April 16, 2024
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Image courtesy of Pixabay. How you would think our residence halls look based on this new policy.

DISCLAIMER: As always, letters and columns (opinion/editorial expression) represent the ideas and beliefs of the individual author submitting material and should not be taken as representative of the entire Pioneer staff.

I love this school. I really do. But there comes a time when it is time to speak out. If you love an institution, sometimes a part of showing your love is through wanting better for it, to care enough to want better for it. Well, I think that time might be now.

Recently Ashley Spearman, the director of Housing and Residence Life, announced via email addressed to all resident students that, starting Feb. 1st, all resident students would be charged $25 per trash bag left in an unacceptable area of their residence halls.

Spearman stated: “Trash does not belong in the common areas, hallways, and/or bathrooms. We want to make sure that we keep out any unwanted ‘guests’ and insects.” She went on to add: “Please make sure you are holding your community accountable for trash in and thrown outside of the residence hall. If you have any questions regarding trash fines, please speak to your RA.”

I agree that it is gross and lazy for people to not dispose of their trash properly. I will also give props to whoever on the housing team decided that it was okay for residents to leave trash bags around the dumpsters when they are already filled up. That is fair. People should not be punished for what they can not control and the halls and common areas are far worse areas for trash. However, I do not agree that an entire residence hall should be held accountable for the actions of a few.

When I read this, I was deeply confused, thinking to myself: “So, let me get this straight, just because I do not want to pick up after another grown adult, I would be charged God knows how much after all the bags are added up? I think the fees to be living in a tiny little dorm room, that most have to share, are already enough. Why can’t the maid pick up the trash? Is picking up trash somehow too hard for the maid, yet not too hard for the people who neither work as a maid, or made the mess? Excuse me? I cannot be inspecting every little area for trash I did not put there. That is not my job and this is not a small building, many residence halls are not.” It seemed so bizarre and unfair. Perhaps the idea of the collective fine is intended to be a deterrent, but that does not make a lot of sense to me, as a person who would do something like that obviously does not care about others to begin with.

Although Spearman wrote that all questions should be directed to the RAs, I knew that they were not the ones who came up with this policy, so I asked to be pointed to the individual that did.

She responded that: “This information is in the student resource guide and falls under damage and vandalism policy on page 84. If you would like to discuss more please feel free to schedule a meeting (…) I am open to more ideas, but as of right now this is the best solution.”

The screenshot below is from the page of the guide that she referenced. As you can see, it says: “When excessive damage is discovered in common areas and the person(s) responsible for the damage cannot be identified, the cost of the repair will be charged to all residents of that hall or building.” It is a bit of a stretch to call someone leaving a bag somewhere “excessive damage.” To me, “excessive” implies permanent or semi permanent damage. Furthermore, as you can see, the policy does not explicitly refer to the situation at hand either, as none of the examples list simply leaving a bag of trash in an inconvenient area, as being equivalent to removing furniture, painting walls, damaging walls, or altering furniture. Now, keep in mind that this is from the 2021-2022 Student Resource Guide that is available on the school website, so it is the most up to date one we have available. With this in consideration, in addition to the fact that this announcement came seemingly out of nowhere, rather than at the beginning of the school year back in fall, it caused me to wonder what could have motivated this strict interpretation of the guide.

Page 84 of the Student Resource Guide

For cases like these, it is often a smart move to follow the money to find one’s motivations. I remarked to Spearman that I was interested in knowing where all that money in collected fees would go, such as if it would be saved as funds for improvements to residence halls, or if it would be going to the school’s debt, just to name a few possibilities, given that having every student in a residence hall pay fines, could still potentially result in over a thousand dollars total, even if it was just one bag found in one of the smaller residences. $4,675 total would be collected for just one bag in the largest residence hall! Why such a massive cost for just leaving one bag somewhere? And where would all that money go?

I am not trying to be a “Karen,” aggressive, or hostile, however, I do firmly believe that the students at this school deserve transparency. We all hold a stake in this institution and nobody deserves to be taken advantage of. The guide states: “(…) the cost of the repair will be charged to all residents of that hall or building.” Well, I would like to know how they calculated that “cost,” because it is not like that is the objective damage a bag in the wrong spot causes. How did they decide the value of $25? Even if they have a logical reason for that specific cost, I would still like to know if that money would at least be going to improve the safety and comfort of the residence halls in some way. For example, we do not even have security cameras in many residence halls, including those that have experienced multiple robberies, something numerous far less expensive schools have. Plus, having security cameras would make it so that we could always hold specific individuals accountable, rather than charging an entire building’s population, that is, if justice is to be favored over profits, which it should be.

It would also be enlightening to know what Catawba is doing with this money given that, they regularly ask alumni and the community for donations, host a yearly day of giving where they ask for donations, received a $200M donation in Oct. 2021, as well as gifts totaling $18M earlier in 2021, allegedly retiring the entirety of the college’s debt, although sources are conflicting on whether it really was the entirety or just most of it. Plus, God forbid we have a conflict of interest with any housing staff keeping fees and thus being motivated to maybe even leave bags out themselves, a possibility that I am not in any way accusing anyone of doing currently and am not saying is likely in the future either. Still, these possibilities, no matter how small, should be articulated to further emphasize the importance of transparency and knowing where the money is going.

A week later and Spearman is yet to respond. Progress, if any, will be added to the comments.

It is also interesting because two days before this announcement, my RA, Evie Kauserud, sent out an email saying: “I have been asked to pass on the message.. There have been two bags of trash left at the front door and many incidents of trash in our building. The bags at the front door need to be moved outside and in/around the dumpster before midnight or our entire building will be fined. I have been asked not to move it.” That last sentence is especially telling. If we’re all responsible for holding our “community accountable,” then why was she asked not to move it? Why are they so seemingly eager to punish students? I understand that it is not fair to make an RA clean up a mess they did not make, but it is not fair to make anyone clean up a mess they did not make, let alone pay for it, either. There are many flaws in their logic that come across as suspicious. Kauserud also said the fines would be non-negotiable once given out.

Thankfully, the fee just started Feb. 1st so my hall will not be paying at this time, and to my knowledge, no hall has had to yet, although, if your hall has, please feel free to comment and share your experiences. I love Catawba, I really do, however, something smells fishy here. An unfair and illogical policy at best, with the potential to be exploitative at worst. Yes, I would like to take out the trash alright; this trashy policy.

Jessica Brown

Jessica Brown is the Editor-in-Chief of both The Pioneer Newspaper and The Arrowhead Literary Arts Magazine for Catawba College. She is a senior graduating in May 2022. She will receive a Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Marketing and Communications with a minor in English.