ENC’s Student Development staff emailed campus residents about dorm room searches that will occur for all residential halls at various points throughout the school year.
To students in Shields and Memorial Halls, the email was mostly filled with reminders and announcements about the residential policy. The email included reminders that students should be fully clothed during open dorm times, and furniture taken from lounges into personal rooms will be removed, but the announcement of periodic room searches was particularly surprising to students.
The last point upset many students, frustrating them and bringing tension to the relationships between the residential staff members and the students. Many students emailed the Student Development Office and contacted Jeffrey Kirksey, Vice President for Student Development and Retention, to complain about the room checks.
In response, SGA and Veritas co-hosted a Town Hall with Jeff Kirksey to address these concerns on September 21.
Regarding questions about room search policy, Kirksey referred to ENC’s Student Handbook and explained that there are three situations for room checks. The first situation for a room check is “routine inspections and clean room checks” which are to “eliminate health and fire hazards.” The second is for “health and safety checks,” which are done if there is a “reasonable cause to believe an inspection is necessary.” The third and final situation for a room check is when it is “believed in good faith” that the community or federal state law has been violated. ‘Community law’ refers to the Covenant that all students are expected to adhere to.
As students, we all seek to live in a healthy environment and we understand that ENC has to take care of its property, but many still feel disrespected by these room checks. Although it is in the handbook, we still question if it should be an established norm to check dorms for cleanliness and health.
The policy for dorm room searches allows authorized people to simply walk in and invade the privacy of the only ‘private’ area that students have on campus. Kirksey explained that SDO would give students a 24-hour notice, although “such notice is not required” as the handbook reminds us.
A 24-hour notice is something we should expect from the staff members for many reasons. First, rooms checks have not been instituted in the past few years, so a 24-hour notification is necessary to respect students and their adjustment to this rule as it is only recently being enforced.
Second, this gives students the chance to arrange to be in their room during the search. The Student Handbook states that “residents are encouraged to be present during the inspection. However, if a resident is absent, the inspection will still proceed at the scheduled inspection time.” Providing a 24-hour notice to students allows them to make accommodations in order to be present while their room is under scrutiny to preserve what privacy remains.
Third, if necessary, students can clean the room before their dorm is checked to avoid being penalized. Room checks to enforce cleanliness will not be effective if the goal is to catch a student with an unclean room and punish them. However, room checks should act as an incentive for students to clean their room before it is checked, and a 24-hour notification should allow the student enough time to ensure their room is clean.
Kirksey stated the reason for the reinstated room checks as dorms being too dirty at the end of the last school year. He also mentioned that students did not respect ENC’s property. His hope is to create consistent cleanliness throughout all resident halls. However, it is difficult to respect and clean our dorms when they were never clean to begin with.
My own roommate was one of the first students who moved in, and it took him three hours to reach a minimum level of cleanliness in the room because it was so dirty upon his arrival. The dorms are in bad shape in other ways. The furniture is old, the walls are dirty, and the windows don’t close completely, to only name a few problems. The residential staff wants us, the students who have to live in these dorms, to keep them clean and in good shape when they are already in poor shape when they are assigned to us. The proposal to check on how we are maintaining the rooms seems unfair if the rooms were trashed before we even moved into them.
Another issue with the room checks is found in our student handbook. It states: “If a resident is absent, the inspection will still proceed at the scheduled inspection time.” In spite of a courtesy 24-hour notification, students still may not be able to arrange to be in their rooms. A student should always be there because he or she might have private belongings in the room, such as credit cards and important forms, that need to be protected. Also, if the student is present with the Resident Assistant or Resident Director, he or she can answer questions they may have about the room arrangement or items within the room rather than making assumptions in their absence.
Additionally, Kirksey mentioned that they can check everything in the room except items that are locked, but no one wants someone to look through their underwear or other personal belongings. Kirksey also stated that they can, and will, check everything if there is reasonable cause to suspect a community violation, but how can they be allowed to look through a jacket pockets or backpacks? These things are still personal property even though they are in the dorms.
If the school wants to do room checks, they should do monthly checks on certain pre-determined dates. This way, everybody will know that their dorm is going to be checked and when. It will allow for students to work their schedules out so that they could be there, and will act as a set cleanliness routine for students to actually follow. In the end, this will be more beneficial for students while still achieving SDO purposes of searching dorm room.