Stern Hall residents speak out on living conditions

Isabella Ko/Staff

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With the end of spring break, Stern Hall resident Elaine Calzada left behind her cozy bed in Montebello to return to the thinly carpeted concrete floor that, since February, has been her bed at UC Berkeley.

Calzada, a campus junior and English major who transferred to UC Berkeley in fall 2017, said a bedbug infestation last semester forced her to dispose of her mattress. Unable to negotiate an inspection and fumigation time with UC Berkeley Maintenance Operations, she slept on blow-up beds until they popped because of constant use. Without any alternative at hand, she settled for the floor.

Calzada is one of many female-identifying campus students who chose to live in Stern Hall — an all-woman residence hall for undergraduate students located to the northeast of campus near Foothill residence hall. Yet according to Calzada, she and other residents have been forced to make the trade-off between same-gender housing and comfortable living.

“There are many like me who would prefer a women’s-only environment, and this is our only choice,” Calzada said.

Reaching out to campus maintenance did not solve her bedbug problem. Calzada eventually gave up and did not voice her discontent until an anonymous March 21 post on the Confessions from UC Berkeley Facebook page became a platform for her and others to speak out on the living conditions in Stern.

The post, which received 215 reactions as of press time, called for the “abolishment” or renovation of Stern. Of the 208 people who had commented as of press time, some were residents who alleged a lack of security, the presence of vermin, ants and bugs in Stern’s rooms, cold showers and broken washing machines.

Calzada said she has heard residents talk about the issues raised in the anonymous post but did not feel compelled to share her experience until she read about the cold showers.

“Just considering that — a basic thing that we should have because we pay so much to live in these dorms — kind of triggered me to (post): ‘Yeah, I’ve been sleeping on the thinly carpeted concrete floor for the past semester,’ ” Calzada said. “The basic necessities not being met prompted me to share my own story.”

Marina Chang, a freshman living in Stern, said when she first moved in, she thought these conditions were normal for all campus housing. It was not until she had friends over that she realized there was a disparity between residence halls.

Chang said it is important to have all-female campus housing, but she does not think living in Stern bonds the residents as intended because of the unsatisfactory conditions.

“I feel like people talk to each other less because no one wants to stay at the dorms,” Chang said. “The purpose of Stern, of having a sisterhood, is not fulfilled because no one wants to be in that place.”

According to Chang, residents are also concerned about security. She said there have been instances of strangers “wandering” into the residence hall, making students feel unsafe.

Chang added that the showers are often broken, and she has to time when she will be able to use hot water. Stern has five washing machines in the building, and three were nonfunctional before spring break, Chang said, causing some backup in the laundry room and complaints in the Stern group chat.

The residence hall also has a mouse problem that residents sometimes have to handle themselves because of maintenance’s slow answers to requests, Chang alleged.

Campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff said in an email he cannot comment on anonymously posted complaints because proving their veracity is difficult. He said, however, student well-being is a campus priority and confirmed that the administration received reports this semester regarding the mice in student rooms and community spaces in Stern.

“We’ve done initial and follow-up responses to all work orders received,” Ratliff said in an email. “It can take some time to get rid of mice (ie, setting traps, sealing points of entry, etc) but we are committed to resolving this issue.”

Ratliff added that if a student suspects rodent activity or any issue with their living space such as inaccessibility to hot water, they should report it to the front desk or a resident assistant. If students’ rooms are impacted, they should submit direct work order requests for pest control to maintenance. He said notifying staff helps administration understand the severity of the situation in order to provide adequate solutions and, in “extreme” circumstances, organize a room change.

Ratliff advised students to follow safety practices to promote a secure environment, as instructed during their orientation. These include fully closing doors when entering or leaving the building and not allowing unknown persons to enter behind them. If residents see a suspicious person, they should contact an RA or UCPD, Ratliff said in an email.

According to Ratliff, Stern’s community service officers at the front desk perform routine walks around the building during the evening hours for security but do not check in students or other individuals who enter the residence hall.

Calzada said although she is fed up with the conditions, she would not have been able to attend UC Berkeley were it not for campus housing. The campus is building more residence halls to address student housing insecurities, but established residence halls should meet living standards, she said.

“I can’t knock them for (building new residence halls) because I understand that there’s a need,” Calzada said. “But at the same time, when there are situations like (this) … that’s something that they should address in tandem.”

Contact Vanessa Arredondo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @V_anana.