Last August at the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester, seniors Ariana Farrington and Sierra Perry discovered what they thought to be mold inside of the vent in their apartment in Village 221 room A.
After experiencing a heightened issue with her allergies within the first few days of the move-in period, Farrington captured photos of the growth and contacted her Resident Adviser, Jazmin Morris, who then requested university maintenance to take a look.
Upon arrival, the maintenance workers told the students it was dust in their vent rather than mold.
“We care about the terminology we use. Whenever you’re dealing with a situation - some type of a growth we don’t necessarily know what it is, and we never want to jump the gun as to what it is,” said Director of Housing and Residence Life, Paul Posener.
The workers wiped down the area and said they would be back later in the day to remove the vent grating; the workers did not return to remove the grating until three days later. Once they returned, the workers soaked the vent in chemicals before reinstalling it two days later.
Farrington, who has worked under multiple cleaning and housekeeping businesses, said she recognized it as mold because of her work experience and was not convinced when the workers told her it was dust.
“This was frustrating because I worked in housekeeping for several years and I have seen mold and dust related issues, and because of this, I knew that it was mold that was growing on the vent,” Farrington said in an email sent to the Housing and Residence Life Office.
Over the next two months following the cleaning of the vent, Perry got sick on three separate occasions with similar symptoms as well as Farrington.
The students went to the doctors at both Southeastern as well as Student Health Services, multiple times after having a panel ran that included mono, strep throat and the flu. The symptoms all came back negative.
Both Farrington and Perry said when they left for fall break, they started to feel better, but after returning to the apartment the same symptoms the students were experiencing came back.
"That was me having to pay to commute here all the time when I have an apartment I should be able to live in."
Student Health Services was unable to comment due to restrictions on diagnosing mold sickness.
“We had left for fall break and immediately started to get better. But within a few hours of me being back in the room, I was getting sick again. I was starting to sneeze, starting to have the same kind of breathing issues. Once that happened I spent maybe two weeks there before I went back to my grandmas house,” Farrington said. “I stayed in Fayetteville for a month to try and get better, and I did, I got better within a few days. That was me having to pay to commute here all the time when I have an apartment I should be able to live in.”
After a second time of going to the doctors following fall break, the physician who oversaw Farrington’s care suggested that her symptoms could be the product of exposure to mold and recommended there be a testing done in her apartment.
“The biggest concern to me was that even without us having to tell the physicians that we had these issues going on in our apartment, they instantly asked us ‘do you have mold in your apartment?’ without even having to say it they said that it sounded like mold sickness,” Perry said.
Following the second visit to the doctors, Farrington emailed Housing and Residence Life as well as the Chancellor stating the concern of the safety of their room and the urgency of getting a mold test done by the university.
Chancellor Cummings replied the following day and had maintenance come to inspect the vents; maintenance then said it was mildew, contradicting the initial inspection when they ensured the students it was dust.
The students never saw the results of the test but were told everything looked fine.
Following the mold testing, both Farrington and Perry requested to be released from their housing agreements in Village Apartments.
Farrington reached out to Posener in attempts to set up a meeting in early December.
Danquis McDaniel, the former community director for Village Apartments, set up a meeting for Dec. 13 where Posener told the girls that they would not be able to be released from their housing agreement, but would rather be relocated to another housing facility.
Perry responded to McDaniel to inform him of the decision of their relocation but did not hear back for the entirety of winter break.
“Our needs are number one priority because we are paying this amount of money to stay somewhere and it’s their responsibility to make sure that we are comfortable and we are satisfied,” Perry said.
The moving process was held up due to a change in staffing in the midst of Farrington and Perry’s case, according to Posener.
Upon their return following winter break, on Jan. 7, Farrington and Perry reached out for the second time to the Chancellor’s office for clarity on the standing of their housing arrangements.
The students were informed that they would not be able to be moved until the designated room change period, which would not take place until Jan. 23-24.
The students’ housing was not resolved until the first week of the spring semester where they began to move in to their new apartment.
After dealing with the incident, Posener explained some of the protocol for dealing with instances of environmental growths in the university apartments.
“So our protocol first and foremost is to make sure the students are safe,” Posener said. “Step one is seeing what it is and seeing if it’s something that we need to ask the students, do you feel comfortable being here or do you not feel comfortable being here?”
Posener explained the process of which the university must undergo when dealing with any instances of environmental growths or mold.
“If it’s something that we can determine what it is, we will clean it and we will resolve the problem, if it’s something we cannot determine what it is or something we cannot fix ourselves we’ll bring in an expert, they’ll test the area, they’ll tell us what it is and they’ll give us an opinion on what we need to do next as to how we need to clean it,” Posener said.
Once the university hires an outside company to come in and inspect the area, Posener said the workers will clean both the inside and outside of the vent or airduct.
“We want to make sure it’s not just the vent, but what’s behind the vent. So we’ll take down the vent, see what’s inside the vent, clean the vent and what’s behind it,” Posener said.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “in determining which materials can be cleaned and what should be removed, the two important factors are how porous (absorbent) the material is and how extensive the mold growth is.”
Posener also stressed the importance of maintaining a clean environment in living spaces as well as making sure students are proactive about reporting any potential incidents of environmental growths.