be taken. This issue has been a primary one for over 10 years, and the school has yet to find a solution. No way should students pay thousands of dollars for rooms that aren’t kept clean by the staff since according to Residence these dorms are supposed to be our “home away from home.”