Boston University students claim they were threatened if they did not keep quiet about bed bugs in London BU dorm

by nobugsonme on October 9, 2007 · 3 comments

in bed bug epidemic, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs and students, bed bugs in colleges, boston, dorms, england, london, signs and symptoms of bed bugs, spread of bed bugs, united kingdom

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.

1 parakeets October 9, 2007 at 5:56 pm

Hooray for these students for speaking up and for being persistent, and for the BU paper for publishing this article. I have said it before–college students will lead the way in speaking out against bedbugs. Other stakeholders in society that have been affected by bedbugs, such as hotels or real estate management, have been silent because of the negative financial impact on their industries. The sectors such as public housing, senior housing, veterans’ housing don’t have a voice (excpet here where the stories are gathered). College students will lead the way.

2 nobugsonme October 16, 2007 at 1:05 pm

Update (10/15):

from Jason Millman and Matt Negrin of the BU Daily Free Press:

A couple weeks ago, we ran a story about two students who said a BU director in London told them they lied about having bedbugs in their room. When that story came to our desk, we were confident in the validity of the accusations, but we held the story for weeks to ensure we were certain of the story’s details and to give BU a proper chance to explain the situation. We called around BU’s various offices and sent emails for a week, and only heard back from very few, which we included in the story.

The day the story ran, we received letters from readers about the subject — some praising BU for dealing with pests quickly and some lamenting similar situations with the bugs. One letter, from an administrator in the International Programs office, said the students’ accusations were false.

Once the situation was out in the open, these invaluable letters showed many more sides of the story; in the administrator’s letter, he said the London offices will now use the same protocol as used by the Housing Office on the Charles River Campus.

3 A.S. March 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

I studied in London through Boston University, and I must say, this sounds consistent with the BU personality.

Staff were rude, and condescending, particularly our RA, M. Oliver, who SHOULD have been the most welcoming and accomodating.

Almost everything is slightly sub-par. We rarely have hot water from our showers, wireless is spotty; we can’t even open our windows. I would NOT reccommend this program to anyone looking for a quality study abroad experience.

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