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.
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’.
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?
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:
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.
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:
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?
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