Students express concern over mold in residence halls

Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

Concerns over health and safety issues in Berry’s residence halls have remained a persistent worry within the Berry community. Many students have raised concerns over the perceived prevalence of mold in particular, expressing unease at the response of Residence Life and Physical Plant staff to mold issues. 

Senior Kelley Ozier, who is a resident assistant (RA) in Clara Hall, said that he has found mold to be a problem in housing throughout his time at Berry, particularly in bathrooms.

“As an RA and as a student who’s been here almost four years now, I’ve seen [mold] mostly in the bathrooms — it’s always kind of felt like something that res life is trying to hide a little bit,” Ozier said. “The shower curtains and stuff get really nasty. Just like, the walls in the bathrooms are, like, hazardous.”

Many students feel that reports of mold are not taken seriously by the professional staff in charge of safety and maintenance in residence halls. Ozier said that the Residence Life and maintenance staff’s response to mold reports has been slow compared to their handling of other maintenance requests. He recalled one incident in which he felt a moldy shower curtain he reported as an RA was not addressed promptly.

“I remember there was a situation where there was a moldy curtain in one of the bathrooms over here and I put in a maintenance request for it,” Ozier said. “We had some residents that were just worried about that, and I felt like it kind of remained an issue, whereas with other maintenance requests, I feel like the response has been really rapid.”

According to information provided by Residence Life Coordinator Bree Bentley, there have been 36 work requests for mold issues since Sept. 1 of last year. During the same timeframe, there have been 78 requests for pest control issues and 285 requests for plumbing issues. Most of the mold reports have been filed by residents in traditional housing. Stephen Swieton, assistant director of residence life, said that Residence Life and Physical Plant staff take care to address mold reports promptly, adding that maintenance staff oftentimes do not find evidence of actual mold issues.

“Any case of it, we take them seriously — we have staff there as soon as we get those reports, looking to see what the actual issue is, where they find actual issues, they go in and fix things,” Swieton said. “No one is ignoring those reports, and they are going in as quickly as they can to address it. If they don’t find mold, they don’t find mold, and that makes it hard.”

Junior Wendy Bender, who has lived in Dana during all three of her years at Berry, has also expressed concern about the prevalence of mold in student housing. She said that she has seen mold in a variety of locations in her residence hall.

“I’ve seen, with my own eyes, in the bathrooms is the worst—around the vents, on the blinds. I’ve seen even in some of the rooms, because I know Dana has sinks, so in the rooms around the sinks is where I see [mold] the most,” Bender said. “Anywhere where there’s been water, there’s been mold pretty much.”

Bender added that she feels that past attempts to remedy mold have been inadequate, pointing to one instance in which maintenance staff appeared to paint over mold in response to persistent complaints about a bathroom.

“Our entire hall had kind of seen the mold [in a bathroom] and went to do maintenance reports on it,” Bender said. “I’ve painted a few walls in my life, so I know what paint smells like, and the entire bathroom smelled like paint. There were paint splotches in the walls from where the paint dripped, but the mold was magically gone. I think they painted over it because there’s still a mold problem in the bathroom where they painted over it.”

According to Bender, mold is particularly concerning for people with respiratory conditions like herself. 

“That’s just something that I’m concerned about personally, is the health of everybody who lives here,” Bender said. “It concerns me specifically because I have breathing issues and mold can worsen breathing issues. I’m concerned for other people who may have breathing problems, that they would have issues with the mold. A lot of people get super sick from it.”

The Office of Residence Life has also refuted the perception that there are persistent mold issues in student housing. According to Swieton, mold is not as pervasive an issue in residence halls as students perceive it to be.

“I think more people believe that mold is an issue than the actual amount of mold is an issue,” Swieton said. “Mold is not a rampant issue in any of our buildings; it is not a thing where mold is just growing everywhere.”

Swieton added that many health problems attributed to mold may be caused by other environmental factors on campus. 

“I mean tree pollen, grass mold, tree mold—all of those things are going to be things that impact people here because we live in the woods,” Swieton said. “That’s not because it’s in your room; that’s because it’s everywhere.”

Senior Nolan Davidson, who lives in a suite in Centennial, said that he has found mold in a vent and on the ceiling of his bathroom in his apartment. He added that while the mold does not bother him or his suitemates personally, he does feel that its presence does not reflect well upon the safety of Berry’s housing generally. 

“It’s not like it’s going to be brand new every year, but to have visible signs of deterioration is a little discouraging,” Davidson said. “It’s also on the other hand kind of worrisome, if this is present even in the nicest living space, what some of the less prioritized spaces look like.”

Other students have echoed the concern that health and safety issues are worse in some residence halls. Ozier said that in his experience, mold has been more prevalent in the traditional housing spaces usually reserved for freshmen. 

“I spent three of my four years here at Berry in traditional housing. Two of them I spent here in Clara, and then one I spent in [Morton-Lemley], and I think there were problems in both of them,” Ozier said. “I think that really Berry focuses more on the newer residence halls. It seems like the more polished ones like Morgan and Deerfield have some clean bathrooms from what I’ve seen.”

Despite this perception, Swieton said that his office strives to devote equal resources to all student living spaces.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that there are fewer resources being given, certainly not on our end,” Swieton said. “I think we strive very hard to support all of our students in all of our communities, and there is no preferential treatment given to some communities over others.”

Despite residence life’s response regarding their handling of mold issues, Ozier still feels that there is much room for improvement. He said that Residence Life should devote more resources to mold management.

“I feel like the space is not up to the standards of what Berry can do — I feel like if they made it a priority, it could be solved,” Ozier said. “They’ve proven that they can address things and make them better; it’s just like, maybe allocating the resources to do that and making it a priority.”

Ozier added that students openly expressing their concerns about health and safety may help bring issues to the attention of the small Residence Life staff.

“In defense of res life, there are only four professional staff members who are in charge of 2,000 students, so they are spread very thin,” Ozier said. “I feel like in order for there to be a better response, maybe students need to express how they feel a little bit more.”

Leave a Reply