A bed bug outbreak at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has prompted a subsequent swarm of criticism from students aimed at campus housing officials. A rash of stories and editorials in The Daily Nebraskan charges UNL staffers with failing to inform students in a timely manner about the growing infestation and instead spreading misinformation and even telling student RAs to lie to their residents.
The student newspaper has called for the resignation of the university housing director. Top staff explained in a recent editorial, “[A]s journalists, bedbugs have never been the issue. The issue at hand for us is apparent lies.”
The current hysteria that has been labeled “the bed bug situation” (and “Bed bug-gate“) began in early January, when a female student in a UNL residence hall saw the “parasitic insects” on her roommate’s bed. “I had my boyfriend kill them because bugs freak me out,” she told the Nebraskan. “After they were dead I didn’t think anything else about it and just went to bed . . . [But] that night I couldn’t go to sleep, I kept feeling these pinches of nerve pain all over my legs and arms.” She woke up the next morning with bite marks on her legs.
Various reports in the Nebraskan have confirmed the bugs are nocturnal, live off the blood of people and animals, and measure only “about one-third the width of a dime.” Yet, that was large enough for individuals to report sightings of them in two other campus locations in the first half of January.
Housing staffers and exterminators fully dealt with the bugs in these locations, and have gone on to fight the “nighttime crawlers” in more than 20 additional campus spots. They have set traps, fumigated rooms, tossed infected dorm furniture, purchased a carbon dioxide machine to freeze them, and even employed a trained bed-bug-sniffing rat terrier named Spots to help ferret them out. At a news conference last week, the school announced it would inspect every campus dorm room for the bugs, part of an effort that may total roughly $100,000.
But UNL officials did not begin regularly informing students about the outbreak until the latter half of January, when outside media began running related stories. According to the housing director, “The reason we didn’t make an effort initially to talk about it with other students was because of the way bedbugs travel. They are not known to migrate from one room to the room next door. . . . They are not contagious like a disease that we feel we have to warn people.”
The Daily Nebraskan is unconvinced, alleging that officials placed PR priorities over students’ well-being and right to know. They also allegedly asked an RA to lie about her own bedbug situation. As the student told the Nebraskan, “It’s not fair that I’d be asked to hide this from them. [My residents] could be at risk and not even know it, because Housing is trying to hide it. It’s like the Iron Curtain.” The university denies the accusation.
Ultimately, according to a recent DN editorial, “The Daily Nebraskan wants to know why Housing didn’t publicly disclose information about the bedbug situation the instant anything was known. . . . We respect that Housing now asks students to be its ‘eyes and ears’ in the bedbug situation. We only wonder why it took so long to ask.”
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