Extreme fire safety rules in the way of student expression

As of last week, Resident Assistants have begun their annual fire safety checks for the semester. Their job is simple: Go into the room, make sure the room is up to code and meets fire safety regulations and codes and determine whether or not your room is safe. As simple as these checks should be, things have changed thanks in part to Oswego State’s new fire marshal, who made it his priority to revise the regulations for fire safety within the residence halls. His motives are highly understandable. The fire marshal is simply doing his job by ensuring our safety from any potential fires and preventing them from happening. Some of the familiar regulations remain, including the barring of microwaves, candles and space heaters in the dorm rooms. These are just a few objects out of many others that can cause a serious fire, not many on-campus residents are going to contest banning those potential fire starters.

Yet the questions that have been brought up regard the banning of flags and/or tapestries, and allowing only 10 percent of the wall to be used for décor. Do these additional regulations make as much sense as the previously set ones? Even more so, could this be violating our rights to freedom of expression?

As residents have been made aware of the new regulations and restrictions, their responses, as one could imagine, are of both disapproval and dissatisfaction. Some have expressed their concern regarding their rights as students and even as civilians being restricted in college and for good reason. A good majority of the student body pay large sums of money, be it through loans or out-of-pocket, to live on campus in the residence halls. Why shouldn’t residents be allowed to hang up as many posters as they want? After all, these students spend roughly eight months of the year living on campus, shouldn’t they be allowed to decorate their rooms however they want in order to increase their comfort levels? Don’t the students “live where they learn?”

One RA, who shall remain anonymous, made it clear that the reasoning behind the revised fire safety regulations regards an incident that occurred 14 years ago. The incident occurred at Seton Hall University in New Jersey when two roommates lit a banner on fire in the lounge of a residence hall as part of a prank gone wrong. As a result of the prank, three students died and 58 others were injured in the blaze. The two pranksters pleaded guilty to arson and murder. Due to the events 14 years ago, Oswego State’s fire marshal deemed it necessary to revise the previously set regulations to prevent an incident like this from occurring on our campus. While his intentions are understood and appreciated, they are also flawed. The incident at SHU occurred in a lounge, not a dorm room. The residence hall also lacked a proper fire sprinkler system. In addition, the SHU incident is the only deadly fire related incident that took place in a residence hall/dormitory out of 10 other fire-related incidents that have occurred between 1976 to now, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s website, making the incident very rare.

But the rarity of a residence hall fire isn’t the argument, for the fire marshal’s plan is to prevent a fire from ever happening, this is an effort all on-campus residents can appreciate and accept. The one thing they cannot accept however, are his excessive regulations for there are a plethora of things residents legally possess in their rooms that are more hazardous and potential fire starters as opposed to wall décor. It’s not like a Carmelo Anthony poster can spontaneously combust and burn down Moreland Hall. A person who decorates 70 percent of their dorm room wall with various forms of décor isn’t a candidate to trip the fire alarm in Johnson Hall. And I guarantee my Puerto Rican flag wasn’t responsible for a single one of Seneca Hall’s many emergency evacuations last year.

If one’s job is to ensure the safety of the on-campus residents and prevent any emergencies from occurring then they are more than welcome to do their job. However there are better ways to go about resident safety than banning décor. Don’t take away the student’s right to express themselves via their dorm rooms. After all, we didn’t start the fire.

(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)
(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)