By Gabby Rente
When I was applying to college, I was so excited to live in a dorm and cultivate my own little living space. I imagined it as a place where I could unwind, study, and simply be.
And then I came to Washington College.
In my four years of attending WC, I have lived all over campus. I lived in Reid for my first two years, Middle Hall, Kent Crossing, and the Western Shore dorms.
During my freshman year, I experienced an excessive number of bugs in my room, and not just ants but cockroaches, grasshoppers, and even hornets. And no, it was not due to untidy cleaning habits. They would crawl under my door from the hallway or through the cracks of my poorly insulated window.
My sophomore year, I was an RA in Reid, where I experienced trials like flooding, bursting pipes, leaky ceilings, dirty air conditioners, and bats. I still have the footage of several RAs helping me shovel water into trash cans the night before my residents were supposed to arrive. The RAs I worked with can attest that I made many calls to Public Safety about bats throughout the year.
When I was the RA of Middle Hall my junior year, about halfway throughout the fall semester, the boiler in the basement, which heats the water for all the Hill dorms, burst. I was up until 1:00 a.m. waiting for the on-duty maintenance worker to come and shut off the water. Through the semester, we continued to have problems with the water temperature. My residents could not take showers without potentially burning themselves.
I soon quit being an RA because I was constantly waiting for another maintenance catastrophe to strike, which was disrupting my academics.
I thought my worries would end there. They did not. Several weeks ago, my suitemate became incredibly ill. She was wheezing and coughing and would wake up in the middle of the night to throw up. She was put on a steroid inhaler after the health center advised her to check the air filters in our suite. We found that her air filter was covered in a blackish residue, and our RA came and confirmed that it was indeed mold. But when maintenance arrived, they said it was just dirt.
They then took our air filters, plus the cover to our AC units, and power washed them outside. They put everything back still dripping wet.
My roommates and I then took matters into our own hands, wiping down the walls, taking fabric items to the local laundromat to sanitize them, and moving my roommate to the spare room in our suite. Even her parents came to help.
We had to miss class to revert our living situation back to normal.
Nakia Johnson, the area coordinator, did give us dehumidifiers and offered to reimburse my roommate for the cleaning supplies and laundromat bill. This was the only way we felt supported by the Residential Life department.
I later found out, after talking with the previous residents of that same suite that that very same room had mold the year before. They had to regularly clean their air units and purchase a dehumidifier in order to keep the mold at bay. We were not told this when we initially moved in.
My experience is only one of many. Walk around campus for the day asking people for stories about their living conditions, and you will get a ton of material.
While I understand that we are not the only academic institution dealing with unhealthy living conditions, the fact that this state of living has become the norm is ridiculous. The New York Times released an article back in August describing the living situations at Georgetown University, one of our peer institutions. The students there started an Instagram account called @georgetown.hotmess that reflects a similar energy that our little goose nation has.
So, here’s what I would like to happen. First, I want WC to state that we have a problem, because we do. How can Admissions showcase WC as this amazing institution if we are not holding our campus to that standard?
I also want the students to use their voices. Get angry, WC, but most importantly get active. I hear many students complain about important issues on campus, but I see little action taken. Organize, rally, protest. Inform, educate, do.
I then want special attention from the college given to the Department of Residential Life so that they may receive the funding necessary to repair and maintain the residential halls. Board of Visitors and Governors, I am looking at you.
I also urge our alumni and donors to be more mindful with their donations. While it is nice to have your name on a library or an academic hall, students spend the most time in their residential halls, and from what I can see, these are the spaces that are being the most neglected in donations.
I would like WC to be one of the leading institutions in addressing this crisis, and not because I’m some hot-headed student looking to make noise, but because I love this school. I am thankful for all the lessons, both in the classroom and out, that WC has given me, and nothing would make me happier than to see this institution thrive for future students.
WC is an amazing place. Now prove it.