During one of this semester’s first unannounced health and safety inspections, a University staff member walks through a junior’s room. The staffer spots a halogen lamp – a potential fire-hazard that is prohibited in residence halls – confiscates the item and leaves the student with nothing but a slip informing her that the lamp is gone forever. Everything about this situation may feel wrong to the student, but the University is not entirely at fault.
GW announced that it would discontinue outsourcing health and safety inspections to an outside company and that the Office of Risk Management will conduct this year’s inspections. Administrators reiterated, however, that they would not return confiscated property to students.
Students may be frustrated that University staff reserve the ability to confiscate student property without the owner present, and rightly so. Generally, these inspections feel as though they are a violation of student privacy and property. There is no rational argument, however, for a student to retain some candles or a halogen lamp at the expense of an entire residence hall’s safety.
GW, for its part, has taken ample steps to notify students of its policy. During move-in, there is abundant signage listing prohibited items, and this list is reinforced during residence hall meetings. Furthermore, GW’s prohibited item list is finite, ensuring that inspectors have a limited mandate for confiscation.
University administrators should remember that last year’s inspections brought frustration because inspectors entered rooms randomly, sometimes when a resident was showering or sleeping. It is important that, as GW employees administer the checks this year, they respect the fact that they are entering someone’s home.
Ultimately, the burden falls on the student to comply with University housing regulations. It is not in GW’s interest or financial responsibility to store property or ship it back to students’ permanent residences. This University has a strong obligation to pay attention to its liability concerns and protect its property from safety hazards, especially fires. It has done so in a responsible manner.
Overall, students should not be surprised if they return to a dorm room missing several unauthorized items. Though it does not seem fair, living in GW housing carries certain conditions, and it is the student’s responsibility to obey the University’s well-publicized regulations.