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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


Invasion of Privacy: Dorm Checks

In the weeks to come, dorms will be checked for supposed maintenance issues. Don’t be surprised if this also means a huge jump in the number of Judicial Affairs infractions.The story of dorm maintenance checks first appeared in The Daily Collegian, Dorm Rooms to see Probe. As I began to read the story, it seemed like a great premise that Housing Services would be proactive in seeing if there are problems with your dorms. However as I read on, I realized that there was a lot more to this then it seems at first glance.

Although the article says that checks will not go too invasive such as checking drawers, it does day that anything illegal in plain sight will be punishable. This makes one wonder what is the true purpose of this search. Is it really to ensure that housing is adequate for all or are we gearing up for another war on alcohol?

I spoke of in a past blogs of how the university is constantly on a war with the drinking culture. What better way to justify making it such a primary issue, then by going dorm to dorm to check if any drug or alcohol is present. Freshman especially need to worry as, “It’s one thing in East Halls, when the population is 98 percent freshmen, to make the assumption that the person is underage and shouldn’t have alcohol,” said said Chad Henning, assistant director of housing.

In reality the housing at Penn State is not perfect and many rooms need maintenance. Now say that for the most part housing is adequate, but ten percent of rooms have problems. That means at least hundreds of room would need renovations. This would take quite a deal of time and could be come a logistical nightmare. Translation, this campaign will not produce results but only more frustration.

Really what needs to be done, is a strong advertising campaign of where to go with housing issues. Students can speak up and voice that something needs to be repaired. Believe it or not students are adults now and should be able to voice if the door is off the hinges.

The article ends on a soothing note as Tom McAdoo, East Halls housing director summed up my fears of Big Brother checking up on you rather then helping out, “We aren’t checking to see how clean the rooms are, but if we notice anything that shouldn’t be in the room we will bring that up,” he added.

One voice of reason did come from this as Freshman Amanda Singleton spoke out against this injustice, “I think that without asking permission it is somewhat an invasion of privacy, I’d feel better that I’m there because my personal items could be out or may be stolen.” While there are certain rules which you are required by Penn State policy and governing laws of Pennsylvania to follow, you for no reason have to open your door for this check.

Your dorm room is your rented out space and you do have rights. Whether it be an interaction with a police officer or an RA, without probable cause that you are engaging in illegal activity, you can say “No” and deny them from entry. Am I advocating that you deny these maintenance checks, No. But I am advocating that you farmilarize yourself with the laws so that in situations like these, you know what is allowed.

A University of Vermont blogging website did a great piece on Dorm Rights at that university. Safeguard Old State realizes its time that we do the same here and will be unveiling Penn State Dorm Rights in the coming weeks. Until then do not be afraid to stand up for your rights.

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Note: The Safeguard Old State Executive Staff does not moderate the comments posted by the public to blog entries. The comments of Safeguard Old State readers do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Safeguard Old State.

Comments

Thanks for the link to The Water Tower’s article on dorm rights (The WT is a weekly UVM student publication with a strong web presence).

The University of Vermont is now officially a “dry campus” (grin), meaning even those over 21 may not consume alcohol in any dorm room, including their own.
We don’t have “Campus Safety;” we have honest-to-god UVM POLICE Department officers with handcuffs, guns, and the power to arrest you on the spot.
Because of these two points, the issue of dorm privacy and students’ rights is huge on our campus.

(An aside: They just built *A BAR* in UVM’s brand-new ginormous Davis Center on our newly-“dry” campus… It makes one wonder what they’re thinking!)

Whatever your school’s situation, it’s enormously important to KNOW your rights — without knowing them, you simply *can’t* stand up for them.

I’m sure Penn State students and others who read this site eagerly await your forthcoming “Penn State Dorm Rights” article.

Keep up the good work,

Damon Weinberg
Website Editor for The Water Tower (UVM)
http://www.thewatertowernews.com

This is why I choose to live off campus and far out of town.

Maybe instead of gearing up for another war on alcohol, our Administration should get the fact through their heads that college involves a lot of students going out and experimenting with things. It might not be legal, and it might not be right, but ultimately, its going to happen no matter how hard it is cracked down on.

If the Administration would get it through their heads that college students drink, and will continue to do so no matter what is done to stop them, and organize programs to facilitate safer drinking rather than pretending to be a bunch of gestapo, PSU’s drinking problem might not be such a problem.

I graduated from PSU, was an RA, and am now a Housing/ResLife professional at another college. I generally agree with SOS on a lot of topics, but this I disagree. I recently conducted similar inspections of my residents’ rooms. All that we look for in these inspections are in essence[sic] fire code violations (extension cords, too many things plugged into outlets) for the residents’ safety. In fact, it is in the housing contract that I can conduct health and safety inspection announced or unannounced. Students who do not read their contracts have no excuse to say they think their privacy was violated if they don’t educate themselves on what they sign. Colleges have a right to protect their property.
Along with the inspections, I DO NOT go through any personal items such as fridges, closets, or desks. I also encourage my residents to be present during the inspections, so I can let them know what is a violation. Now, if I come across something that is in plain sight that is a violation in the Code of Conduct, I must act. Otherwise, I would derelict in my duty. Also, if Housing is coming through and a resident leaves a bottle of vodka out, that’s their own stupid fault.
Claiming a right to privacy when one does not exist is a red herring. If someone doesn’t like having to deal with the rules and policies involved with living on-campus, move off-campus.

Zach,
Thank you for commenting. I appreciate the kind words that you say about SOS. Your attitude towards these maintenance checks is very mature. However my greatest fear is not the attitude of you or others RAs, its the purpose of these checks during the year. Penn State has all summer to make maintenance checks. Further the fact they can make checks unannounced seems to go against the idea of only looking for fire or health code violations. I do agree with you that if you have a problem with policies move off campus, which is what most non-Freshman do. However, Freshman are required to live on campus at University Park. The best way to conduct these checks would be to schedule appointments with those on the floor. My purpose was never to infer that RAs were out to get students, it was mainly to make a statement that there are better ways to conduct these checks.

I agree with you that there are better ways Gavin. I just wanted to give a Housing/ResLife professional’s point of view on the issue. I remember when I was an RA in West that Housing had an appointment sheet in my hall, so residents can sign up for times. Those who neglected to sign up had to deal with whatever time Housing decided to come through. My residents were informed that inspections would be occurring on a specific date. I had to complete inspections of over 41 townhouses throughout that entire day, so nailing down times is a little difficult to manage.

Again, the inspections are designed with the residents’ safety in mind as well as the college or university protecting its assets. I personally will not conduct inspections unannounced unless told to do so by someone higher. I had to recently because Fire Inspectors were coming through the residence halls. I have no idea if PSU Housing can search unannounce; that is something I do not remember.

[…] Penn State over the past few years, it’s been difficult not to notice an unsettling state of affairs when it comes to student rights and defense. Take, for example, the […]

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