Letter to the Editor: DePauw Housing Puts Students at Risk

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When I first heard the news that approval had been given to tear down Hogate Hall and College Street Hall, all I could think was “finally.” While there are many people who hold fond memories of these halls, or who enjoy their general layouts, no one can deny that these buildings had become serious health hazards for those living in them. While this is a great first step, DePauw has a long way to go in terms of providing safe and adequate housing conditions to all students.

While not all housing units present the same health issues that Hogate and College Street have, there are still certain risks to students’ health and well-being. Take, for example, the fact that there are still several residence halls that lack air conditioning.

Common dismissals of this issue include: “it’s only an issue a few months each year” or “if you have a couple of good fans, it’s really very manageable.”

However, after speaking with my friend who have lived in these AC-free conditions, I can say that living without AC is more than a minor inconvenience a few months out of the year and cannot be solved with a few well-placed electric fans.

One friend, who lives in Anderson Street Hall this year, described their room as “a literal oven.” What makes this issue all the more clear is the fact that the CLCD office, located on the ground floor of this building, has climate control. This brings up the question: Why are students being forced to live and sleep in conditions so extreme that housing staff are not expected to endure them during their daytime work hours?

In general, climate control issues present a vast problem for DePauw students. We are all familiar with the “Please close your windows in order to prevent pipes from bursting” emails that cycle through our inboxes several times a year. The problem arises because during the winter months, the temperatures in residence halls become almost unbearable for some students. Because students have zero control over the temperature in their rooms, they are forced to break the rules and open their windows, just to bring down the temperature of their rooms to a reasonable temperature for sleeping.

The problem here is that, without breaking the rules, the temperature in the rooms begins to interfere with students’ abilities to get proper rest, which affects both their studies and their health. The solution? Allow students to have control over the climate in their rooms. This concept is far from impossible, as most hotels do it, including the Inn at DePauw who I called to verify this fact with. Besides interrupting students’ sleep, this climate control issue puts their possessions at risk. When pipes burst, there is inevitably property damage, and not only for the student whose room had the open window. By creating an environment that forces students to break rules and take risks in order to comfortably inhabit their dorm room, risk is created for other students as well.

While I have primarily discussed issues faced in dorm style housing, the issues are not restricted to these spaces. If we examine the upperclassmen duplexes and apartments, there are certainly elements that are a vast improvement to dorm life, however, there are also a separate set of issues that primarily stem from a lack of maintenance and upkeep.

In my time in upperclass housing, I have noticed a few potential safety risks. In my apartment, there is an exposed heating element, one that almost caused a fire several years back. I know this because some of my sorority sisters lived in the same apartment as I do several years ago and it was while they lived here that several of their possessions caught fire after being too close to a heating element.

While this is partially their fault, it should be noted that every other heating element in the apartment has a safety bar in front of it, except this one, and that remains the same several years later. Behind another apartment in the complex, one of the support rods for the back stairs had become completely detached from the stair unit. While this broken beam was removed after it eventually toppled over, it appears it has not yet been replaced or repaired.

Overall, most of the safety hazards that exist in the UAOH spaces are ones that could be easily remedied through regular maintenance practices. But most of these issues are only corrected once reported by the student. My concern here is that someone will get severely hurt because a loose guard rail finally detaches from the wall, or a floor collapses in an older upstairs apartment before it can be reported to facilities.

Some of these housing accommodations have existed since the 1970’s, and students do not always treat these spaces with the respect they deserve, so I understand that keeping them in pristine condition is nearly impossible, but when performing upkeep and maintenance on these spaces, safety needs to be put in a higher priority and the university needs to provide Facilities with the means to do so. Guardrails should be tested, the strength of floors observed, outlets tested and replaced frequently, faucets should be checked for leaks and water pressure, and all necessary safety precautions should be taken in regards to the heating elements, as well as ovens and stoves, in the spaces.

So why does DePauw housing have so many issues? It isn’t because the housing department doesn’t care. In fact, many housing staff wish that they could provide students with better accommodations. The fact of the matter is that in order to bring all housing accommodations up to better standards, it would likely require several million dollars, and grants simply do not exist for universities to update their housing. So while students and staff alike wish to see significant change, financially, it would be a cumbersome task for the University to undertake.

Despite this, I still think that more priority should be put on helping update and maintain housing units for students. DePauw is a reputable University. We are well known for our fabulous faculty and our amazing academic programs. Because living on campus is required of all DePauw students, that means that students must not only pay thousands of dollars in tuition to benefit from the knowledge and experiences DePauw has to offer, but must also pay the housing costs. One could argue that we should hold housing to the same standards for providing the “DePauw Experience” as we hold our professors and our administrators.