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No place to rest: Students struggle with dorm temperatures

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Jimmy Simpson

Staff writer

Graphic by Minna Zhou

This summer was the hottest on record for Salem, with temperatures reaching an average high of almost 88 degrees Fahrenheit across July and August. September hasn’t brought much respite from the heat either. The fall semester began with uncomfortable temperatures for members of the Willamette community, as well as periods of poor air quality caused by local wildfires. While Bearcats managed to struggle through, such extreme heat has become increasingly common over recent summers. It highlights a worrying trend of extreme weather events attributable in large part to man-made climate change.

Hailey Faber (‘25) responded to a poll posted on The Collegian’s Instagram page on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, and was willing to share her experience of the heatwave. Faber lives in Lausanne Hall, one of several residence halls on campus without air conditioning facilities. Like many other Bearcats, she had a rough time during the recent hot period. She described the heat in her room during the day as “scalding” and, in lieu of AC, had to purchase a box fan from Walmart and construct a swamp cooler in order to beat the heat. But even this, Faber said, wasn’t enough. She had to resort to “spraying herself with water” and “leaving the door and windows open” at the hottest points of the day. In spite of all this, she said, she still “slept poorly.” Moreover, due to the lack of window screens, bugs ended up in her dorm. As if the extreme heat wasn’t bad enough, Faber and other Willamette students had to endure several days of smoke on campus caused by wildfires outside of Salem. The smoke reportedly traveled from wildfires that had ignited south of the city in the first week of September owing to the record temperatures and strong winds, contaminating the air and tinting the sky a hazy orange. Hailey said that exposure to the low air quality left her throat feeling “scratchy.”

Unfortunately, Faber’s recent ordeal was not unique among the Willamette population. She and other students complained that the response of the Resident Hall Association (RHA) was inadequate. While some of the complaints reported couldn’t be easily resolved by members of the RHA (such as Lausanne’s outdated facilities), many Bearcats felt that the university at some level could have invested in basic solutions, such as providing box fans to all students.

RHA President Hannah Jones (’23) and Director of Administration Morgan Schetter (’23) both acknowledged that the situation for many students during the first few weeks of the semester was dire, particularly for those living in rooms that receive direct sunlight during the day. Schetter said that the RHA could do little to alleviate the situation, given that their general assembly hadn’t yet taken place and therefore couldn’t consult one another over the “distribution of funds for box fans” and other solutions. The RHA had “not yet received its official budget” at this early point in the semester, according to Schetter, and so their hands were effectively tied. Both associates stressed that the RHA can only “do so much” and, as a student body distinct from Resident Life and Housing, is limited financially. In fact, Jones knows all too well how stressful extreme weather events such as the recent one can be. She said that, during the 2020 fall semester, ash originating from local wildfires made its way into her room, forcing her to temporarily evacuate the residence hall and move back home. Unfortunately, such health hazards and disruptions to everyday life are only going to become more commonplace as Oregon continues to shoulder the brunt of the climate crisis.

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