02/28/2012 04:34 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2012

Increasing Bug Infestations Go Unreported

When Wilson College resident Karen Wang ’14 woke up one day and got out of bed, she heard a suspicious crunch beneath her feet. She looked down and saw a cockroach scrambling away with its body half-squashed.

“I did not want to look at it, but I was also scared to leave it in the room,” she said. “So I put a toilet plunger over it. When someone came to clean the mess up days later, it was still alive and twitching beneath the plunger.”

Though pest-free living spaces on campus may seem to be a basic health requirement, many students like Wang said they regularly encounter a host of bugs in their bedrooms, including ants, cockroaches, spiders, hornets, centipedes, stink bugs and silverfish. These pest problems are particularly concentrated in areas like Wilson College and the junior slums, where buildings are in poorer condition.

“Wilson is definitely the worst with bugs because the buildings are older. A lot of bugs seem to live within the walls, and there is no one source where they come from,” Adriana Rexon ’14 said. “I assume that a lot of other buildings are the same way.”

According to statistics released by University Housing Services, 134 pest extermination requests have been filed since the academic year began in September — an 11.6 percent increase over requests filed by the same time last year.

Most requests are for the extermination of cockroaches, ants and spiders. Of seven reports of suspected bed bugs in the past year, only one case was confirmed. Service requests from residents of graduate, faculty and staff housing have been similar to those reported in undergraduate dormitories.

However, these numbers may not paint the whole picture. Although only six requests have been filed this month, 86 requests were submitted in September. While the sharp drop in monthly requests does follow expected seasonal shifts in bug incidence, it may also reflect frustration with the responsiveness of the University’s pest control services.

Over the summer, Wang stayed on campus in Pyne Hall, an upperclass dorm, where she said she encountered cockroaches almost every day. After contacting Housing Services, she was advised to submit an online work request form.

“I filled [the form] out twice but could see no difference from doing so,” Wang explained. “No one actually came into my room to do anything, though they might have sprayed outside. I just learned to live with it. I am not sure what Housing is actually doing about it.”

Wang and Rexon, who regularly find bugs in their rooms, also said they often choose not to contact Housing Services because they feel like their requests are not serious enough.

“It seems to me that this is something students do not want to bother [Housing] with — it just doesn’t look like the problem will go away,”

Rexon explained. “I don’t think it is really a health concern, so much as just a big inconvenience. It probably takes about a month before people get so annoyed with a problem that they actually report it.”

Associate Director for Student Housing Lisa DePaul, however, maintained that Housing Services is actively responding to pest complaints and conducting timely reviews of campus residential spaces used by students, faculty and staff.

“The University’s Housing, Building and Grounds and Building Maintenance departments partner to address pest issues through routine cleaning of buildings, addressing unsanitary or disorderly conditions discovered during ... fire safety inspections and through maintenance, repair and replacement of window screens,” DePaul said in an email.

The University has also contracted Western Pest Services to provide professional and immediate pest control when needed.
DePaul also offered tips to help students prevent bug infestations.

“All members of the University community can help control pests by maintaining an orderly and sanitary living space through measures like proper disposal of garbage, removing open food containers from their rooms and keeping rooms clutter-free,” she said.

The effectiveness of the initiatives led by Housing Services hinges on timely notification about pests from campus residents, DePaul said.

“It is important for students, faculty and staff to report pest issues as soon as possible to prevent infestation or injury,” she added. “We attempt to provide easy-to-use service request tools so that [they] can communicate any extermination needs.”

But while the presence of bugs in bedrooms is a nuisance, being forced to deal with these challenges has brought some residential
communities closer together.

According to Rexon, students have begun advising each other about known pest problems in various rooms. They have also developed crafty techniques to combat unwanted bugs, from lint-rolling ants off tables to using plungers on cockroaches and spraying Raid on spiders.

“We are all sort of bonding in solidarity over this problem,” Rexon said.

This piece originally appeared in the Daily Princetonian.