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'You cannot stay in the shadows about this anymore' | Augsburg University students protest against 'unsanitary living conditions' in dorms

Augsburg University students are calling for the Mortensen and Urness towers to be rebuilt with safer living conditions.

MINNEAPOLIS — Dozens of Augsburg University students, staff and alumni spent Tuesday afternoon protesting against what they call unsanitary living conditions in campus residence halls, particularly the Mortensen and Urness towers.

Students claim they have dealt with issues that include mold, pest infestations, lack of air conditioning and unclean water. Augsburg tells KARE 11 the university is addressing these concerns, but students say the towers should be replaced.

"Our tuition goes up and up every single year, but the quality of our housing goes down," said senior social work major Madisyn Gowans.

Gowans said she spent two years dealing with multiple roach infestations while living in Mortensen Hall with no support from the university.

"I tried to tell people and it wasn't getting solved. It didn’t get solved until January of the next year because I didn’t know I had to fill out a work order … it was never communicated to me that that was the procedure," said Gowans.

During that time, Gowans said she began suffering from emotional and psychological distress once the roaches moved from her kitchen into her living spaces, including her bedroom.

"[Roaches] would be on my sheets and in my clothes. It's just so horrible to feel that way. I can’t even describe how that feels. Unless you have been there, you don’t know," said Gowans.

Gowans said it wasn't until she threatened to call the Minnesota Department of Health that the university moved her to a new building.

Credit: Jasmine Boykin/KARE11
Augsburg University student and protestor holds sign that reads "HOUSING JUSTICE NOW!"

"This is disgusting behavior. And the university wonders why we don't submit more work orders or do more. It's because they have fostered a horrible relationship between residence life and its students," Gowans said to the gathered crowd.

Demonstration organizers Ali Olanda Oliva and Manu Kannare are both Augsburg University students, and say the university has turned a blind eye on their concerns. 

"[Students] should not be doing a tug of war just to have our needs met. Augsburg is responsible for meeting our needs however best they can get there," said Kannare. 

Oliva agreed, citing a lack of communication and accountability.

"My intention with this [protest] is to not point fingers and put the blame on anyone. I just want a clean space and I want students to feel safe and to not have to worry about 'oh there's a roach in my dorm," said Oliva.

The two say although they do not know what will happen next, they are still open to working with Augsburg's administration to make changes.

"They (administrators) are so important to the students. They are the ones who can create the change we are asking for. Without their help, we can't get anywhere," said Kannare. "I am looking forward to hearing from them and seeing how we as a collective can join our ideas and make better solutions possible."

In a statement to KARE11, Augsburg University officials said efforts are underway to improve the situation. 

"We know that pest concerns can be upsetting to students even if only a small number of residence hall units are directly affected. Campus leaders have met with student government as well as individual students in recent weeks to discuss concerns around the residence halls and solicit feedback to improve processes going forward.

As a proactive measure, a comprehensive assessment of all units in Mortensen Hall was completed on September 7–9 by an external pest control company. Efforts have also been underway for several months to ensure that students are familiar and comfortable with the online facilities work order request system. In prior years we did not have a comprehensive approach to ensuring all students were informed about how and when to use it, so this may be a new process for some students. Residence Life has prioritized communication about facilities requests at floor meetings already this semester, and will continue to do so throughout the year. Our facilities department closely tracks all open pest complaints and prioritizes those work orders.

Going forward, we're creating a residence life committee to continue to address and solve concerns in the residence halls. This committee will be led by student government members and will include the dean of students, residence life staff, facilities staff, and public safety staff. All interested students are welcome to join.

Augsburg is committed to providing safe and comfortable accommodations for our residential students, and where there are issues, we’ll work diligently to address them."

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