I was typing away at my computer this summer, trying to soak in one of my last days at The Post and Courier's sunny Charleston, S.C., office when a senior projects reporter approached me.
The reporter, Tony Bartelme, wanted to know if there was mold in any of USC's campus dorms.
"Of course," I chuckled, thinking back to an infamous video of a mushroom growing from Capstone's ceiling my first year.
The topic of mold in college dorm rooms caught his attention when he learned that a South Carolina State student died this spring. She had asthma, exacerbated when she was in her dorm — which had a history of mold complaints — her mom told The Post and Courier.
Bartelme began looking into mold conditions at public universities across the state, and knew that student journalists have important insight about dorm conditions, as we're the ones who live in and report on them.
We agreed to collaborate.
The move marked the first time The Post and Courier has worked with student journalists on one of its investigative projects.
Charleston reporters started working to obtain more than 3,700 pages of student mold-related complaints from the past two years at the state’s public colleges and universities.
Back in Columbia, our staff eagerly sprung into action, contacting more than 100 students and talking to more than 20 about their less-than-pleasant living experiences.
Together, we learned that USC mold complaints are widespread — at least 840 in the past two years — and illustrate an issue common on college campuses nationwide: dorms making students sick. We also quickly realized that USC doesn't have an easily accessible system to document mold complaints.
Not every room on campus is crawling with toxic mold. My recently-renovated, clean-kept Green Quad dorm allowed me to avoid the problems other students face. But some students who live in unrenvoated dorms like Columbia Hall, Capstone and South Tower reported finding mold on their ceilings, walls, dressers and pillows and often said they woke up sick.
I'm proud to be able to help investigate a situation that directly affects students, explore what the university is or is not doing about it and bring light to an issue much larger than USC. And it's been fulfilling to have the opportunity to bring student media into the fold by working with the oldest and largest paper in the state, one that I've called home for the past two summers.