When living on a college campus, there are always going to be concerns regarding student privacy and the protection of it.
It is a fine line to walk, and there is little doubt that the negligence and behavior of past students have contributed to making that line finer.
At the end of April, Mercyhurst University’s Residence Life will again attempt to walk that line while conducting the biannual Health and Safety Inspections of student living areas.
The goal of the inspections, according to Director of Residence Life Alice Agnew, is to “make sure students are living safely and that things are in operating order.”
“It is not about finding any violations,” she said.
The inspections are typically performed by assistant directors and hall directors of Residence Life, as well as a member of the Maintenance Staff.
These Mercyhurst employees enter student living areas, whether the students who live there are present or not, and proceed to look around at belongings and check for any immediate issues with the environment.
“It does not involve looking in drawers,” Agnew explained. “It is truly what is just sitting out in the open.”
Though a date and time for the upcoming inspections has yet to be announced, it does not need to be. According to the Mercyhurst Student Handbook, Residence Life is not required to inform students of when the inspections will take place.
Before the most recent inspection, held during the J-Term, a flyer was posted around campus living quarters, announcing that inspections would occur during the week of January 13-17, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Though students are commonly notified at least a week in advance that an inspection is going to occur, Agnew said the reason for not providing students with the specific time and date for each apartment or dorm room is to be inspected is due to the difficulty in determining how long or how quickly the inspections can be performed by staff.
“The idea is that it gives [the inspectors] the ability to move on if they have gotten something done quickly, or to have as long as they need if for some reason it is going slower that day,” she said.
Students found in violation of the living standards the school upholds will receive an email notifying them of the issue.
Otherwise, a resident who is not in his or her living quarters at the time the inspection takes place will receive no notification that Residence Life had ever been there.
When asked whether entering into a student’s apartment or dorm room is a violation of privacy and when it is not, Agnew said that “we are allowed to go in at almost any time that we feel there is cause to go in.”
Agnew added that she and her staff make it a priority to always announce themselves before and when they are entering a residence.
Regarding usual student reaction to the inspections, Agnew said that students “generally respond very well…because it gives them the opportunity to talk to people that can fix things, if [the students] happen to be home.”
On the topic of how many Residence Life employees have keys to student dorms and apartments, Agnew said that all resident assistants (RAs) “have some level of master key, usually just to their building and their adjoining building,” but are able to exchange one key for another as needed while on duty.
Others possessing master keys include five hall directors, four assistant directors and herself.
“We talk a lot about keys,” Agnew said. “We hold very high standards on using those keys. We certainly tell Residence Life staff that it is one way they can lose their job, and if they are going to key into somewhere, then they need to have permission to do so.”
“Jobs have been lost for that in the past,” she added.
For more information, contact Alice Agnew at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go under the Housing Information section of Student Handbook, located on the Mercyhurst Portal.