Opinion: Students deserve safe and healthy housing on campus
University leaves some residence halls unchanged despite health and safety concerns
Have you ever walked past Cassell Hall and Leonard Hall? Or walked inside Anderson Hall then over to Letts Hall? Ever notice a difference? You’re not the only one.
The disparity between residence housing at American University is a well-known part of campus life. Jokes about living in the Letts and Leonard residence halls have become common sentiments among students, but these jokes lend themselves to deeper truths.
Many of the highly regarded residence halls were recently renovated or constructed. The East Campus residence halls were constructed most recently, with construction beginning in 2014 and ending in 2017 and being certified with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold in 2020. Cassell Hall, which opened in 2013, is LEED Silver certified. Most who apply for housing on campus jump for the chance to live in one of these buildings.
East Campus residence halls are suite-styled and come with more accommodations, so it makes sense that these buildings cost more to live in, especially as both are newer to campus. However, these buildings are not the only ones that have gone through construction and renovation. Anderson and Centennial Hall, both of which are directly connected to Letts Hall, have gone through their own renovations. Centennial Hall, home to freshmen who request suite-style housing, went through renovations in summer 2021, gaining updated furniture, appliances and lounge areas. Anderson Hall, the layout of which resembles Letts Hall, was renovated in 2017. It is glaringly noticeable that Anderson Hall is no longer similar to Letts. Any student who has lived or been in either housing can tell you that the halls are vastly different in appliances, infrastructure and cleanliness.
Letts Hall, a traditional dorm for freshmen, is home to rodents and Leonard Hall had confrontations with bats, with Barstool American posting videos of each instance on their Instagram. Safety is an issue in these halls. Letts Hall recently faced backlash because of elevator malfunctions, according to a Barstool American tweet.
Mold is also a problem for some of the resident halls. Letts Hall was looked into because of potential mold in 2018 and this was not a one-and-done by the University. This past fall 2021 semester, McDowell Hall faced mold allegations and students experienced symptoms as a result.
East Campus and Cassell Hall are the most expensive on-campus residence halls, excluding apartment style halls and cost $12,310 a year for double occupancy and $12,494 a year for double occupancy, respectively. McDowell Hall comes close to their prices at $12,012 for a double even though their standards are not the same.
Anderson and Letts Hall both land at the same price point, $10,196 for a year for double occupancy, with Leonard Hall’s pricing being just about the same, despite these residence halls ranging vastly in quality.
Not only do students living in Letts or Leonard Hall face rodents, insects and alleged mold, but students also pay the same as a student living in Anderson Hall, which has had no notable complaints since its renovation. The same goes for those who live in McDowell and Cassell Hall or East Campus.
Students love to joke about the experience of toughing it out in these halls and the horror stories of living in a dorm in these buildings never seem to end, but I question why this needs to continue. With all of the other recent renovations, why weren’t other residence halls renovated as well? The University knows of these complaints and has handled safety and health concerns in the past, so why should students continually have to add to the narrative of life in Letts?
The University can no longer limp along and allow students to undergo the rite of passage of surviving in these residence halls. Students are paying a hefty price to live on campus and deserve to be healthy and safe in the halls they reside in for the semester. If the University can construct new residence halls, why can’t the old ones be updated? If Anderson can undergo renovations, why can’t Letts? It is unacceptable to let students who need the cheapest housing option continue to live in a residence hall that is light years behind its neighbors. The University must renovate the housing that needs it most for the health and safety of their students.
Anna Gephart is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle.