By Sam Genova, Op-Ed Contributor
The Gettysburg College Student Senate held its weekly meeting this Monday, during which time Keira Kant, the Associate Dean of College Life, was given time to discuss the ongoing mold problem in the Hanson Residence Hall.
According to an article by the Gettysburg News Network (GNN), the mold was discovered on January 12, during winter break, and it was deemed necessary to “relocate residents in the basement of Hanson for the spring 2018 semester.” In a letter sent by Ms. Kant to students, she states that “results [of air quality tests] did not indicate any concerns on the upstairs floors.”
In the same inspection, the college assessed the air quality of the upper parts of Hanson Hall, and the results came back as normal. Despite the normal results, the college then decided to do a comprehensive assessment of the entire building in early February after recommendations from their consultant.
“Visual assessments revealed mold conditions were present in the first and second floors and limited areas of the third floor.” At this time, the initial promise of priority housing during the school’s housing lottery — which was promised to the residents of the basement — was retracted.
Instead, the college deemed it appropriate to offer $250 in credit for Hanson students to put towards the replacing or cleaning of personal items.
Ms. Kant came to address these very real issues, but her concern for the students was absent.
During the meeting, which was livestreamed via Facebook by The Gettysburgian, one student on Hanson’s second floor expressed concern for his friends. He noted that he had friends that got sick, possibly because of the mold, and wanted to know how it was missed.
Danielle Phillips, the Director of Residence Life and First-Year Programs, responded: “It wasn’t missed. Like Kiera has said, we go based on reports. So the reports had issues for us to address in the basement so we tested comprehensively in the basement. We had no reason to believe there were issues on the second, third, and fourth floor. So we tested… the common spaces in those areas and they all came back clear.”
This directly contradicts the lack of concern in the letter by Ms. Kant to students. As quoted above, Ms. Kant claims “results [of air quality tests] did not indicate any concerns on the upstairs floors.”
According to the Gettysburg College Indoor Air Quality & Water Intrusion Plan, “Gettysburg College will conduct all of its activities in compliance with applicable standards, codes, regulations, and laws.” These standards include “monthly building inspections that are recorded and would reflect any IAQ issues that were discovered. The Facilities Services and Public Safety conducts periodic building walkthroughs to identify indicators of poor IAQ, including but not limited to: Visible mold growth, odors, dirty or unsanitary conditions, moisture, and stained or discolored building material.” It is not college policy to “go based on reports.” Policy dictates that each month, inspections will take place to catch issues that would negativity impact air quality. The mold that has infested the entirety of the Hanson residence hall was missed, and it is because of the school’s negligence.
Another student raised concerns about other residence halls being affected. The student wondered whether they would be checked for mold. Ms. Kant responded again by saying the college only acts based on reports.
Perhaps the most important question of the night was asked by Emily Keyser, a student who lived in Hanson two years prior. She said she “reported an emergency claim to the Department of Public Safety regarding “concerns about the air quality” — which is a valid method of complaint during the weekends when facilities is closed — because of health concerns that are particularly sensitive to mold. She was told that “[her] complaints were baseless and [she] could be fined.” Now, nearly two years later, she is on a daily inhaler, which she hadn’t needed before living in Hanson Hall.
She went on to ask Ms. Kant whether prior residents of Hanson can expect recompense for being exposed to mold which had likely been there for years before detection. Ms. Kant responded “this isn’t really relevant to this conversation.”
Besides the obvious lack of regard for student health, the college has done little to remedy the situation’s housing crisis. Students were told that they’d be staying in the Gettysburg Hotel during renovations. The moving days were scheduled on Thursdays and Fridays, which inconvenienced many students who had class during these days. In addition, when floors were finished being cleaned, students were given no aide while moving out. Forty first year students every week were told to “find a friend” to help them move all of their possessions nearly a quarter mile across campus without vehicles, which are prohibited for first-year residents.
One student asked how the figure of $250 in housing credit was decided upon. Kant’s response was “I don’t have a specific answer for that…. there is a group of people who are on that, and it’s part of financial services.” She said the $250 number was determined to be “reasonable.”
How, at a school where room and board is $6,740 and tuition in total amounts to $65,210, is $250 in tuition credit — that’s 3% of an incoming first-year’s housing fees — in any way a “reasonable” recompense for potentially a half a year’s worth of housing catastrophe? How is any response the college has given “reasonable?” How is it reasonable to send a representative of the college to Student Senate who is either uninformed or unconcerned with this very real issue? How is it reasonable to disregard valid student questions by dismissing them as irrelevant? How is it reasonable to offer no aide for students relocating due to the college’s failure to follow their own standards?
Perhaps it’s reasonable to demand full housing refund for all Hanson residents. Perhaps it is reasonable to demand coverage of all respiratory-related medical expenses. Perhaps it is reasonable to demand a full inspection and renovation of all residence halls. Perhaps it’s reasonable to inform all prospective students of the administration’s carelessness. Perhaps it’s reasonable to refuse any requests for money one receives as an alumnus.
There will be a demonstration in front of Penn Hall on Friday, March 2 from 11 a.m. to 5PM. Join fellow students as we demand our safety be ensured, our health be protected, and our voices be heard.
Abagale Shope and Colleen Kazokas contributed to this Op-Ed
**These are the opinions of the guest contributors and do not reflect the opinion of Gettysburg News Network (GNN)**