Kyle Spector: Toasted bagels and privacy rights

Last week, I made the trek out to Bed, Bath & Beyond in Pentagon City with my roommates to pick up a new toaster oven. The top heating element in our old toaster was broken, and only the undersides of my bagels were getting crisp. For someone like me, who enjoys their bagels so hot that they are on the verge of self-igniting, consuming a half-toasted bagel is unacceptable. Frankly, it would ruin my day. So, after scoping out the toaster aisle, I settled on a brand new, state-of-the-art Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven. Although it was $50, the thought of all the crispy bagels in my future outweighed any qualms about the high price. It’s unfortunate, then, that my toaster may soon be the victim of University-sponsored theft.

With recent changes to the Residential Community Conduct Guidelines – one of what seems like thousands of University documents that govern our daily lives here – toaster ovens have now been listed as a prohibited item in University residence halls. Luckily, GW Mail Services sent me a handy flyer offering to help with the shipment of my prohibited item. On the flyer, it notes that Mail and Package Services offers all sorts of extra services, including packing materials, shipping boxes, Priority, Express, overnight shipping and UPS Ground.

I hope that this is some kind of twisted marketing scheme gone wrong. GW bans toasters, toaster ovens, microwaves and refrigerators not provided by the University and a variety of other items. Then, Package Services picks up some extra business by offering to ship home these seemingly harmless, yet expensive-to-ship room accessories. It’s genius. Next thing you know GW might ban toilets in the residence halls and then send out a mailer about new pay toilets being offered outside of each dorm.

The worst part about the whole operation is that GW employees, without your knowledge, can confiscate and discard your toaster ovens (and a lot of other stuff) during unannounced health and safety inspections. In my mind, this is University-sponsored theft. At an arbitrarily decided time by a random GW bureaucrat, my toaster oven will cease to be part of my life during what amounts to breaking and entering (of course, without the “breaking” part).

I wish I could sit down with the person responsible for all of this and tell them how angry this invasion of personal privacy makes me. The problem is that I can’t find an individual responsible for the prohibited item list, the unannounced entries and the Mail Services marketing campaign. A variety of GW offices, including the Office of Student Judicial Services, the Community Living and Learning Center and the office of Risk Management have all come together in a sort of blob of incompetence to possibly take my toaster and my sense of privacy.

In a university setting, where everyone has chosen to pursue a degree for the betterment of their own lives, there should be enough faith in the quality of the students to allow them to operate their own toaster ovens as well as refrigerators and microwaves. My confusion over the policy is only compounded by the multiple lists of prohibited items found around campus. Some list toasters as prohibited only in non-kitchen areas, and others listing them as prohibited outright.

Obviously, there is a reason that GW expanded the list of prohibited items. Several residence halls on campus do not have kitchens. The Thurston fire in March of this year was the major catalyst in the University’s new stance against toasters and, accordingly, those of us who enjoy our bread products a little crispy. A freshman, who by the University’s report was utilizing a George Foreman Grill, almost burnt down Thurston Hall. In one night, the grill in question could have destroyed the lives of hundreds of students and their families. Luckily, an off-duty Secret Service officer spotted the smoke and took action.

As in most cases, University departments overreact to issues on campus. When vandalism in the brand new Ivory Tower became an issue last year, CLLC installed a legion of new community facilitators to guard the upperclassman residence halls. When six students died in one year, with at least three from suicide, CLLC overreacted by creating a big-brotheresque database of student interactions with CFs, supposedly to track “mental health issues” among student residents. In the case of the fire, GW’s overreaction manifested itself in the expanded prohibited items list and the unannounced health and safety inspections.

It’s not just that I want to keep my toaster. More importantly, I want to keep my privacy. I want to know that my short lease in my residence hall buys me more than just a place to sleep. I want a place where I can live, a place free from unannounced intrusions, free from the burden of CF intervention, and free from the sometimes ridiculous middle-level bureaucracy that consistently oversteps its boundaries in guarding our daily lives.

Next year, I hope to find an off-campus residence that will put me outside of the reach of GW bureaucrats. My privacy and a fresh, toasty bagel every morning are just that important.

-The writer, a junior majoring in

international affairs, is The Hatchet opinions editor

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