Hiding candles “pathetic,” ResLife official says

Friday, November 2, 2007

Although the Office of Residential Life says it’s taking yearly health and safety inspections of residence halls as seriously as ever, students are questioning their effectiveness.

Residence hall inspections are conducted by two ResLife employees who knock on doors, enter each room in a residence hall and “look for violations per a checklist” in order to “seek out and correct potentially dangerous situations before they cause injury or damage,” according to ResLife notices posted in dorms. If residents are not present, the inspectors enter the room with their own master keys.

Inspections, which began Oct. 16, are conducted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ultimately, every dorm room on campus will be inspected.

The notices posted in dorms also include a sample of the checklist used by inspectors. Violations include the presence of halogen lamps, evidence of smoking, tampering with fire safety equipment and possessing pets or unauthorized appliances. According to Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life Richard Bova, the inspections use the same standards regardless of residence hall or the class of the residents.

Some students, however, still doubt the point of the inspections. “(My roommate and I) failed, and we have no idea why,” said Tristan De Rond ’10. According to De Rond, his inspection report indicated that his power strips did not comply with regulations. He was puzzled, however, because he bought his power strips at the University Bookstore when he moved into his room in September.

“Just now we received an e-mail from Reslife. We have a disciplinary hearing scheduled now, because we failed to remedy the violation. We still have no idea what we’re actually doing wrong though. It’s ridiculous,” De Rond wrote in a follow-up e-mail to the Herald. “Also, the hearing is with the community director, so I won’t even get to talk to someone from ResLife and ask what it is that we’re doing wrong.”

De Rond isn’t alone in questioning the effectiveness of the inspections. Because ResLife officials can only cite students for violations in plain sight, it’s easy for students to hide illegal items. “You can throw whatever you want in a drawer,” said Morgan Wedgworth ’11.

The first round of inspections ran from Oct. 16 to 26 and covered 14 residence halls, where officials found numerous violations.

Inspectors uncovered 78 power strips without a circuit breaker, 63 wall decorations larger than 1600 square inches, 32 cases of tampering with fire safety equipment such as smoke detectors and sprinklers, 22 hazardous situations created by excessive debris or trash, 21 prohibited appliances (usually for cooking), 16 obstructions of egress, 15 instances of evidence of indoor smoking, 14 halogen lamps, 10 homemade bed lofts, five candles, five cases of evidence of pets, two instances of excessive paper on doors, one occurrence of a flammable material and one piece of lounge furniture taken and not returned. These statistics are “pretty standard,” Bova said.

To the dismay of ResLife, the $100 per candle fine has made possession of candles a widespread joke among students interviewed by The Herald. One junior, who preferred to remain anonymous, joked, “Room inspectors are coming – hide your alcohol bottles under your candles.”

In response, Bova said,”It’s pathetic that students think that hiding candles is a fun thing to do.”

Bova defended the steep fines. “The number one cause of fires in residence halls is from open flames. So why are the fines so high? Because that’s where most residence hall fires come from – candles that are knocked over,” he said.

The resolve behind the prohibition of candles was strengthened by the Boland Hall Fire in 2000 at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. Three students died and 58 more were injured as a result of a blaze started by an open flame in the residence hall’s lounge. “It’s important to realize that we do health and safety inspections for the protection of the community. And when students in any one particular room choose to disregard proper safety and fire instructions, they’re putting their entire hallway and potentially the entire building at risk. Fire and health and safety inspections are just no laughing matter,” Bova said.