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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Housing horror stories: UW-Madison edition

Picture this: you’re walking into your dorm building as a bright-eyed freshman, excited to acclimate yourself to living away from home and learning to be an adult. What you don’t know is that you won’t be living in your building alone. And no, I don’t mean with your roommate.

I mean with bats.

If you think this sounds unrealistic, I have some unfortunate news for you. Paige, a sophomore who lived in Witte last year, reported that there were multiple instances of real life bats flying around inside the building.

“Friends of mine who moved in early said that one of them attacked an RA,” Paige continued. While I could find no official statements from the university to corroborate this story, if it is true, it’s insane; and if it isn’t, it stands as a folk tale in a great tradition of spooking new students about the buildings they live in.

However, bats aren’t the only things to cause problems in on-campus housing. The terrifying lack of communication with students about how to get things done and why they are happening is a horror story within itself. 

Alicia Gee, a sophomore who lived in Sellery last year, explained why her and her roommate decided to switch dorm halls, “The $300 discount for construction was not worth having our room shake constantly and be scared of the elevator breaking down and water being shut off for days at a time.” 

When it came time for her and her roommate, Jayden, to move to Waters, she said that the university never explained to them the process of moving rooms. Only that they were told the date they had to be completely out by, leaving them to scramble to get their parents to drive in — Alicia’s all the way from Minnesota — to help them move all of their belongings across campus.

“The communication was kind of weird, because no one ever told us: Okay, here’s what’ll happen. They just said, ‘Move!’” Gee explained, echoing a similar sentiment I’ve heard from others about dealing with issues with on-campus housing.

Another sophomore, Lucy Morrison, told me about the discovery her roommate made upon her move back in after winter break, “Edyth [her roommate] found mildew on our carpet after coming back from winter break. I have no idea how long that leak had sat there on our carpet, but both of us were gone the full two months..”

When cleaning it up on their own had done nothing for the look, dampness or, more importantly, the smell, Edyth made the decision to call the maintenance department number, as directed on the welcome pamphlet they’d both been given at fall move-in. 

“It took a couple of days before anyone came. Edyth had called instead of filing a maintenance report online — the preferred method of handling maintenance needs. It took a couple days to figure that out because they did not help over the phone,” Morrison recounted, noting that the smell never fully went away, and it did start leaking again at some point during the spring semester.

If you think that moving off campus will help you escape these issues, I regret to inform you that it definitely won’t.

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Junior Sam Stanek talked with me about the sheer difficulty of finding affordable, livable housing in Madison. 

He walked me through how he and his friends were scrambling to locate an apartment that ticked all of the necessary boxes, “As it got later and later, we realized that to find a place we liked, we were either going to have to go up in price range or go outside of our desired location.” As they struggled to find a place to have a roof over their heads, they knew it was time to make a decision, even if it wasn’t ideal.

His words of advice to students looking to go off of campus? “Make sure to get the housing early, so people don’t end up like us.”

Finding housing isn’t the end of problems to be encountered off campus, though. 

Paige, who moved off-campus for her sophomore year (probably hoping to escape the bats), spoke about one of the scariest parts of her new location — maintenance men.

“They like to just walk into the apartment whenever we put in a request, no knocking,” Paige said. While this practice is scary for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is having strangers in your home without announcement — it is also deeply problematic for her roommates. “Two of my roommates are Muslim, and they need to know when men will be around.”

She told me that maintenance men appearing in their home unannounced has happened multiple times. In the event they do knock, but no one comes to the door, they will let themselves in, as they assume no one is home. Expressing their concerns to management has done nothing to help them resolve this issue.

Off-campus living was made especially difficult last year, with COVID restrictions made by both the university and the county health department.

One junior who lived in sorority housing last year, shared with me some of the biggest struggles the pandemic introduced for those who live in communal living situations, as dictated by Madison and Dane County’s health department.

With 50 girls living in one house, the rules surrounding quarantine and COVID safety were confusing and frustrating.

At one point, when the floor she lived on in the sorority house had gone on lockdown, she and other girls on that floor had been confined to their rooms. Later in the year, if any of the 50 girls in the house tested positive, each and every one of their “Badger Badges” would turn red, restricting them from attending their in-person classes or going into any campus buildings.

“Throughout the year, we went back and forth with the Dane County Health Department as they kept trying to put us in what seemed like an endless lockdown,” she shared, highlighting the inconsistency across the close-contact rules the university had set in place for the Badger Badges last school year. 

Frustrations with housing seems to be all-encompassing and widespread in Madison. Whether on or off campus, a myriad of scary phenomena permeate living situations everywhere.

So where does this leave us? Hopeless? Destined to live through our own housing horror stories?

I don’t think so. And neither does she, who told me, “The silver lining was that it was all such a mess that we all got super close through trying to navigate the chaos of the year together.”

Having friends that you can lean on makes these situations all the more bearable. The takeaway from these situations shouldn’t be to anticipate the worst, but instead to build your support system and rely on them when you need it. 

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