The University of Mississippi has released its student housing strategic plan for the next six years, which addresses, in part, “student misperceptions around mold and mildew in traditional residence halls.”
As recently as 2018, residents of Crosby Hall — the largest residence hall on campus — have reported becoming sick from mold growing in the rooms, showers and bathrooms, and poor air quality. The university addressed mold issues in 2018, but it has since repeatedly denied that the living conditions in dorms are a continuing problem.
The plan also states that the university will develop a plan to address the ceilings in Crosby Hall by 2024. While the university report did not provide details specifying the problem with the ceilings, Crosby residents have reported seeing spots of mold growing on their ceilings.
“I definitely feel like the ceilings should be fixed now and not be pushed off until 2024,” Emma Grace Kelly, a freshman integrated marketing communications major who currently lives in Crosby Hall, said. She complained of frequently being sick and having several spots that appear to be mold on her ceiling.
Mold is a health hazard, and one that dorm residents have alleged for years. Exposure can cause headaches, nose bleeds, upper respiratory issues, rashes, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and fatigue. In those with impaired immune systems, mold can cause more serious infection, and long-term exposure can lead to allergy and asthma problems.
“When I am home for a certain period of time, I feel completely normal,” Kelly said. “I have several friends in Crosby who get sick at college and feel normal at home. One of my friends got so sick that she went to urgent care and tested positive for mold in her system.”
Students have complained about how living in Crosby has negatively impacted their health over the past several years.
“I have been sick since August,” Kendra Ingram, a student who was living in Crosby at the time, told the Daily Mississippian in October 2018. “When I went into the university Health Center in August, they knew I lived in Crosby right away and said that was the reason I was getting sick.”
Ingram experienced a sore throat and cough and was diagnosed with bronchitis. She also said the portable air filter in her dorm turned the color black.
In 2019, the Oxford Eagle reported that a student living in Crosby Hall and her roommate were experiencing nosebleeds due to mold. The student’s mother, Brittany Musser, said her daughter was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection.
After seeing photos of the ceiling in Crosby, Musser instructed her daughter to buy an at-home mold testing kit. Her daughter exposed the petri dish to the air in her dorm room for one hour. After a 48 hour wait time, Aspergillus Niger, a form of black mold, had grown in the kit.
In September 2019, Student Housing director John Yaun denied the presence of mold in any of the university’s residence halls in a letter sent to Crosby residents.
“The Department of Student Housing has seen no evidence of active mold growth in any residential environment within Crosby Hall or other residential buildings across campus,” Yaun said in the letter. “Please be assured that we are committed to providing and maintaining safe, healthy facilities for all of our students.”
The most recent Crosby Hall air quality report from September 2019 concluded that 23 rooms in the building had “visible stains” on the ceiling perimeter. It also found a water leak above the tenth floor janitor’s closet.
Surface sampling found that five rooms in Crosby Hall had rare or low concentrations of mold spores, while one room on the eighth floor had a medium concentration, and one fifth floor room had low, medium and high concentrations. Bathrooms on floors four and six had rare, low or medium concentration of mold spores in the shower areas. The report noted that housekeeping should be informed and the showers should be cleaned.
Anne-McLain Herbert, a freshman integrated marketing communications major, currently lives in Martin Hall and says her health has been negatively impacted by the condition of the dorm. Since moving in, she’s experienced a consistent dry cough, stuffy nose and sore throat.
“Everyone I know is always sick, and they blame it on ‘Martin air’,” Herbert said. “I think putting students in an environment like this is not fair for the amount of money we are paying. The air we breathe should be the first thing that is focused on.”
Herbert taped an air filter over the vent in her dorm room in an attempt to minimize her symptoms, but she said the filter started turning black 24 hours after installing it.
“It was completely dirty after two weeks. The air filters are for homes and are supposed to last two months,” Herbert said. “I also have an air purifier that is supposed to be changed every 2 years, and I had to change it after my first semester.”
When Herbert vacated the dorm for several weeks over winter break, her sickness subsided. She relapsed immediately upon her return.
“I was not sick even once, and as soon as I returned to school, I went to the clinic twice in one week,” Herbert said. “I had a sinus infection.”
Now, the new student housing strategic plan says the university will facilitate mold testing each summer in Crosby, Martin and Stockard halls. This year, they plan to benchmark other SEC institutions and practices to gather information.
The university report also says officials intend to review air testing findings annually with department staff and publish the findings of air test results on the website each year.