Some Boston University students claim they were bitten by bed bugs in a London BU dorm, that the infestation was not properly identified or treated, and that they were threatened with losing future study abroad privileges if they told anyone about their experience, according to this article by Matt Kaplan in the BU independent student newspaper, the Daily Free Press, last week.
A BU junior said during her first night in the BU dorm Crofton in late May, she received small, red marks, each a centimeter wide, around her feet, legs and ankles. When she spoke with the associate director of British Programmes a month later after repeated unsuccessful attempts to meet, she was accused of making the marks herself, said the student, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of not being allowed to study abroad again.
The junior said she noticed the bites became larger and puffier and had spread over her entire body, but she and her roommate, Newbury College junior Michelle Beaton, did not complain until the second week. After their complaints, housekeepers sprayed the room using an aerosol insecticide and changed bed linens.
The aerosol insecticide worked briefly, but of course, the bed bugs came back with a vengeance:
Housekeeping and exterminators did not find evidence of a bedbug infestation in the students’ room, said Joe Finkhouse, international programs director of institutional relations, in an email to BU spokesman Colin Riley, to whom comments about the issue were directed.
“They wouldn’t admit we had bedbugs,” Beaton said. “We had all the symptoms of bedbugs.”
The students said the aerosol insecticide worked briefly, but eventually they began to notice more marks. Bedbugs do not spread diseases, nor are their bites particularly harmful to people.
“I was using makeup on my legs,” the BU junior said. “It was all over me. It was horrible.”
After the first spraying, the bugs got out of control, and she began seeing them, she said.
The junior said she tried contacting British Programmes Associate Director Alison Campbell after her room was first sprayed, but Campbell did not hear her case until about a month after. When they spoke, the BU junior said Campbell accused her of making the marks herself and said she “wasn’t allowed to tell anyone” about the situation.
BU’s Joe Finkhouse, international programs director of institutional relations, had this to say:
“Pests are not an ongoing problem in the London program or any other program site,” Finkhouse said in an email. “In fact, this was the first incident of its kind in London in over nine years. Over 4,000 students have participated in the London programs during that time. There have been no further reports since June.”
Well, it’s no great surprise, if students suffering from bites are threatened with retaliation for speaking about their experiences, as these students claim they were.
Students eventually got assistance with clothing cleaning bills and were moved to faculty housing at Lexam Gardens. (Hmmm… I wonder what happens to faculty who complain about bed bugs in their housing?)
Finkhouse had more to say:
“Fortunately, pest problems are extremely uncommon in our programs abroad,” he said. “We’re satisfied that the situation was handled well and quickly under the circumstances.”
What college administrators need to realize is that bed bugs are increasingly common everywhere. There’s no shame in contracting bed bugs; you will be judged not on the basis of having them, but on how you react to them, once a problem is identified.
I hope that BU’s study abroad program, and all international and domestic providers of student services, develop a proactive plan for preventing bed bugs, and dealing with them should they arise. Any complaints need to be met with a prompt, thorough inspection by a PCO and treatment by a PCO of the affected units. In this case, students claimed housekeeping staff coming in twice with an aerosol bottle represented the only treatment. It is extremely difficult to treat bed bugs, and professional, experienced pest control operators are the way to go. Unless more has been done since then, it is likely this dorm is still infested with bed bugs.