Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On the morning of February 18th, a few students in Mary Lyons were woken up by two deans on a “mouse patrol,” taking note of food storage conditions in ML.
A student who wished to remain anonymous told the Gazette that his door was locked and he was sleeping when Associate Dean for Student Life Myrt Westphal and Assistant Dean for Residential Life Rachel Head entered his room around 10 AM. “They might or might not have knocked, I’m not sure, I just remember they were the first faces I saw. They said something about the mouse problem but, being half-asleep, I didn’t catch any of it,” the student said. Once awake, he left his room and went to find them.
“They said they were in ML doing a walk-through for the mouse problem and came with me into my room again, looking for open food. I told them we had gotten rid of all the open food a week ago but the mouse problem was still out of control, since we kept catching mice in traps and finding droppings on our clothes in the dressers,” they said. “I was frustrated when I realized that the deans were in ML primarily to find evidence against the students—evidence that the students were causing the mouse problem—and not, as we had all hoped, to actually assist in fixing the problem.”
Another student thought she had dreamed the mouse patrol, but “upon talking to an ML RA, l realized I had not … two women had in fact entered my room while I was in bed and went through my things, under the impression that I was asleep.” She experienced the visit as a “violation of trust and privacy … no matter the justification behind it.”
Head explained that she has heard from a number of concerned students since the patrol. “Their main concern was that they didn’t think the communication lines were open, they would have appreciated better communication in terms of why we’re doing this and how we’re doing it,” she said.
Head explained that “Myrt and I let the RAs know the day before that we were planning on doing a walkthrough … [but] they didn’t understand that ‘walkthrough’ for us meant room walkthrough. They thought it meant just lounges and common spaces. If they had known [what we meant] they would have let their residents know … what was clear in our minds wasn’t clear in theirs.”
The ML RAs agreed with this explanation of the problem, but declined to comment further.
Head explained that the “mouse patrol” was a spot check of about fifteen rooms on the first and second floors. “The majority of the rooms were vacant … there were 3 or 4 rooms where students were there and one or two rooms with sleeping students,” she said.
She continued, “we kind of figured that we might be going into rooms where there were things students didn’t want us to see, say alcohol in a first-year’s room … all we did was walk in the room, turn around, and make a note about food storage,” taking pictures if there were evident food storage problems.
Head promised that those pictures were not connected to names or room numbers. “We forwarded the pictures to the ML RAs, to ask, is this consistent with what residents are telling you? … hopefully the RAs will do individual walkthroughs with their residents to talk about food storage. Workbox also got one e-mail with [the pictures] … Workbox can show the pictures to the exterminators, [and] in the future they might be instructive.”
She continued, “we don’t want any students to feel like they’re being shamed,” and said of student complaints that there had been poor communication, “we’ll definitely take that under advisement … but if we saw alcohol in your room, if we saw pets, we’re not going to call you in to talk about that … this is unconnected.”
The exterminator has been coming every Tuesday and Friday, and Head said that her office was also trying to step up communication on that front. “We had a lot of students telling us that he hadn’t come to their room … in the past we only told them [that he had visited] if he found a significant problem there, but now we will let them know that he’s visited.”
Head advises students to be “pro-active” about preventing mouse problems. “Mice won’t go into traps if there is real food, if they have a real food source the traps are less attractive. We’ve put a bunch of tins over in ML and I think they have been used so far,” she said.
The Housing Office is also working with facilities to get more trash cans and “door thresholds which make the door flush to the ground.” They have also “asked EVS employees to throw any food they find in common spaces away.” RAs have also purchased mousetraps and steel wool for their floors.
“If you get a door threshold, patch up every single hole with steel wool, and don’t keep food in your room, you have a pretty good chance you’re not going to have mice,” she said.