Promote health in student dorms

Students and administrators need to be aware of the risks associated with living in a dorm.

by Jasper Johnson

What do dorms and prisons have in common? Some critics might argue mediocre food and bothersome residents — but due to the fact that both places feature many people living in close quarters, I’d say dorms and prisons pose similar risks to their inhabitants’ health. 
The norovirus outbreak in Frontier Hall was only the most recent example of the risks associated with life in a confined area. And as a student, it seemed to me that the outbreak was kept under wraps — the University of Minnesota wasn’t transparent about what happened. 
For example, how did so many students suddenly fall ill? Many have pointed to contaminated dining hall food as a potential source of infection, which could help to explain the sickness’s sudden onset. 
Of course, the University has perverse incentives to downplay any failures on its part, but I’d expect the Minnesota Department of Health to be more open about the findings of its own investigation.  
Aside from just practicing proper food safety and general hygiene, I’m not sure how much anyone can do to prevent epidemiological issues in dorms. Whenever so many people live so close together, there will be risks attached. Meningitis, for example, can spread from student to student in dorms.  
Yet even though prevention is difficult, there’s more room for University officials to follow up on student health issues.  Enforcing more standards to contain and address the illnesses could improve students’ health.
Dorm life will always involve loud neighbors and an utter lack of personal privacy — but it shouldn’t involve serious illness, too.
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].