Pomona Administration's Response to Bed Bugs Frustrates Students

Mary Jane Coppock • The Student Life

After two weeks of exile, rounds of laundry and chemical sprays, and a month of frustration, Pomona College's Sontag Hall was finally deemed free of bed bugs, and residents of the Sontag 230 and 130 residential suites were allowed to move back into their suites on Oct. 6 and 7.

According to Mia Hahn PO ’16, a resident of Sontag 130, bed bugs were first reported on June 14 when one of her suitemates was living in the suite for a Summer Undergraduate Research Project. After three extermination treatments over the summer that Director of Facilities Judy Brown called thorough and successful, a student in Sontag 230 reported another bed bug sighting to the Office of Housing and Residential Life on Sept. 8.

“We just kept getting exterminations, and they wouldn’t die," Hahn said. "I would get bug bites right after the treatment, and that was really awful.”

According to residents of Sontag 130 and 230, several rounds of spray treatments throughout September were ineffective. Live bugs were discovered in both suites as well as in the laundry room after the second spray treatment on Sept. 22.

“The situation was emotionally and physically taxing for the students,” Hahn said. “The school largely didn’t know what to do.”

Allergies to bug bites and spray chemicals also raised health concerns for some students. According to Lexie Kelly-Wainwright PO ’16, a resident of Sontag 230, students in both suites had emailed Pomona's administration, but the first few emails regarding medical issues received no response. On Sept. 16, the students were eventually referred to Student Health Services.

“There’s just been a lot of miscommunication and misinformation,” Kelly-Wainwright said.

Alex Smith • The Student Life

Pomona has a bed bug protocol for infected individual rooms, but not for suites.

“The college had a bed bug procedure that has been successful in the past,” said Chris Waugh, associate dean of students and dean of campus life. “This time it’s a different situation because it is not an individual room that’s being treated. We’ve been learning from this and reaching out to other colleges and universities to find out what their procedures are. We’ve been talking to our exterminators and that’s how we learned about the heat treatment.”

Kelly-Wainwright said that there was also miscommunication from the administration about whether students would have to move out for the heat treatment. She said that administrators, exterminators, and some of the affected students met on the morning of Sept. 24 and agreed that everyone had to move out of the suites until heat treatment was complete.

But when the administration contacted the students who couldn't come to the meeting, the students were told that the move was optional. Another meeting had to take place that evening, and everyone in Sontag 130 and 230 eventually moved out to temporary rooms in other dorms.

"The response was totally inadequate initially and at every step of the way," Kelly-Wainwright said. "We don’t doubt the good intentions of everybody. Everybody wanted to get rid of the bed bugs. At every step of the way, after they’ve massively messed up, they’ve been very apologetic and genuine.”

On Oct. 6 and 7, heat treatments were performed in Sontag 230 and 130, as well as in Sontag 330 as a preventative measure. Since then, no live bug sightings have been reported. A specially trained dog also came to check the suites on Oct. 14 and found no bed bugs. The dog will check again on Oct. 19.

Bob Robinson, Pomona assistant vice president of facilities and campus services, said that the college has an effective bed bug treatment protocol, but that it requires collaboration between staff and students.

“Students play a pretty significant role in that process because there’s a number of requirements they have to follow as far as cleaning their clothes and making sure their belongings are adequately accounted for and protected in this process,” Robinson said. “It required a great deal of collaboration between a lot of moving parts.”

According to Kelly-Wainwright, a room in a Scripps College residence hall was also infected during this outbreak because one of the affected Pomona students temporarily moved to a friend's room there.

“Bed bugs were isolated to one room and the problem was actually resolved within 36 hours of being discovered,” Scripps Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson wrote in an email to TSL. “Scripps was very careful to contain the problem and prevent contamination of any additional rooms."

Waugh said that 5C residential life deans met last week to talk about bed bugs, and that Pomona will create a new draft of a protocol that will be shared with the other colleges. The new draft will be reviewed by facilities this week and students will give feedback within the next several weeks.

“We are expanding the list of treatment providers," Waugh said. "Another lesson we learned is that we want to start putting out information proactively about bed bugs. We’ve been absolutely grateful to the students for their patience and assistance in the process, and absolutely grateful to the staff for their hard work."