The mold in the dishwasher was black. I could not be sure whether it was black mold, but it was mold and it was black and that was enough for me. It started growing when the thing broke, the standing water and food particles still inside of it becoming a breeding ground for little mold colonies. I imagined them eating away at the mushy food, growing stronger, plotting my demise. The dishwasher was not the first thing in the apartment to break. The tile was broken, the furniture was broken, the washing machine was broken. The whole place, in general, was broken.
I didn’t call the landlord, because the landlord never answered. Instead, I walked up to the front office, smiled politely, and told them that someone needed to come fix the dishwasher. The front desk pledged that the maintenance workers would be there within 48 hours. The maintenance people were not there within 48 hours.
The mold continued to grow, and I was growing increasingly concerned about cooking in a kitchen that was beginning to smell like a swamp. After I threatened legal action, some maintenance people walked into the apartment without knocking a few days later. They opened the dishwasher, looked inside of it, argued a bit about what to do, stood around, and finally decided that pouring dish soap in would about do the trick. Needless to say, it did not do the trick. I couldn’t stop them and call a professional mold extractor because I wasn’t there (my roommate was and relayed the whole story to me).
I decided to make good on my threats and called the health department, who I learned didn’t deal with mold, then legal services, who told me the process was long and required money, which I didn’t have, as evidenced by my living in a moldy apartment.
I was away from the apartment for two weeks. When I came back the whole place reeked of the mold. I could hardly stand to stay there, certain that the mold was embedding itself into the pores of my skin, seeping into my eye sockets, working its way into my bone marrow. For all I know it’s still there. Maybe when I die and they open me up all they’ll find is a slush of soggy food particles, dish soap, and black mold. The name of the apartment complex is Isola Bella, located in Oklahoma City, OK. I say this because I finally have a small platform and because I want to expose them.
A few weeks ago, I went to my first Wesleyan party. My first ever party, actually. It was in a small house that was dark except for a purply light. It smelled of weed and booze and sweat, but not of mold, which I counted as a plus. The people were packed in so tightly that I couldn’t move without pressing into someone. Someone was pushed by someone else and they pushed me, which meant that I pushed another person and almost knocked them over. I apologized profusely. They were okay with it. I refused to go into the living room where people were dancing because they were too densely packed, which made me fear suffocation, and because I could feel the floor moving and buckling under my feet. I imagined the wood cracking and splintering. I imagined falling through. I imagined getting impaled medieval style, my body cracked open like a papier-mâché, the mold spores inside loosed into the air in one black puff.
Public Safety must have imagined something similar because it wasn’t long before the floor stopped moving and buckling, with the people standing on top of it having become deathly still. I made my way into the living room where the floor was bearing the weight of over thirty people, wanting to disappear in the crowd. As Public Safety walked in, we began to walk out, the crowd funneling out a tiny door in the back. Public Safety counted heads as we left. My friend yelled something. I haven’t been to another party since.
That night, several parties across campus were shut down for being over capacity. On the next day, Residential Life sent out an email that many students saw as condescending. The email took on a patronizing tone. Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting stated that they were “so disappointed” with students for overloading the houses and threatened those who violated capacity rules with relocation. Students didn’t take kindly to any of this. No one wanted their parties shut down, no one wanted to be relocated, and no one wanted to think that their houses were unsafe.
A few factions of students emerged. One group was adamant that it was Wesleyan’s responsibility to create “safe social spaces.” In essence, they believed that the Wesleyan administration should make senior houses safe for partying. The argument is that party culture is an intrinsic part of life as a Wesleyan student, and that if certain party locations are shut down or limited, then the parties will shift to often more hazardous venues. As a result, the university should take steps to ensure the safety of potential party spots. Several students from this group have cited the exorbitant tuition and the school’s large endowment as reasons why Wesleyan ought to have the means to do this. Others have referred to this as “the war on fun,” an administrative push to weed out party culture on campus.
Another group of students was less concerned with students’ right to party and more so concerned with the general safety of the wood-frame houses. Parties aside, students have the right to live in safe housing (as long as the building stays under capacity). The weak foundations of the wood frames were only a catalyst for this discussion. On the Soggy We$ Memes Facebook group, several students posted pictures of broken foundational beams in wood frame houses and pictures of places where fire had broken out due to bad electrical wiring. People talked about leaks and broken flooring and unsafe conditions. One student pointed out that the basement of Nics, where the low-income hall is located, smells musty, like mold.
Coming from an apartment where my landlord was constantly screwing me over, where I was subjected to danger and health risks simply because I didn’t have the resources to advocate for myself, these two perspectives about what students deserve seem disconnected with the harsh realities of certain housing situations. I am skeptical that it is the University’s responsibility to create locations for safe partying. The right to party is not fundamental. It is a luxury. It is a privilege. It is not a cross worth dying on. Of course, I would not bar someone from partying if they want to. And I don’t think that Wesleyan is doing so in its attempts to keep housing capacities low. Students are still allowed to party, they’re simply not allowed to pack a house full of hundreds of people. If students want “safe social spaces,” they should not advocate for overpacking houses anyway, since overcrowding certainly presents safety concerns. Finally, citing the high tuition as a reason why Wesleyan should indulge party culture on campus only displays a willingness to waste funds on luxury, rather than using them to fix pressing problems.
This all seems like a distraction from the more pressing issue: the right to safe housing. Disregarding the question of overcrowding, if the wood frame houses aren’t safe for the few people living in them, then there is a much larger issue at play. We should be advocating for solutions to these issues, and issues in other housing spaces on campus, rather than demanding that the University allocate resources to accommodate parties. Because if there’s something that students are entitled to, it’s their floorboards not rotting out from beneath them, their walls not spontaneously combusting, their lungs not being caked with mold and asbestos. If there’s something that students are entitled to, it’s safety—not partying.
Katie Livingston is a member of the Class of 2021 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.