I have a theory that there is a ghost in the house I grew up in. It’s not a scary ghost that lives to haunt, but a benevolent entity that loves to play tricks. My house ghost has a penchant for stealing, making you wonder how the object you had on your person mere seconds ago has somehow vanished. The items always turned up later, underneath couches or beds.
I just moved out of my childhood home in Mississauga and left my ghost behind. A few weeks ago, it stole one of my slippers and I couldn’t help but think that the ghost wanted to keep a piece of me. Because as much as that house built me, my family built that house.
I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of home. Not only because I left the one I grew up in, but also because I have lived more places in the last year than I have in the previous decade. I lived in Edwards Hall in my first year and have spent the school year in a student house. I have wrestled with the question of where to call my home base. Is it the place where I spend the majority of my nights? The place where the people I love the most are? The place that challenges me? The place that comforts me?
My adulthood up until this point has been the loss of constants. Schedules that change from week to week. Different places to lay my head. I feel nomadic sometimes, always living half in and out of a suitcase. I’m always leaving somewhere soon, whether by the end of the day, week, month or year.
I am picky about what I call “home.” I don’t like to say “let’s go home” on vacation because we’re returning to a generic hotel room, not a place where I have grown and changed. I called Edwards Hall “Eddy” instead of home. I call my student house “the house.” But I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t need to discriminate between homes and houses, because even if a place doesn’t change me, I changed it.
Shortly before I moved out of Edwards Hall, I discovered the names of past residents written on the wall above the bed. Before I left, I added my name. I forgot my over-the-door hook in the room and now someone else probably uses it.
And there are others that left a mark. The residents that wrote “Traphouse 5” under the room number. Whoever broke my closet hook. The people whose push pins left holes in the corkboard. Those responsible for the nicks in the desk.
We leave marks wherever we go. My housemates and I turned a trashed student house into a semblance of a cozy space. When I leave my room, I might leave the curtains behind, or at least the rod. I am the person who chose pink for the walls.
In my childhood home, we left marks too. I made the hole in the basement wall. We changed flooring and light switches, put in shelving and backsplash and bushes. We tore out all the grass on the property. My father built the deck. My mother picked the bright colours with which she painted the walls. Despite the repaint, you could still see the reds and yellows where the ceiling meets the wall.
But I think there are other, invisible ways that we change the spaces we occupy. There is a legacy that we leave with the way we moved, the way we loved, the way we hated. Maybe the friendship that my roommate and I formed in Edwards Hall blessed this year’s occupants. Maybe the laughter of my housemates and I will echo there when we’re gone. Maybe my family’s undying love for one another will make my childhood home a happy one for the young family that moved in.
I would be naïve to exclude the bad. Maybe unkind words whispered behind backs, fights, disagreements, lack of communication — maybe that strains a home, makes it weary and old. Maybe the tears shed when hearts are heavy makes the roof sag. Maybe the lives mourned makes the floors creak.
However, it is more than just houses. It is streets and cities. The wear on the sidewalks from all the times my sister and I walked to 7-11 for Slurpees. The words swirling in the air as I wrote bad poetry at my elementary school bus stop. My fingerprints on the Mississauga city buses I don’t ride anymore. The pennies I’ve thrown in mall fountains. Our memories change spaces.
I have spent the last seven months writing about the artists, entrepreneurs and activists in Hamilton. Before I got to do this work, I would have never even suggested that Hamilton was home. But now I know its art and its culture. Now that I have left a record that won’t be erased, I would be remiss to say it isn’t a home.
When the year begins, we talk a lot about how McMaster and Hamilton will become home for us over time. For some people, that is true and for others, it is not. But if you want to claim this campus or this city as your own, know that it’s yours. You changed it because you were here.
As the school year comes to a close, many of us will be leaving places; our residences, our student houses, our campus, this city. Our childhood homes for smaller homes, our permanent houses for hotel rooms. In transit, it is easy to feel like you have no base, no where that you belong to. But the ghosts that keep parts of you will remember you were there.
Students entering university are faced with many new things: new classes, new friends and sometimes even new living arrangements. But students living in on-campus residences should not have to worry about their safety.
To help students transition into living away from home, and to enforce the rules of residence life, McMaster University community advisors live with first-year students in their residences. Their purpose is to “develop and maintain an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth.”
To be a CA, one must fulfill many qualifications including maintaining a minimum sessional average of 6.0, being a full-time McMaster University student, demonstrating responsibility and leadership abilities and have a working knowledge or building community within students.
But for all the listed requirements, CAs are not required to complete any sort of police background check, including a very important vulnerable sector check.
VS checks are a collection of offence information that is restricted to applicants seeking employment or volunteering in a position of authority or trust over vulnerable persons in Canada. They can be obtained easily from the police service in your residing jurisdiction.
The lack of VS checks for CAs is problematic for many reasons. For one, many incoming students are under 18-years-old. In these cases, it is evident that these students are considered vulnerable persons and subsequently require additional protection from those in positions of authority and trust like CAs.
But even for incoming students who are legally adults, their role as a first-year student inherently places them in a lower position of power relative to their CAs. This power dynamic can be harmful if the CAs have a history of offensive behaviour.
CAs have a lot of influence over the first-year students under their supervision. CAs are oftentimes students’ first interaction with upper-year students and are meant to be the go-to person for questions about campus and residence life. To not conduct a proper background check on them is negligent of the university in ensuring that students are protected.
The lack of VS checks is not an exclusive issue of CAs. In addition to CAs, residence-affiliated positions such as the residence orientation representative are not required to complete VS checks.
In fact, part-time managers, the board of directors and other McMaster Students Union positions do not require the completion of a VS check.
Considering that almost all of these roles involve interaction with and power over a vulnerable population of students, it makes no sense why these roles do not require VS checks. If anything, the lack of VS checks puts students in avoidable danger.
In addition to VS checks, McMaster University should do a more thorough job of ensuring that individuals hired for their positions are positive reflections of the university. This includes ensuring that these individuals have not been reported to university administration or asked to withdraw from their positions previously.
The lack of sufficient and necessary screening of individuals in positions of power within the university is alarming. For McMaster University to truly commit to ensuring student safety, they must create better hiring policies that begin with implementation of VS checks.
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Two thirds of the way through the school year, the last thing on many students’ minds is their living situation. Between midterms, final exams and group meetings, students, especially those in residence, begin to see their rooms as a place to get a few hours of sleep before racing through another day. Unfortunately, some residence rooms are dealing with new, unwanted roommates.
For the past few months, Whidden Hall, a residence in the North Quad of campus, has been contending with an outbreak of bedbugs. Once associated with squalor, bedbugs have become a common pest in recent years, with discoveries of their presence in hotels, movie theatres and on public transit.
For this reason, Kevin Beatty, McMaster’s Director of Housing and Conference Services, is reluctant to call the recent outbreak a problem. “We typically see bedbugs over the course of the year. It's not uncommon to see them. But what is uncommon in this situation is that there seems to be a bit of a flare-up,” he said. He added that while the current bout has been present in Whidden for a few months, the treatment plan was put in place fairly soon after. “We have a comprehensive bedbug response plan in residence,” he said.
According to Beatty, all Community Advisors in residence are trained in how to deal with the reporting of bedbugs. Within 24 hours of a report being issued, pest control is brought in. “If the pest control company has something called proof of pests, so an actual bedbug or some trace that it exists, then they would take the next steps which would be working with the students to execute the treatment plan.”
This treatment plan involves students washing their bed sheets, clothing and other personal effects in biodegradable plastic bags, which help heat the objects in the washing machine, a process that kills the bedbugs. Pest control also treats the room in question, and comes in 14 days later to re-treat it.
While the initial reaction to the discovery of bugs may be to move to a different location, Beatty explained that this is not an ideal procedure. He said that if students are not present in their environment, the bugs will remain inactive. “The other reason is that you don't want people to move because one of the challenging aspects of bedbugs is that they're distributed in social networks ... that's why we advise students not to go home and why we don't move them.”
At the time that spoke with Beatty, the flare-up was isolated in Whidden. Since then, reports suggest the issue has spread to Bates Residence in the University’s West Quad, but Beatty could not be reached for further comment.
“We typically see bedbugs over the course of the year ... But what is uncommon in this situation is that there seems to be a bit of a flare-up."
For his part, Beatty remains optimistic about the “flare-up” being taken care of quickly and without fanfare. “We're lucky that residence students are quick to identify which allows us to be quick to respond,” he said.
Photo Credit: Jon White/ Photo Editor