Rat Roommate: Pests unnerve students living in residence halls

Denise Emerson

Emily Fernandez started noticing odd occurrences in her dorm, such as pieces of her laundry basket that resembled toenail clippings and wood chips behind her trash can. A week later, she requested a transfer to another room in her dormitory, Roberts, after discovering these were signs of a rat.

“(The rat) would come out of my air conditioner, onto my bed and it would go underneath and go to my closet,” Fernandez said. “Then it would go around the room to the door and try to dig out.”

Fernandez, an education sophomore, filed a maintenance request and an exterminator visited her room multiple times. The problem persisted, and the rat began to damage her belongings.

“It ate through my books and my Converse, my shoe rack, my laundry basket, my memory foam mattress topper and my comforter,” Fernandez said. “It pooped on my clothes that were hanging — I threw away like three baskets.”

Rodent problems are rare in the University’s residence halls, with four or five reports this academic year, said Rick Early, director of Residential Facilities Operations, while ants and cockroaches are more common. Early said the University strives to prevent pests from entering the residence halls by sealing holes and cracks.

If a pest problem arises, the extermination staff will first use traps, such as jailbait or glue traps, to control the pests, Early said. Chemical treatments are reserved as a last resort.

“We’re not gonna charge you to come treat your room,” Early said. “We’re not going to think bad of you. We actually are going to thank you for asking us (to come) there, because our goal is to get rid of (pests) so it doesn’t bother students next door.”

Maintenance requests can take a few weeks to be processed, and students can only receive immediate servicing if the situation qualifies as an emergency, Early said. Emergency situations can include fire ant bites or scorpions in beds, which would require staff to fill out an emergency waiver and notify surrounding residents.

Fernandez returned to her room after sleeping at a friend’s home. Twenty-seven traps had been placed, but she still saw the rat roaming freely. She requested a room change and filed reimbursement forms for her damaged belongings.

“Sometimes it takes us several days to solve the problem,” Early said. “It’s a mouse running around. We’ve got to try to think like the mouse and where we’re going to set the traps and what holes we need to seal.”

The staff has been working closely with Fernandez and is offering assistance for her room change, he said.

Other students, such as journalism freshman Tara Phipps, try to control pests on their own. She filed a maintenance request for cockroaches in her room at Kinsolving dormitory. Exterminators planted traps in her drain, but she said she decided to buy bug spray when they were ineffective.

“I sprayed it down the drain to kill as many as possible,” Phipps said. “Ten crawled up out of the drain. As soon as I started seeing them coming up, I bolted out of the bathroom (and) shut the door.”

Early said students should file requests and avoid using chemicals on their own because they can cause allergic reactions, but students like Phipps and Fernandez don’t want to wait for maintenance.

“That’s a lot of money to live on campus and it’s like a whole week without a room,” Fernandez said. “I was not okay.”