By REINA DATTA
On Saturday, April 6, a hot water line in the north side of Eagle Landing burst, sending water through all five levels of the building. What started out as a seemingly routine fire drill soon turned into a hectic day of unanswered questions and students with no access to their belongings. According to an email from Anna Billingsley sent out the same day, there were “approximately 120 displaced students” from all 5 floors who were directly impacted by the pipe burst on Saturday.
The University and ResLife staff have had to carry a substantial amount of weight on their shoulders with the displacement of students after Alvey and Arrington renovations. As the recent disaster in Eagle only greatens the burden, maybe they’re not being as sensitive as they could to students who are looking for answers–and reimbursements–during a stressful time.
“I live on the fifth floor, I think three rooms down from the room that the pipe burst in, so when the fire alarms when off, we had to walk through about three inches of water in the hallway outside of the room where it happened,” said Anna Beth Tanner, a sophomore majoring in biology.
The university sent out update emails in the coming weeks, asking all of the UMW community to be helpful and understanding, as the remaining students who couldn’t go back to their rooms, readjust. The rest of the students can offer couches, meal swipes and homework help as much as they can, but all of these things don’t bring back the damaged belongings of the affected students. The university should have a hand in aiding the students who lost their belongings due to an issue that the students could not have been responsible for.
According to the Housing and Dining Services agreement for the 2018-2019 school year, “the university does not assume any legal obligation to pay for the loss of or damage to items of personal property of the student which occurs in its buildings or on its grounds, prior to, during or subsequent to the period of the UMW Agreement. Each student is encouraged to carry appropriate insurance to cover any such losses.”
While I can agree that there is a certain amount of precaution a student and their parents should take before signing any contract agreement whether it be on- or off-campus, there is a line and it was definitely crossed after the pipe burst.
“I do personally feel like UMW should offer some aid in helping replace damaged personal items. No one can see a pipe burst coming. It was a total accident and it wasn’t the university’s fault or the students living in the buildings fault,” Tanner said. “However, it wasn’t a student’s fault and when we sign the housing agreement we sign up to live safe residence halls. My dad passed away and I had some things that were his in my room, which were the first things I grabbed when I went up. But if they had been ruined I would have been broken since there was nothing I could have done to prevent the burst.”
When we sign a contract with the university, and when parents send their kids to college, they are entrusting the university to make sure that their students gain the needed skills for the real world. There are so many things to worry about during the four years of college, and students leave their dorms assuming that their belongings will be just as they left them when they return.
When the university says that they cannot take responsibility for any damage to students’ belongings, my mind goes to things like theft, or damage caused by student error. This event was not student error, nor could students have known that it was anything other than a normal fire alarm.
“I understand that that is a lot of money that should be going towards replacing the pipes, so I get that they can’t help students,” said Maelyn Beitzel, a sophomore Eagle resident. “If they were able to, they should at least help replace what was thrown into the showers in piles, that’s how a lot of our stuff got ruined. They just picked wet stuff up off the floor and dumped it all in the showers. Of course, I wasn’t there and I don’t know why they did that. I assume they had a good reason, or they were just trying to be fast to limit the damage.”
As reported previously by the Blue & Gray Press, ResLife offered EagleOne money in order for students to dry belongings as needed, and offered meal swipes to supplement their meal plans. They even offered to reimburse students for the housing switches. However, in terms of actually replacing student’s belongings, no communication has been given.
Conversely, it could be stated that the university couldn’t possibly pay for every minute thing that students lost. The evaluation process for every single item would be extremely complicated. As a student, my perspective is that I want the university to replace my belongings. Perhaps as an administrator I would be saying something different. But, how about things like textbooks that students rented from the bookstore? Students normally take responsibility for damaged goods that need to be returned to the university, but does this change due to this event?
The problem extends past the fact that students may not get any compensation. The true issue at hand is the lack of transparency to the campus community. Communication was poor the morning the alarm went off and students were not given a straight answer until almost an hour after being sent outside, to the week that followed when the most that the campus received was vague emails, trying to lift the spirits of students and instilling compassion to the rest of the campus, making little progress. All of this communication dances around some of the main questions that students have, and it comes across less genuine not to get a straight answer.