Res Ed should respect students’ privacy

By Thomas Ballard

There is an old saying that goes, “Home is where the heart is.” As a student at the College, I am proud to call this place not just my school, but also my home. This is my third year living on campus and I’ve always appreciated being so close to the different events that take place at the College. Until recently, I’ve had no major qualms about Residential Education and Housing. I survived the Towers (without Wi-Fi), and I made the most of my time living in Eickhoff Hall. It wasn’t until a recent experience that I had while living in one of the College’s townhouse complexes that I felt the need to voice my doubts about Res Ed and their lack of concern over student privacy.

Students’ privacy might be violated in the townhouses. (tcnj.edu)

I admit that I did make a mistake when I moved into my townhouse. I brought my own personal mini refrigerator with me. According to Res Ed’s behavioral expectations & regulations policy, possession or use of an unauthorized electronic device such as a personal refrigerator is not permitted when one has already been provided by Res Ed.

On Sept. 11, I received an email from an employee of Res Ed stating that a personal refrigerator had been seen in my room and that it had to be removed. Shortly after receiving the email, a new feeling began to sink in: vulnerability. According to the email, an employee of the College had been in my room on Sept. 1, even though I had been off campus that day, home for the weekend and had placed no work orders in regards to my room. There was no reason for a person to be there, other than myself as the paying occupant of the room.

The time frame I got notice about the violation also poses a concern for me. It took Res Ed 10 days to inform me that they had searched my room. It’s almost scary for me to think that if my room was not in violation of anything, I would have never found out that an uninvited person had been in my room. Like most other residents on campus, I have personal effects and electronics in my room, and it is unsettling to think that a person would be able to access my room and not have to report their presence.

While Res Ed certainly reserves the right to enter and check rooms when they see fit, it is unacceptable that they should take advantage of this power and not give students due notice. The residence halls may not be home to their full-time staff and employees, but they are our home and we should be given the same decency and privacy that they would expect if those roles were reversed. If they know that they have to enter a person’s room, advanced notice should be given to the room’s occupant so that they can prepare for the visit.

In cases of emergency, or if rooms are being inspected during a fire drill, a note should be left at the room, signed by the person who entered, informing the occupant of their visit. If employees have the time to make note of which rooms are in violation of their rules, then they should also have the time and courtesy to keep residents informed that their privacy was breached.

To make it clear, this article has nothing to do with mini refrigerators and everything to do with a student’s right to privacy in their own “home.” As the only on-campus provider of housing, Res Ed has a monopoly on students who want to continue to stay and live here. There’s a certain level of trust students and their families place in Res Ed to provide a safe and secure living environment, which includes respecting their student tenants. However, I feel a little less safe, a little less secure and a lot less homey knowing the actions that Res Ed has and is willing to take.

My name is Tom Ballard and, yes, I made a mistake and violated the housing guidelines. Aside from my misdemeanor, I’m afraid that Res Ed is violating a lot more than I ever could with a mini refrigerator. I strongly encourage Res Ed to reflect on their current procedures and to become more acute to a residential student’s right to privacy. A system of notifications in the event of a room search would be a good first step for Res Ed in displaying their recognition of this matter.