When my suitemates and I decided to live in McCrady Hall for our sophomore year, we were fully aware of the dorm’s subpar reputation, as well as some of the previous resident’s bug and mold-related horror stories. We also knew about the lack of air conditioning and the shoebox-sized rooms, but we were running out of options, and the idea of a central-campus dorm was alluring. I brushed off what I’d heard and tried to be optimistic. I’d even heard rumors of renovations being done over the summer. What I didn’t expect was that I’d have to face a Crady horror story of my own.
It was Sunday night, right after Shake Day weekend, when I was in bed mindlessly scrolling on TikTok around 1 a.m. (as one does), and I heard what sounded like crinkled plastic sounds coming from my desk area. I was confused at first, but I disregarded the noise as the fan on my desk blowing things around, and went back to my phone. I heard the crinkling again, and I turned on my bedside lamp just in time to watch a thin, long, fuzzy brown tail scurry between my desk and the wall. There was a mouse in my room, and it was eating my ramen six feet away from my bed. Reader, I thought I was going to pee myself.
For context, I wasn’t kidding when I called Crady a shoebox. My room is about 12 by eight feet. Our dorm also has a four-person suite-style layout, but since most of the study rooms are about the same size as bedrooms, my roommates and I had opted for each of us to have our own personal sleeping space instead of trying to fit two beds in one. Don’t get me wrong– we love our rooms, but as one can imagine, being alone in a small, dark, contained space with a hidden vermin who you can hear but barely see is absolutely terrifying. And, for the record, I was more afraid of it than it was of me.
Desperate for a solution, I grabbed the ramen from the bottom of my snack cart that the mouse (which I would later learn was actually a rat) had been chewing on and placed it in the hallway outside of my room, hoping to draw the pest out. I returned to bed, turned out the lights, and stared intently at the gap between my door and the floor. Soon enough, I saw the creature’s tail dash under the crack. Quickly, I jumped out of bed, grabbed a beach towel from my closet, and stuffed it in the gap. It was a futile solution, but at least I could rest (slightly) easy knowing that I’d outsmarted the vermin. I didn’t.
On Monday, after my classes I drove with a friend to Ace Hardware to get some rodent repellent spray. What I’d learned from a very helpful Google search is that mice and rats absolutely hate the smell of peppermint and garlic because it messes with their senses, so I bought a can and sprayed it all over my room, including my doorway and window sills. I also texted the other people in my hallway and offered the spray to them, just in case the rodent tried sneaking into anyone else’s rooms. Killing the rat would be a last resort. If the spray worked, I’d finally be in the clear. Unfortunately, I severely underestimated the audacity and intelligence of rodents. It came back despite my attempts with the towel. I watched the damn thing scurry over my fan as I was lying in bed. I thought I was going to have a panic attack.
I called my dad in tears. He told me that mice and rats like to stick to walls because of their bad eyesight, so the vermin had been traveling across my room in the dark corners where most of my furniture was, leaving droppings all over the area under my bed as a sniffing trail it could follow. My dad stayed on the phone with me as I moved everything out from under my bed and told me that this was an insane health hazard because of the diseases the rodent and its feces could be carrying. Why hadn’t I contacted Res Life?
Well, first of all, I thought I could handle the situation by myself. Secondly, I told my dad that Res Life has a reputation among students on campus for being very unhelpful and unresponsive when it comes to dorm issues. This was around the same time that the whole raccoon and flea problem at the Wick was unfolding, and I’d been hearing about the ins and outs of the situation because one of my close friends currently lives there, including the numerous problems that she and other residents were having with Res Life and their cooperation. It was my impression that if I called them, they’d either blow the problem off or take too long to get back to me before the situation worsened. Once I told my dad all of this, he proposed an idea: I’d call Res Life in the morning, and then we’d call them together in the afternoon. I finally fell asleep around 2 a.m. in my peppermint and garlic-reeking room and prayed that I’d wake up in time for my 8 a.m. class.
Tuesday morning, I tried calling Res Life on my own. They informed me that they’d send someone by the next day to clean out the droppings and the nest. That meant living another 24 hours with a mouse in my room, which meant more hours of stress, and therefore less hours of sleep because of that stress. My assumptions about what I’d heard about Res Life only grew, and I decided that it was time to declare war against the rodent on my own. After my 8 a.m. class, I drove back to Ace Hardware and bought the essentials: Clorox bleach spray, gloves, a mask, eye protection, and rat traps. When I returned, I started looking for where the vermin had created a nest. Searching behind my desk, I discovered that not only had the rodent made a home inside the automatic heater, but it had destroyed and chewed apart my $160 Vera Bradley duffel bag that was gifted to me when I was ten. The bag-eater had also chewed multiple holes in both of my $80 Eno hammocks and had torn apart the strap of a brand-new tote bag I’d recently received from my sorority. Around $320 to $350 worth of damage done to my personal belongings, all by a single animal. It’s almost amusing. The rodent had an expensive taste! Instead of choosing to nibble on the baskets of cozy yarn I had under my bed for my crochet projects, it’d picked the most pricey items to outfit its humble abode in my heater.
Photo courtesy of Claire Fortney
As I put on the gloves, mask, and goggles to clean and disinfect everything with the Clorox spray, I looked in the mirror and felt like a DIY mix between Bob Duncan from Good Luck Charlie and the elderly French lady from Ratatouille. I really was going to war. In the middle of my cleaning, I got a call from my dad. He’d contacted Res Life about the situation, and we were going to have a short conference call with one of the staff members. During that call, I was informed that instead of the original plan for a cleaning crew to come tomorrow, they would now arrive in an hour to help me clean out the droppings. Pest control would come later to clean out the nest. Because of my dad’s call, I was now getting the immediate help that I so desperately needed when I contacted Res Life in the first place. To make my room more accessible to clean, I moved half of my belongings into the Crady hallway and left to carry on with my day.
By 3 p.m., when I returned to Crady, the droppings and the nest were gone. That evening, as I set the rat traps that I’d bought earlier, I felt so relieved for this whole ordeal to finally be over. If it came back, I’d be more than prepared.
Photo courtesy of Claire Fortney
Unfortunately, the war with the rodent wasn’t over at all. In the rat’s persistence to become a full-time Crady resident, it had managed to move into my neighbor’s suite across the hall, which, if I were to tell that part of this story, would require a part II.
While my battle with the rat certainly wasn’t as severe as the Wick’s raccoon and flea situation, it’s crucial to link the two events in a larger conversation about the relationship and trust issues between students and the Residential Life office at Sewanee. To me and many of my peers, it seems like most of our dorm problems, ranging from pest control to maintenance and even basic living conditions, are mostly disregarded until a parent is involved. Shouldn’t our voices matter as much, if not more than a parent’s, considering that this campus exists and continues to thrive because of our enrollment?
Even though I understand that the Res Life office is short-staffed, it’s disheartening to feel helpless in situations like mine where an office explicitly created to provide students support with housing isn’t doing that exact thing–efficiently helping a student in a housing crisis. My particular story is one of many, but I hope that sharing this with the greater Sewanee community encourages others, especially students, not to let their voices or problems on campus go unheard, even when it feels like the only resource you can rely on is yourself.
Photo Courtesy of Claire Fortney