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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLACampus Safety

Scott Bays: Appliance ban not beneficial, Housing should instead spark safety conversations

(Alice Lu/Daily Bruin)

By Scott Bays

May 22, 2018 9:22 p.m.

Despite UCLA Housing’s best efforts, Bruins still have their hands all over them. Administrators can’t stop students from using and sharing them. UCLA thinks they are so dangerous they can even start fires in students’ rooms.

I’m talking, of course, about coffee makers, water heaters and microwaves.

UCLA Housing’s on-campus housing regulations prohibit students from owning coffee makers, space heaters, water heaters, toasters and microwaves. UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado said coffee makers, water heaters and microwaves are banned because residence halls cannot accommodate their electrical demands and because they are ignition sources.

But by that logic, the Hill should have burned down ages ago. Students frequently talk about hiding these items in their dorm rooms, and one look at the UCLA Memes for Sick AF Tweens Facebook page can show us just how ingrained in campus culture these appliances are.

Instead of outright banning everyday utilities, Housing should urge students to use these appliances cautiously. Students already violate the Hill’s ban on these devices, and advising residents on how to properly and safely use them would do more to promote safety in the residence halls than forcing these common items into the shadows.

Despite the danger UCLA sees in these devices, many students own and use these appliances every day.

Carmen Gratz, a fourth-year psychology student, said she owned both a microwave and a water heater when she lived on the Hill.

“Students bring those appliances regardless of the ban … so (Housing) should lift the ban and save the (resident assistants) trouble,” she said.

That’s not to say students aren’t privy to the hazards associated with these appliances. Bryan Ong, a second-year civil engineering student, said while he believes most UCLA students are responsible enough to own and use these appliances in their rooms, it makes sense the Hill institutes the ban for the potential few who operate them unsafely.

Bans on combustibles, candles and explosives are understandable due to the clear danger these items present and their lack of practical everyday use. But coffee makers, water heaters and microwaves do not present such a danger. Their ubiquity on and off the Hill also means many students are familiar enough with them to use them safely.

And Housing must know this to a certain degree. Microwaves are available in many common areas across the Hill. It seems unlikely that students might start a fire from mismanagement in these places, as opposed to in their own rooms. UCLA also allows students to own MicroFridges, which are small refrigerators with microwaves affixed to the top.

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why the disparity in microwave policies exists. If students can be expected to responsibly use MicroFridge microwaves, it’s hard to imagine they can’t do the same with standard ones.

Besides, Housing’s enforcement mechanism doesn’t do much to discourage Bruins from breaking the rules. Students are subject to room inspections throughout the year, during which they can be punished for owning banned items. Inspections are rather limited in their scope, as Housing staff cannot open drawers or closets. Only if a student leaves a prohibited item sitting out in plain view can they be punished.

Plus, RAs tend to alert their residents about when room inspections will be. Gratz said she never worried about getting in trouble for housing these appliances in her dorm room because she always knew when room inspections would be ahead of time.

Likewise, Alvarado said the university does not have data readily available pertaining to how frequently using these appliances leads to dangerous situations. It seems UCLA hasn’t quantifiably justified to students why Keurig coffee makers are banned on the Hill – except of course to shout “fire.”

And unless RAs decide to shift their loyalties away from fellow students, some Bruins will continue to own and use these prohibited items in their rooms.

The best way for Housing to keep irresponsible students from owning these appliances, then, is to reduce the number of irresponsible students. RAs should instruct all students living on the Hill about how to properly use coffee makers, water heaters and microwaves at their mandatory student-RA meetings at the beginning of the school year. This measure could help ensure all residents know how to safely manage these items. It would also ensure Bruins are responsible enough to own these appliances in their rooms.

Housing isn’t wrong for trying to ensure appliance safety in residential halls, but it could be a lot smarter about the way it does so. Considering students already use devices such as coffee makers, water heaters and microwaves despite the ban, it’s clear regulation, not prohibition, would more effectively ensure Hill safety.

After all, UCLA has some of the brightest students in the world. It’s time Housing realized we’re capable enough to make a cup of coffee without burning down a building.

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Scott Bays | Opinion columnist
Bays is an Opinion columnist.
Bays is an Opinion columnist.
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