Two weeks ago, I woke up in Stearns Hall feeling as if I was being suffocated. Drenched in sweat, I regretted my decision not to crash in my friend’s air-conditioned room in Berkus Hall. Residents of Stearns, Chilcott, Stewie, Pauley, Haines, Berkus House, Food Justice House and Pet House were also forced to survive the heat wave without air conditioning (AC), and we have reached our boiling point.
While I have grown to appreciate Stearns’ idiosyncrasies—its unnavigable hallways, 60-degree angle staircase and ant community—the lack of AC is one drawback that is not just a petty annoyance. My sweaty hall mates and I suffer sleepless nights and parched days, and yet we pay the same price for housing as our peers in air-conditioned halls.
According to Occidental’s website, most residents living in double rooms pay $7,650 each year. Yet these costs do not take into account the difference in quality of living between AC and non-AC halls. This needs to change. Either housing needs to be cheaper for those who endure the heat, or central air conditioning should be available to all students.
Not only is central air conditioning lacking in some buildings, but personal AC units are prohibited, causing tensions within the residence halls. Several Stearns residents who could not endure the heat wave insisted on keeping their window AC units up, despite having already been documented by resident advisers for the policy violation. Just one or two units devoured enough energy to cause multiple building power outages—resulting in no refrigeration and fans for their neighbors. Desperate to escape the heat, local students drove home and residents across campus sought refuge in friends’ air-conditioned rooms, stayed in hotels and slept in the library, residence hall computer labs or even outside. In Stewie, seven students camped out on the floor of the computer room for a week.
Furthermore, lack of AC caused more dire consequences than uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, as it also put the health of students in jeopardy. A Stearns resident, suffering from chronic heat exhaustion, could not be relocated due to a lack of available rooms. One resident was temporarily relocated to Berkus Hall, but only after suffering heat stroke and hospitalization.
Laura McNaughton, REHS Assistant Director for Upper Division Housing, explained that complications with room accommodations stem from the overwhelming number of room change requests during the first semester and the misconception that REHS is responsible for student relocation. The party responsible for room changes—the Dean of Students Office—is placed in a tough position of deciding who gets priority in relocation. Faced with an insufficient number of empty rooms on campus, let alone rooms with AC, students suffering from only “minor” health problems are pushed aside in order to accommodate those with serious heat-related health issues.
Campus Facilities management is prioritizing the AC issues, but it faces a long, hard road as, according to McNaughton, many of the older residence halls are not equipped to support the energy demands of an AC system.
During the heat wave, I tried to maintain loyalty to my hall and persevere through my discomfort, but, after another day of 100-plus degrees, I slept in Berkus Hall. Although I was cramped up on a coach, the cool air put me to sleep instantly.
Occidental needs to prioritize funding dorm renovations, and residents without AC should have a lower cost of housing—especially if they are also paying for hotel rooms and hospital bills as a result of their living situation. The heat wave has passed and my room has cooled down, but I am still heated over the disparity of quality of life in Occidental’s residence halls.