Staff Editorial: Health and Safety intrusions foster student contempt

Attempting to mitigate potential fire and safety risks in residence halls, GW hired an outside contractor to conduct health and safety inspections in students’ rooms. During the check, the inspectors have a mandate to confiscate items such as candles, weapons, halogen lamps and other items the University lists as prohibited. While the University has the right to determine which items are safe to keep in residence halls, unannounced intrusion into student rooms by non-University employees and the secrecy surrounding the inspections are both disconcerting.

Health and safety inspections are not new. In the wake of last year’s George Foreman Grill-initiated Thurston Hall fire, however, the inspections seem to have taken a greater priority for the University. In the past, community facilitators or other University employees conducted these inspections.

During this year’s inspections, prohibited items are confiscated and given to charity, with no recourse for students to appeal or receive redress for the removed items. For its part, University officials have publicized the list of the prohibited items during the first few months of school to give students adequate time to ship their items home. Thus, student complaints about the confiscation of their toasters or lamps are unwarranted, given that they have had adequate time to remove such items and, at this point, are knowingly breaking the rules.

More distressing than a few missing lamps is the negative “big brother” perception the University engenders with such a policy. Obviously, inspections are generally in the best interest of both students who live in the residence halls and the administrators charged with alleviating potential safety hazards. In terms of student perception, however, these inspections amount to unknown individuals entering their rooms at unannounced times to confiscate property regardless of whether or not the student is present. Again, safety is used as an excuse to trump any semblance of student privacy that still remains at GW.

Community Living and Learning Center administrative searches, usually conducted when there are questions of disciplinary nature, involve CLLC employees, University Police officers and are conducted by procedures codified within University documents. In contrast, the health and safety inspections are conducted only by contractors not affiliated with the University and are done in secrecy. In addition, students have no recourse for a disputed claim. If an inspector mistakenly confiscates an incandescent lamp rather than a halogen lamp, there is no outlined appeal process for a student missing their property. Without any recourse for restitution or an appeals process, the inspections are conducted without accountability.

To provide some accountability, GW needs to put the inspections back in the hands of University employees – the most likely candidates being the CFs. While this solution is impractical for this year, since GW has already outsourced the task, administrators could alleviate students’ concerns by announcing the inspection times for each room and giving students a greater opportunity to be present during their inspection. In addition, there should be an extensive paper trail for each inspection and an opportunity for students to appeal mistaken confiscations. Confiscated items can be stored at Package Services for a prescribed number of days, during which time students will have the opportunity to pay to ship their items home or have them given to charitable organizations.

Though some students may still be unaware of the rules governing prohibited items, in many cases, students are willingly breaking the rules by continuing to possess such items in their rooms. The safety risks could be immense, but that shouldn’t be a reason for the University to disregard students’ privacy. A more openly articulated policy that includes procedural accountability would create a safer environment without degrading a sense of privacy or community in the residence halls.

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