Snitches Get Stitches | The University of Warwick Tells Students to Spy on Their Flatmates & Neighbours.

Snitches Get Stitches | The University of Warwick Tells Students to Spy on Their Flatmates & Neighbours.

Chen Ling is a master’s student at the University of Warwick and lives with four others in Cryfield, an onsite student accommodation.

Within recent months and through a certain set of situations, Chen would come to notice an increasing ‘Stasi-like snitching culture’ being promoted by official bodies at the university.

This would range from requesting students to ‘dob-in’ their flatmates for damages caused to their shared accommodation, to spying on their neighbours to check if they are wearing masks or allowing students outside their complex to be let in.

While a housing warden’s advocacy of Big Brother-esque tactics would almost certainly worry most students, for Chen the promotion of surveillance was an even scarier prospect.

As a Chinese student, who has experienced the authoritarian nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Chen felt that he couldn’t escape the watchful eye of big government or, more pertinently in this instance, big academia.  

I am from mainland China and I know very well that informing has been understood as one of the worst attributes of communist regimes. Children were encouraged to tell on their parents during the Cultural Revolution for dancing or playing a musical instrument. The British, surely, would never encourage such a thing?

Chen Ling

Snitch on your Flatmates or Pay the Cost

In late January, Chen and his flatmates would be informed that they would have to pay for the damages caused to their kitchen floor after a hot pan had created a marking.  

While this should be a cut-and-dry process of providing students with a cost for repair, the solutions that this group of students would be presented with would appear to be both unfair and unethical.

Instead of a flat fee, they would be given a deadline of 36-hours. Within this time frame either the person responsible for this damage would have to come forward or ‘you will all be jointly charged for the damage’.

The Burn Mark on Chen’s Flat’s Kitchen Floor

While there is indeed a clause within students contracts which states that unattributable damage will be charged to all members (see below), it clearly shows that the administration fee is at a fixed rate of £25. Yet, Chen and his flatmates were informed that if the culprit of the damages did not come forward that not only would they all have to pay for the damages but receive an administration fee of £125.

Regulation 27: 3.1.3 – Wilful or negligent damage

Students are responsible for their study bedrooms and the shared spaces they use in residential halls (such as the kitchen and corridor areas). Any damage to or loss of property, fixtures, fitting, or furnishings will be charged. Students are required to pay a fair and reasonable proportion of the cost of repairing the damage or reinstating the loss including an administration fee. The administration fee for the 2020-21 academic year is £25 (2019-20: £25 and 2018-19 £25). This additional administration fee reflects the cost of processing the damage charge and collection of payment.

A charge for damage is not a fine. It is the cost to make good or reinstate and therefore is not subject to the disciplinary appeals process.

Even if we were to accept that the inflation of this administration fee is the result of multiple ‘collection of payments’ needing to be taken, is this really something that students should come to expect from a university that brands itself on protecting the rights of young adults and providing them with fair treatment?

A quick search on Google shows that Warwick’s motto is “Mens agitat molem” (Mind Moves Matter), not “Schild und Schwert der Partei “(Shield and Sword of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany).

Chen Ling

The students would therefore be left with three options: (1) The culprit comes forward and pays the cost of damages, (2) The group pay a collective fine (oops! I mean ‘administration fee’…) of £125, or (3) as Chen himself has put it, they ‘find the rat’.

While the sub-warden was kind enough to inform them that she would let them know ‘if that person has not come forward so that you can all hopefully choose one person amongst yourselves to pay the charge (so there’s only one admin fee)’, this does not provide an equitable situation that protects the individual paying the cost.

Now, while I’m sure that Chen and his group of flatmates are honourable and decent people, this, as I’m sure many of us who have lived in shared accommodation can attest too, isn’t always the case.

By forcing one individual, by way of reducing the expense of the fee, to pay for the cost of the damages, the university has placed the person paying in a risky situation. What if some or the entirety of the other tenants decide that they will not pay the money back?

In a scenario where many believe that the damages are not their fault (in which in Chen’s group, two tenants where not even in the same country at the time of the damages being made), this remains a likely possibility.

Surely the university wouldn’t intentionally place a student in such a vulnerable position? If no one has come forward, then the university should split the bill equally among the occupants (with a single administrative fee) in order to avoid the potential scenario, outlined above, from occurring.

However, in the case of Chen and his flatmates, one person would come forward to pay the cost of the damages in order to avoid the additional administrative fees. However, as of yet, the students have not been able to pay the charges as they have not been provided with an estimate of the cost.

This wouldn’t usually of any issue, however, it would prove to be a frustrating element of this incident for Chen and his flatmates. He would inform us that:

We are mostly postgraduates and are arguably under more pressure, bearing heavier workload than others. Our sub-warden sent the burnt mark email on Thursday 21st January when almost half of our flat had deadlines on that day. In a sub-warden person specification sheet, it shows that “an understanding of the policies relating to the Residential Life Team and the demands of the role, together with an understanding of the student life cycle and the contributions that different parts of the University make to it” is a quality that must be demonstrated by a sub-warden. Our sub-warden was supposed to know our mental stress at the beginning of the term two, however, she either did not care when she sent the email or deliberately pressed on us on that particular date.

Chen Ling

Even more perplexing is the sub-warden’s insistence that these students should inform her of the culprit within a 36-hour period, when she would subsequently inform them that, “I do not know how much (the repair costs), I did ask…… it usually takes a long time and given the pandemic it will take even longer.

The degree of pressure placed upon these students appears to be highly unnecessary. While Chen would write to the head warden of his accommodation to inform them that this behaviour was tantamount to ‘mental harassment’, he would not receive a response of understanding or an attempt to get to the bottom of this issue but would simply be referred to Wellbeing Support Services.

I am sorry that you feel that your metal health has suffered as a result of being asked to help identify who had cause the damage to the brand-new floor in CH06.

If this issue is causing you distress, then I would recommend that you get in touch with the University’s Wellbeing Support Services team: Wellbeing Support Services (

Subwarden of Cryfield

Don’t be ‘Selfish’ – Spy on your Neighbours!

Who needs Big Brother when everyone is policing one another!

Students at Warwick University were informed that they should take down the ‘name/room number of the person/people responsible’ for potential breaches in the universities Covid-19 policy.

In a rather condescending email, those living in Cryfield 6 were informed that ‘a small number of (very selfish!) people’ have ‘failed to comply’ with certain measures put in place at the university, whether this be wearing masks or leaving their household bubble.

Students would subsequently be encouraged to report any violation of these rules to their housing officer, so that these individuals receive a fine of up to £200.

An excerpt from this email:

As you know, the UK has been overwhelmed by a new strain of the virus, which has resulted in 68,053 new cases today with over 1,200 people dead. Crucially for all of us it has also resulted in a new six-week lockdown. It is a truly tragic situation that we are in because of a small number of (very selfish!) people who have failed to comply with simple measures that save lives.

I would like to encourage anyone who has witnessed a breach of the University’s regulations to reach out to me and let me know. It is helpful if you have a record of the breaches, including but not limited to the name/room number of the person/people responsible, frequency of breaches, and the date and time of breaches. If you don’t feel comfortable coming forward, at least keep the record in case someone you came into contact with tests positive, so you know when and how long your interaction may have been. All complaints will be dealt with anonymously.

It is important that you contact Security at the time of the incident so that the people who should not be in your flat can be dispersed as soon as possible to protect not just yourselves, but others whose health and wellbeing are in jeopardy. Ironically, that includes the people who are in breach of the rules and regulations.

To those of you who have been flouting the regulations, you should know that disciplinary action will be swift and may very well result in your accommodation contract being voided and you having to find a new place to live. Alternatively, in the most extreme of breaches, you may also have to find a new University to attend.

Subwarden of Cryfield

Whether you agree or disagree with the rules in place, what people should be able to agree on universally is that the university should, in no way, shape or form, ask those attending to spy on their flatmates or neighbours.

We must decide what kind of society and culture we want to live in… Do we really want to continue down this path – to exist with such little honour and empathy? What kind of lessons are we teaching the future generation? That it is acceptable to inform on our peers? That we should judge others without acquiring the information necessary to know what is at hand?

We have become so neurotic and fearful of those around us, that we have lost our human compassion and grit. Yes of course, we should be careful and take precautions as and when we can, but if it is to this degree, then I have to ask, at what cost?      

The absurdity of encouraging residents to spy on each other is beyond comprehension. No one wants to be the sad snitch sitting in a hedge at midnight with military-grade binoculars and a dowager’s hump. This is not how I view Higher Education and it is certainly not how I saw our futures panning out. Big Brother comes in many forms, some of them more eager than others… I understand the unprecedented circumstance that we are facing but does the university really believe that discipline can only be maintained through behaviour reminiscent of the Stasi’s? And with all due respect, it is even more repelling to know that these messages came from a Law PhD who studies constitutions and strives to become a Human Rights lawyer.

Chen Ling

If the university has created these rules, then they should be the one’s to enforce them… Not the students. Young adults are paying for their accommodation and tuition fees… Not to be a member of the Gestapo. It is not their responsibility to police their friends, their flatmates, or their neighbours. The University of Warwick needs to get a grip and realise that if they wish to receive the hard-earned cash and respect of students, that they themselves shouldn’t seek irreparably harm the dignity of this population.  

To read more about student housing issues read our last article here

Illustrated by Hermione Ross

About The Author

Gregory Segal

While humanity has has continuously ventured into the unknown, today we are on the precipice of a new uncertainty. With covid, political unrest, and economic decline we feel that another sinister turn is just round the corner. Although discussion, art, and storytelling won't necesserily create any solutions for this in the short-term it might provide a conduit for productive thought, or at the very least might take our minds off our current reality.

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