After receiving pressure from students and alumni on social media and through in-person talks, Albion College is addressing the cleanliness and functionality of its residences.
Public pressure began on June 4, 2018, when Jacob Terberg, ‘18, called on the college to clean the mold he saw in most of the campus residential buildings. In a post on Albion College’s Facebook page, Terberg said his alma mater — which, in 2014, had the most expensive dorm rooms in Michigan — should not have what he claimed was a “massive health risk.”
At the time of publishing, the post garnered 57 shares and 279 reactions.
Shortly after, a closed Facebook group called “Albion Students for Building Repairs and Fee Reform” was created. As of Sept. 3, it had 570 members.
Group members shared their experiences with mold and what they saw as unfair fines for damages in their living units. Some claimed that fines for damages in their living units did not reflect the status of the items damaged. Others claimed they had been fined despite having no damages.
Posts to the still-active Facebook group over the months have varied. Some posts collect and organize student concerns. Some update group members on college decisions and student efforts to promote campus change. Other posts criticize the Residential Life department and some of its staff members.
Some Facebook users also began rating Albion College poorly on Facebook in response to its administration’s alleged negligence.
The Facebook group and the negative reviews of Albion College prompted the college’s Student Senate to release a memorandum on June 6, two days after Terberg’s post. The memorandum stated that the Senate had started a petition to encourage college administration to meet “basic housing needs.”
The petition, which had garnered 744 signatures at the time of publishing, outlines seven requests for college administration to take on. They range from restructuring of the college’s damage fine system, to thorough residence cleaning, to an investment in non-dormitory senior housing.
On June 6, President Mauri Ditzler sent an email to all students. He stated that the Division of Student Affairs and the Finance and Administration Department were developing plans to “systematically improve” residence quality. He also stated that all 2017-2018 living unit fines would be reassessed against the Student Handbook and cost-to-repair data.
On June 7, Residential Life sent an email to all students stating that all damages would be reassessed and fines would be rebilled, if necessary, by June 25.
Residential Life met their timeline goal, and many students reported seeing a drop in or elimination of their student fines.
Facilities Operations found no difference in air quality prior to and after cleaning duct systems in two fraternity houses. A technical error was found in the duct’s exhaust fans and strong dirt and dust amounts were found on return ducts. Neither part of the duct systems bring in the air which students breathe.
Facilities Operations then replaced all vents in student living units.
[For a detailed description of Facilities Operations’ and Residential Life’s work and findings, click here.]
“The impact of collective action really sent a message to the college administration that this issue needs to be remedied right away, and I think that’s something we should take a lesson from,” said Robert Joerg, Student Senate Vice President from Fremont, Ohio.
The summer yielded a social media presence of student concerns, but student movements on mold began months prior.
Interfraternity Council president Robert Petersen of Ann Arbor, Michigan, picked up the work of his IFC predecessor and reached out to the Finance and Administration department, hoping to get a proposal approved to clean the fraternity’s duct systems of mold.
Mold and cleanliness has long been an issue with the campus’ six fraternity with houses, because the houses are owned by the college but left up to students to maintain, said Petersen.
Finance and Administration was then preparing for incoming Vice President Deanna McCormick. Petersen said mold proposals always failed at the hands of the former vice president, Jerry White, who left mid-spring semester 2018 for another job.
Petersen met with McCormick and other staff leaders. They collectively decided to have the Tau Kappa Epsilon and Sigma Chi houses’ duct systems tested for air quality and cleaned.
“We have a larger responsibility to take care of our living space, and our houses receive a little more traffic than the average residential hall — they get a little more wear and tear,” he said over a typed message.
On Aug. 27, the first day of classes, Student Senate held its first meeting. Over 25 Senators and guests gave an overview of the state of their living unit as of move-in. Many reported no problems. Others did.
The most common problem was bathroom cleanliness. Some students reported finding hair clumped on the ground while others had problems with shower water pressure. Whitehouse Hall consistently had the most cited issues.
No mold concerns were shared by any of the attendees.
Student Senate President Andrea Sanchez of Waterford, Michigan, said she still plans to stick to the June 2018 memorandum and share the petition with Albion College’s Board of Trustees. No other student or organization meets with them, she said.
Sanchez and Joerg will bring living unit concerns and one other student issue to the Board when it meets in person on campus this October. Typically, Senators determine what concerns should be outlined. This year, the Senate wants to receive suggestions from all students. They will designate time in a future meeting for it.
Tom Zeller, project manager of Facilities Operations, and McCormick are working together and with student leaders to create a timeline for future upgrades to the college’s residences.
Many projects can only be started when students aren’t in their rooms, said Zeller.
In the meantime, Senate is working with Student Affairs’ three leaders — Connie Smith, Associate Dean of Students; Ken Snyder, Director of Campus Safety; and Keena Williams, Director of Intercultural Affairs — to continue addressing student issues. Jeorg has reached out to McCormick for a meeting.
Sanchez said the Senate believes Albion College administration’s response to student concerns has largely been positive.
“We also acknowledge the fact that we still have a little ways to go,” she said.
Photo by Beau Brockett Jr.
CORRECTION, Sept. 8, 3:25 pm: A previous version of this article stated that a Student Senate memorandum was released Sept. 5. The correct date was June 6. The Pleiad apologizes for the error.