Administration Downplays Pest Problem
Issue   |   Wed, 10/05/2011 - 01:42

Last week, Danny Lee ’13 was working on an essay in his Valentine Hall dorm room when he heard a rustling noise. When he looked down, he saw a rodent, which he was unable to clearly identify as either a rat or a mouse (the administration says that there are no rats on campus), sitting on a piece of paper on the floor. Before he could grab the creature, it bolted out of his room. When Lee reported the incident to the custodian, he was handed a mousetrap and caught the rodent a few hours later. Lee remarked, “It seems like rats can’t resist peanut butter.”

As the weather has gotten cooler, insects and rodents have migrated indoors to escape the cold. Inevitably, this means more mouse-human interactions in dorm rooms and other buildings. This year there have already been at least six sightings of mice, although certainly not all sightings are reported to the administration. The reported sightings have occurred in Valentine, Garman, Hitchcock, Humphries, Taplin, Morrow and the Rainbow Room, which received a visit from a mouse when it entered through an open window over the summer.

“Amherst College responds to all reports of bugs and other pest calls, including mice. The response could be from the custodial department, my office or by Minuteman Pest Control directly,” said Rick Mears, Environmental Health and Safety Manager for the College. “Typically, the mice want to get out of the cold.”

Mears said that the mice are typically drawn to places with “housekeeping issues” on the lower floors.

“In most of those rooms we find waste on the floor, spillage including food, dirty dishes in piles and overflowing waste containers,” Mears said. “We require the areas to be cleaned, request that food be placed in durable plastic containers, like Tupperware, and then, if still necessary, ask Minuteman Pest Control to assist us with additional control measures.”

According to Mears, most mouse sightings occur in poorly-maintained rooms. But Lee maintained that that analysis was too harsh.

“Certainly poor housekeeping might propagate the problem, but I think blaming the students for the problem is rather a medieval argument: it’s not as if poor housekeeping results in rodents suddenly materializing from the filth, like how medieval Europeans thought maggots materialized from raw meat,” Lee said.

Lee believes that the College extending the blame to students is irrational since students have no control over the “movement of a mouse.” Once inside the building, she said, the mouse is not going to leave until it is caught or leaves on its own.

Charles Thompson, Director of Dining Services, says that College food is not at risk of contamination by the mice. College food supplies are kept in secure storage, and food preparation areas are kept clean. Minuteman Pest Control, employed by the College to combat the mouse problem, places mousetraps around campus and performs monthly maintenance in Val. The traps used kill mice, and although some have proposed to use humane traps, this option has been ruled out because freed mice will try to get back into buildings.

Pamela Stawasz, Associate Director of Residential Life, says students can avoid mouse infestations in their rooms by maintaining good housekeeping habits.

“Unfortunately, we (those of us who live on campus) often encourage this ourselves by leaving food around and not cleaning up after events and parties where food and drinks are spilled,” Stawasz said. “It is important not to leave food out, to clean up any spills and to put any unused food in sealed Tupperware-type containers.”

Students, according to Stawasz, also tend to leave dirty dishes out in open area, which only serves to propagate the problem.
“We need to be aware that our (lack of) housekeeping practices are affecting this problem,” she said.

Students who find mice are asked to report sightings to the Service Center (413-542-2254).