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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

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The great Brandeisian façade—black mold

Despite the hard-earned academic acclaim Brandeis receives as an institution it has continuously sat at #48 on ugliest college campuses in America. As described by the college reviewers from COMPLEX magazine, despite Brandeis hiring one of the most renowned modern architects of the twenty first century, Eero Saarinen, his skill was not enough to pull the campus together and make it beautiful. COMPLEX even wrote, “…Brandeis mixed these Modernist buildings with bland, brick structures and a castle to come up with their current campus. This jumble of styles and aesthetics leaves the school looking disheveled and incoherent.” If only those writers were able to see the inside of those buildings and what complicated, dated and in some cases unsafe methods they take to foster student life on campus; it is safe to say that their conclusion of the university may be more scathing than just “disheveled and incoherent.”

For this edition I would like to continue exploring the interconnected levels of infrastructure and take this one level further to discuss the health hazards buildings can produce—more specifically, black mold. The buildings and structures we live in should not only be accessible, structurally sound and safe to exit in an emergency but most importantly, they should not pose a health risk to their residents. In any building one of the most elusive and dangerous problems can be mold, due to its small size and lack of odor when in small quantities. Commonly referred to as “black mold,” stachybotrys is one of the most dangerous types of mold for a human to be exposed to. According to the CDC, mold of any kind can lead to persisting health issues within those who have been exposed to it either over a long duration of time or exposed to toxic levels of it for a very short amount of time. Individuals without underlying health conditions can come down with upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughs, wheezes and develop asthma due to prolonged exposure from mold. Those symptoms would greatly reduce the individual’s ability to perform athletically and remain active. For those on campus with asthma the symptoms can be much worse, as mold can greatly increase the strength and severity of the asthma symptoms of the individual.

Mold is a different beast compared to fire escapes and hallways. In an almost obvious point, fires are rare and there exist prevention measures which can be taken to greatly lower the chance of one occurring. Mold, in contrast to fires, can exist in spaces for months on end without proper detection in moist environments and one-time fixes are never enough to remove mold for good from any given space. One good example of this is the air conditioning vents on campus: they are the best ecosystem for mold to grow in as they are constantly dark, cold and wet. On top of being a good ecosystem for mold to grow, those vents connect the rooms in a system of air-conditioned vents. If not properly filtered the spores from the mold can be blown from room to room and from suite to suite. Without proper and prompt detection those spores can travel to every level of a residence hall and be inhaled by residents without them ever knowing for months on end.

On a number of occasions my friends have had to deal with the effects of living in a moldy environment on campus. One of them was diagnosed with asthma after living in a dorm room their first year that had mold in the corners of the room. This friend, along with never having asthma before, never had problems breathing. Becoming asthmatic forced them to drop all competitive athletic sports and is now a lifelong condition they will have to manage since starting at Brandeis. Another one of my friends shared with me their experience with mold in Brandeis housing which has been just as problematic.

Their first year, this friend of mine was placed into Village and started noticing odd symptoms two months into their first semester. Due to their pre-existing medical condition, they track their symptoms closely to know when to inform their PCP and take certain medications. However, when their usual symptoms of dizziness and nausea began evolving into more serious conditions and adding more symptoms, they became aware that something was not right. The manageable symptoms they originally faced evolved into serious coughing fits, wheezing, shortness of breath and hair loss. When they visited a pulmonologist and went through a number of exams it was concluded that the root of the problem was not the pre-existing conditions but rather mold poisoning. The condition persisted throughout the “pandemic summer break” and started acting back up again the following academic year in the Rosenthal suite they were living in. My friend is still getting through the persisting issues that come with the poisoning into their third year here at Brandeis.

Mold is an issue impacting students’ lives on campus currently as well. In the Ziv on the floor below my own there was an outbreak so bad all six students had to be removed from their living spaces. The mold existed in a truly toxic state as it was all along the ceilings of the common room and bathroom along with being in the walls and in the cabinets according to my neighbors. Disappointingly, they described waiting for around a week for a coordination effort from the university to remove the mold. During that time, they were moved to Rosenthal to live in until their suite was cleaned completely—a major disruption in the beginning of their school year. Fortunately, none have discussed any problems with their health to me.     

Mold is a campus-wide problem and is not exclusive to dormitories with air conditioning, such as Rosenthal and Massell, and in my own living experience Rosenthal does pose just as much of a threat to the health of students. Last year, in my own dorm room my window consistently froze solid, with ice forming on the inside. The radiator was directly under the window and the hot steam would rise on the inside and condense on the cold window in the winter. Some nights were so cold that the steam would freeze to the window and create a wall of ice on the inside of my dorm. Since my window was one of the walls of my room that meant my bed had to be pushed up against it on one side; leading to my bedding commonly becoming frozen to the window and absorbing more moisture than I would have ever expected. Components of my bedding became moldy and had to be disposed of immediately for my own health, an action I fear some students may not know to take under the same circumstances.

Mold is present in dangerous ways throughout the campus and student health is currently at risk. I do not want to diminish the work DCL and especially facilities do to clean up mold on campus. Their work is valued and by no means goes over the heads of those who see them in those positions cleaning it up. However, the attitude towards mold on campus has to change and it has to come from DCL first. There should be an expected level of vigilance from DCL to check rooms over the summer for mold rather than waiting for students to file a work order form. Especially from what was described to me from my neighbors it was hard to miss how much mold was in their suite and DCL should have acted sooner before move-in. DCL should engage in a more in-depth check of rooms after move out during the summer because to allow mold to get to such dangerous levels that students now are facing life-long health conditions is unacceptable to say the least—it’s inhumane and deplorable. Mold checks are the simple solution to the problem because if you have the ability to clean the mold it is best to do so before students are living in those spaces for the academic year. If this housing infrastructure remains as it is, the next review of Brandeis will feature words far harsher than, “hazardous and poisonous.”

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