Students demand housing change on social media

4 weeks ago Mickella Rast Comments Off on Students demand housing change on social media

An Instagram account detailing allegedly horrendous living conditions at Wesleyan has gone viral, prompting widespread campus outrage and local news coverage from outlets such as WAVY 10. The account shows pictures and videos of mice, mold and water damage, among other issues. All submissions are reportedly from students living on campus, whose work orders have gone ignored or are yet to be addressed.

The account holder, henceforth addressed by their Instagram handle @wesleyanhousing, said that, “Our goals were to bring to light the living conditions on this campus and hopefully spark change.” The account was started in early April and continues to post daily. The page quickly gained the attention of students and administrators alike, and now boasts almost 500 followers. “We weren’t expecting this account to go viral as quickly as it did but we were very happy to see that other people agree that there are issues with housing here,” @wesleyanhousing said.

Administration quickly responded in an official statement to WAVY 10 and in the public comments section of several photos.

“The health and safety of our students is our top priority,” Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Moore said to WAVY reporters. “We respect where our students live, we want them to be comfortable and happy, and we are proactive about remediating their concerns.”

During this same period, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jason Seward commented on one photo that no service logs or work orders matching the pictures shown were found on file.

“We can’t make progress because we have no concrete, specific location of anything posted that we can tie a submitted work order to,” said Seward during an interview with the Marlin Chronicle. “At its core, we want to help students, since day one. If students are having issues and concerns we want to help them. How can we help? But we have to see it, we have to put our hands on it and be there. And we can’t right now.”

Students expressed gratification that such issues were finally being brought to the public’s attention, especially since some claim that the problems are systematic and have continued over the span of years.

Senior Regan Kirwin said that, “The housing has become worse and worse each year I have been here. They used to actually replace things or fix things but this year it seems that they try their hardest just to paint and leave everything as is.”

Kirwin has lived on campus all four years of her education, but said that her freshman housing wasn’t nearly as problem-ridden as later dorms.

“It started getting bad my sophomore year when maintenance closed my emotional support animal in with fumes from a bleach primer paint they used to fix mold in my shelf. Turns out the mold was in the vents and they never fixed that,” Kirwin said.

Joshua Roth said that the housing conditions were one of two factors that made him decide to become a commuter rather than resident his junior year.

He detailed numerous housing issues that he dealt with his freshman year in Bray Village, then known as Village I (V1). In his own dorm, he said that the A/C unit didn’t work, in addition to mold in his room and the surrounding hallways. Regarding communal spaces, he said that the “bathroom was always in [need of] maintenance, sinks and toilets would be clogged sometimes, and the showers were disgusting.”

Similar issues arose his sophomore year, despite his move into a private townhouse in the Honors Village, then known as Village IIII (V4).

“My roommates and I had to put in several work orders to fix certain things like our kitchen sink/pipes, and bathroom sinks,” which Roth said were clogged and filled with standing water.

Roth added that his spring semester that year was additionally plagued by persistent ants and mold in the kitchen and adjoining areas.

However, he said that he is willing to give campus housing one more chance. “I will be living on campus again next year for my final year at VWU, so hopefully the housing situation gets fixed,” Roth said.

Such students stand behind @wesleyanhousing’s claim that, “People have definitely encouraged the existence of this account and are proud to see someone bringing to light all the issues that they have been claiming to exist.”

In an effort to address such complaints, RAs and other members of ResLife visited each of the halls and asked residents if they had any work orders they needed to submit or problems with unanswered work orders.

“We deployed staff in an effort to identify any concerns with residents on campus. And, unfortunately, the response was that any issues were not reported,” said Moore in an interview with the Marlin Chronicle. “And so I do feel that we have campus partners, and our campus partners are our students. They’re our largest group on campus, they’re the group we serve, and we want to know what we can do better. We do rely on them to inform us and inform what we do.”

He reminded students to submit work orders or contact members of ResLife or maintenance regarding dorm issues. He said that an integral part of addressing such issues was having documentation on hand. In addition to this, he reminded students to keep their spaces clean and “unappealing” to pests.

A focus on personal responsibility was one aspect of the Instagram account and news coverage that some students felt were missing. Such students thought the complaints on social media were unfair and didn’t take into account the part that residents play in dorm safety and sustainability.

Senior Kristina Scott commented as such online. She called her comments at the time “impulsive,” but also said that she didn’t regret it. “I just saw that there were so many people complaining,” said Scott. “I go to this school, I have lived in the housing for four years, I know there’s issues and I don’t want to dismiss that, but there’s also people here to help and I’ve had really good experiences with maintenance. So I just felt the need to speak out.”

During the fall semester, Scott and her roommates had similar housing issues as those who posted pictures on the Instagram. She said that there was persistent mold in her suite in Teagle, as well as another suite down the hall. “[Maintenance was] in there almost every day, fixing these things. One of the nicest things they got was they bought a brand new dehumidifier to try and get some of the humidity out of there and they helped us, telling us ‘you need to keep your AC on, you need to do these things,’” Scott said.

She also added that the head of the maintenance crew gave her his business card and told her to call him personally if they experienced any recurring problems.

“So you can’t complain about that. They worked really hard every day. We don’t have those issues anymore. I’m thankful for what they were doing. They did a lot for us,” Scott said.

Scott said that she thought housing changes could be better brought about by directing contacting campus officials rather than posting pictures on social media. “Hopefully it does make a change, I just think they went about it all the wrong ways,” Scott said.

Seward reiterated this point and encouraged students to contact him and Moore directly with issues if students felt that their housing needs were not being met. He expressed disappointment that the students behind @wesleyanhousing did not show up for a meeting in late April, which he said would have been a valuable opportunity to begin a concrete dialogue.

“We just wanted to garner a conversation, be it in person or otherwise, with the individuals that brought this to our attention. Let’s have a conversation and the transparency that you speak of, let’s just come together. We want to help. But we can’t draw a line to anything. At the end of the day, we want to help students. It’s about helping students,” Seward said.

“If there’s anything that can be taken away from this, I think that communication is important and open, face-to-face communication is in the true spirit of doing right by our community,” Moore said. “I think that we really do rely on our students to let us know what’s happening and it’s unfortunate that it would appear that, in some ways, the university was blindsided by this because we don’t know what we don’t know.”

A survey created by @wesleyanhousing is attempting to provide more detailed information that will be later provided to administration. The survey includes questions such as what housing problems students have had in the past, whether maintenance reports were submitted regarding the problems and whether the problems reoccurred after maintenance visited.

The survey has been circulated to students, both residents and commuters. @wesleyanhousing hopes to use it to support student their claims about housing.in a petition they later plan on drafting and submitting to the administration.

“We encourage people to share this account and the survey with anyone who has attended Wesleyan in order to accurately gauge how students feel towards housing on this campus,” @wesleyanhousing said.

However, Moore said that any data from the survey would be flawed because the information was compromised. He pointed out that one problem with the survey is that it is open to the public and users are not required to submit proof that they live on campus or are a student at Wesleyan. Another problem is that users are able to take the survey more than once, potentially skewing results.

“I don’t know how much credibility we could put into it,” Moore said.

Despite these issues, Moore did acknowledge that such a survey could be indicative of a need for more student feedback. He brought up a past form used by the university (then college) to gauge student satisfaction with housing, titled the Residential Student Satisfaction Survey (or RSSS for short). He called the form “very comprehensive” and suggested that the it could be revived.

For clarification purposes, @wesleyanhousing said that, “We would like to add that this [account] is not a means of bypassing the maintenance process but as a means to show systematic issues that have not been dealt with.”

Likewise, Scott said that none of her comments or the alleged housing issues were a reflection of Wesleyan’s maintenance staff.

“I understand there’s problems and I’ve dealt with the problems, but we should know that there’s people at our school willing to help,” Scott said. “We have the best cleaning staff at our school, they go above and beyond. Maintenance has been really good to us, too. There’s people out there for us.”

Though Moore and Seward readily commented, other administration members refrained from doing so. VWU President Scott Miller directed comments to Moore, as did Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communications Stephanie Smago; Assistant Director of Physical Plant Operations, Grounds and Housekeeping Michael Rigby and Director of Physical Plant Operations Donald Coberly.

It is important to note that all of the photos pictured here and on the front page are from the @wesleyanhousing Instagram account, whose administrators remain anonymous. Likewise, those who submit photos for publication to this account are kept anonymous. Because of this, the Marlin Chronicle cannot guarantee that the photos have not been edited or otherwise altered.

Mickella Rast
mjrast@vwu.edu