The recent Review article stating that four dorms would begin surprise fire inspections was quickly refuted by both the Office of Residential Life and the Office of Student Life and Service this week.
"It was never decided to change any policies," Assistant Dean of Students Yeworkwha Belachew said. She added that most faculty members and College staff were not even aware of the implementation of new procedures until they read an article in last week's Review describing plans to implement the new inspections.
"I was really surprised," Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk said. "I didn't know about it. Any major policy change has to be talked about within the institution."
Last week's Review article cited Holly Morgan, Area Coordinator for Barrows, Noah, Burton and Zechiel Halls, as initiating the new searches. According to several Resident Coordinators (RC) in the four dorms, the new policies' searches were announced at the first staff meetings of the semester. Signs describing the searches had already been posted in the dorms as well.
Morgan would not comment, but both Cole-Newkirk and Belachew said there definitely will not be any surprise room inspections.
"I think it's unreasonable to assume that as an adult, I have to sneak in and see if you have a candle on your desk," Cole-Newkirk said, attributing the proposal to "the overzealousness of some staff and interpretation [of policies that wasn't quite accurate]."
When stories began to circulate about the supposed change in policy, "Many students were fearful that the new inspections would be launched so that we could monitor drug use," Belachew said. "But it's not the staff's intention to find drugs when we go to do fire inspections."
According to the Rules and Regulations, fire hazards include candles and poor housekeeping to the point where items of personal property strewn on the floor can endanger occupants' safety. Fire inspections are done to ensure students' well-being, according to Residential Life staff.
"We want to emphasize that the educational process is more important to us [than punishing a student found in violation of fire and safety codes]," Belachew said. "Though we are implementing no new policy, RCs will be talking to their sections about this issue … We've encouraged them to bring up the issue of safety in hall council meetings so that students can be educated about violations," she said.
Current policy prohibits fire inspections without prior announcement and forbids inspectors to search students' closets or drawers for evidence of fire hazards. Though students expressed concern about the possibility of the new and stricter inspections infringing on their privacy, Belachew said, "Inspectors will not in any way be allowed to violate students' space."
Cole-Newkirk, recalling that in her days as an Oberlin student, said her space was sacred to her, and agreed with this sentiment. "It's unfair to [conduct fire inspections] without giving students adequate notice," she said.
"Fire and safety hazards are a community issue," Belachew said. "This effects all of us, and we strongly encourage students to voice their concerns."
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 14; February 14, 1997
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