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The Minnesota Daily

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Opinion: Why are we normalizing terrible dorm experiences?

We shouldn’t chalk up minimal quality dorm living to the typical college experience.
Image by Wejdan al Balushi
The quality of dorms should equate to the amount of money students spend.

Before moving into college, I – along with many other naive first-years – subconsciously constructed expectations of how my dorm experience would play out: a somewhat spacious room, a nice dining hall with plenty of healthy choices and clean, comfortable spaces to study or chill out in. 

But I never expected I would have to share a shower with cockroaches. 

Along with all those other hopeful first-years, I was considerably let down after hardly a semester living in Middlebrook Hall, when dining hall food portions became scarce throughout the day, a heating outage fell upon us during the cold winter and SAFE-U alerts regarding intruders and shower peepers kept popping up. 

College dorms will typically have their fair share of quirks. What else can you expect when you place 700 18-year-olds in one building?

But, at what point do these “quirks” become neglect of the well-being of students by the University of Minnesota? 

It feels like low-quality dorm experiences in the U.S. have been consistently swept under the rug and chalked up to be the typical college experience. While living in such a way does humble one’s character, are all of the issues worth the amount of money students are handing over to the University?

While living in Territorial Hall, Nicki Carter, a first-year student, said her already low expectations were not met. 

“It’s very dirty and stinky,” Carter said. “The floors are always filled with substances and they lack being updated.” 

The floors of Territorial Hall (and many other dorms) are made up of carpet and rapidly absorb liquids, according to Carter. Because of this, the floors end up holding and exhausting unwelcoming odors. 

Just like Carter, the lack of cleanliness was one of the main concerns of multiple students residing in dorms. 

For Josie Daly, a first-year student who also lives in Territorial Hall, the shower drains are constantly clogged and rarely cleaned out. 

“You can’t shower without water going up to your ankles,” Daly said. 

Daly said Territorial had a bug infestation at the beginning of the year and she had to submit multiple “Fix It” requests before the University resolved the issue. 

First-year Jana Johnson said the stairwell next to her dorm room is rarely cleaned, containing dirt, hair and cockroaches. 

Along with cleanliness, students mentioned issues regarding food services. 

Sarah Anderson, a second-year student who lived in Middlebrook Hall, said there were various times chicken and other meats served to students were “clearly raw.” 

“There were several instances where there wasn’t really stuff I was interested in eating,” Anderson said. “Sometimes the only options for protein were fried.” 

Nathan Okey, a second-year student who lived in Pioneer Hall, had a similar experience.

“There were some days you’d find bugs living in your salads, the meat was undercooked, the sheer variety of food was miserable,” Okey said. “Toward the end of the school year, it was like the same four or five things every day for dinner.” 

But perhaps one of the biggest concerns among many students is the presence of mold in the dorms. 

After hearing about several incidents of mold in her building, Shelby Zheng, a first-year student living at Comstock Hall, and her roommate filed a “Fix It” request for a room inspection. Zheng and her roommate were told to pack up and relocate to Centennial Hall that same night without an explanation.

“In the end, we found out we did have mold, but we were kept in the dark the entire weekend,” Zheng said. “It was a horrible experience because there was no communication whatsoever from the staff in charge.” 

Zheng is not the first to experience such an issue. Last year, many students living at 17th Avenue Hall temporarily relocated due to the discovery of mold in many rooms. 

According to Carter, residents at Territorial Hall also have faced problems regarding mold. Each resident, however, is given a dehumidifier to prevent humidity and is told to keep it on at all times.

After many years of relying on dehumidifiers, Territorial Hall is expected to replace their current HVAC system this summer. This will allow for improvements in humidity levels and air quality. 

According to Susan Stubblefield, the interim director of Housing and Residential Life, there are standards set regarding the frequency of how much the bathrooms, hallways and common spaces are cleaned. 

“When students are noticing something that they feel is out of sorts, we really do want to hear from them,” Stubblefield said. 

Some ways students can relay their concerns are through the information desk, filling out “Fix It” requests online and speaking to community advisers (CAs), according to Stubblefield. 

However, many students are not aware of how to voice these complaints or do not find their issues necessary enough to do so. 

“I don’t know that it’s super well publicized,” Anderson said. “I don’t know who I would have contacted if I were to report things other than going to the front desk.” 

Stubblefield acknowledged the shortened staff last year but said student satisfaction toward dining has increased since then. 

“There’s a registered dietitian [who] has been available as students have questions during the year about specific dietary needs,” Stubblefield said. “They can really work closely with students to address those needs.”

Security enhancements have also been implemented this year, such as turnstiles at Pioneer (which are anticipated to be placed at 17th Avenue Hall and Middlebrook Hall next fall) and live-feed video monitors, according to Stubblefield. 

There have been many concerns addressed by the University since last year, but there is always room for improvement. 

Many students have called for better communication with higher-ups when issues within the dorm buildings arise. One way can be through CAs. Through monthly check-ins with CAs, students can communicate their concerns more frequently and personally, instead of digitally. 

Having more ways to communicate, as well as making these ways clearly known, will offer more students the opportunity to address issues, thus creating significant change for current or future students. 

Dorms will always be somewhat questionable. After all, that’s where we learn how to live on our own for the first time, so there will always be trial and error by students. 

Even so, students should feel like the amount they are paying to live on campus equates to the quality they are receiving. 

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