When sophomore Audrey Walsh, whose name has been changed to protect anonymity, packs up and leaves for Spring Break this Friday, March 21, she said she intends to remove a few specific items from her dorm room – items she knows are strictly prohibited in Miami University’s on-campus residence halls.
For Walsh, these include a Keurig coffeemaker, several candles and an assortment of wines and liquors.
Like many Miami students living on campus, Walsh has false impressions of the residence staff’s check-ins during breaks.
“It is my understanding that they can come in and check anything and everything,” she said. “I figured they check through all of the drawers, closets and in the refrigerator, though maybe not personal property, like an ottoman I brought from home.”
While this perception is one shared by many Miami students, it is in fact a misconception, Assistant Director of Residence Life Crystal White said.
“We don’t search or dig through anything,” she said. “It’s all about what’s in plain sight.”
It is not the job of residence staff to remove items from dorm rooms or to rummage through students’ belongings, White said. The regular check-ins conducted during breaks are first and foremost for safety and health purposes.
As White explained, the procedure is fairly straightforward. For the upcoming break, residents will receive a slip of paper on their doors with a checklist. When staff members enter the rooms after students have all left, their primary goal is to ensure that all of these instructions have been properly followed.
“For spring break, staff members will be looking for windows to be fully closed and shades to be closed halfway,” she said. “All unnecessary appliances must be unplugged and nothing can be obstructing the smoke detector. The thermostat must be off or to the lowest setting, and all lights are to be turned off.”
Students will receive a MyCard text message alert sometime next week saying their room has been entered using a master key, with the reason being “Spring Break health and safety inspection,” White said.
In addition to the standard safety inspections, the staff members are of course on the lookout for anything out-of-the-ordinary, including all prohibited items. But again, White emphasized they only look for violations of housing policies viewable “in plain sight.”
“If I hear a cat meowing in your closet, I’ll open your closet,” White said. “But generally it is not our practice to go digging through any of your stuff.”
Resident Director of Etheridge Hall Alex Broshious explained how the residence staff generally handles a situation in which a prohibited item is found.
“The first step is documentation,” Broshious said. “We document whatever happens to be in the room [that shouldn’t].”
White said sometimes this documentation is in the form of written notes and other times a photograph, depending on the situation.
Both said the next step would be following up with the students upon their return from break. A member of residence staff would acknowledge their recognition of the prohibited item and first ask the student to remove it or take it home.
“Let’s say they had a hot plate,” Broshious said. “I’d say ‘I saw you had it in your room, that’s prohibited and I’ll give you two days to get rid of it before checking back with you.'”
A hot plate is prohibited because it is an open heat source. This is also why candles and coffeemakers are not allowed, as well as microwaves and other appliances of certain wattage – anything with a potential to catch fire is avoided.
An exception to the “in plain sight” method is during winter break when residence staff asks that the refrigerators be unplugged.
Over such a long break, any food items left behind could spoil, so the staff checks inside the refrigerators on these inspections. If there were to be alcoholic products inside, they would have to report that.
Both White and Broshious said oftentimes these matters can be resolved by simply asking that an item be removed from the residence hall; this is usually the case for small appliances such as coffee pots and toasters. However, White said they do have the authority to file an incident report, which must sometimes be taken to the Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR), the disciplinary body for Miami students. This is determined on a case-by-case basis, she said.
Ultimately, the purpose of these break period check-ins is essentially safety, health and comfort, White said.
“We have policies for a reason,” she said. “We aren’t trying to ruin anyone’s fun.”
Upon learning of the residence staff’s true intentions, Walsh said she had always thought the check-ins were conducted solely for the purpose of searching out these prohibited items, not simply following up on the residents’ check list.
“I was under the impression that everything was fair game and that when they came in over breaks for check ups they were just looking for all of the banned items,” she said.
Nevertheless, Walsh said she still plans to conceal her candles in an obscure place in the room and to take home the alcoholic products.
As for her Keurig coffeemaker, Broshious said there is now talk of permitting these in the dorms. She does not believe they are currently allowed, but the residence staff is considering putting one in each hall for students’ convenience.