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September 10, 2007 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Mould, mushrooms, invasions of privacy – oh my!

Helen Lowry in spotlight for questionable management practices

Salient has received a huge amount of feedback about Helen Lowry Hall since the publication of a story a month ago about a disgruntled resident who alleged a breach of confidence by the Hall’s management.

The student told Salient that management had entered a room he had moved out of but was storing possessions in and was paying for, found ‘dark’ creative writing, and subsequently questioned him over his mental state.

The complaints allege poor living conditions, including mould, overly-strict rules and the behavior of hostel manager Janine Arcus.

The students who came forward all requested to remain anonymous, and all expressed the urgency to “get some sort of investigation into Janine and the running of Helen Lowry Hall.”

A past student believes Helen Lowry is “failing to provide a reasonable standard of living for some students.” Salient has received complaints from several students about the presence of mould spores and the growth of mushrooms in their rooms.

One student described the worst room during his time at Helen Lowry: “The carpet and floor were mouldy and disintegrating, the smell was unbearable.” All students who contacted Salient about mould problems at Helen Lowry alleged Arcus either told them to take care of the mould themselves or promised to take care of it before an extensive delay.

A current resident told Salient she complained to hostel management about mouldy carpet at the beginning of the year, but it wasn’t seen to until the end of August. She also complained of mushrooms growing on the floor, and has provided Salient with photographic evidence.

Arcus defended the hall’s actions, and says that if students have extra pieces of furniture in their room it hinders the air circulation and causes mould. She also believes students should be able to wipe away mould and maintain their units to a certain extent, as it is “all part of growing up.”

Acting Manager of the University’s Accommodation Service Lesley O’Caine agrees that students should be able to “clean up a bit” but admits that Helen Lowry “is very old” and that the mould and mushrooms may be a structural problem.

Most complaints to Salient claimed the management favours Christian students, has overly-strict morals surrounding alcohol, and that Arcus interferes with residents’ lives and invades their privacy.

A past student says there is no denying that Christianity is important at Helen Lowry. Upon arriving to Helen Lowry there is a Bible waiting in every person’s room, she says. A 2006 resident who is of a different faith felt this was presumptuous and described it as “an invasion greeting you at your bedside.”

VUWSA Welfare Vice President Paul Brown says he is “very surprised by this” because “if a student wants a Bible in their room they can bring their own.” Brown says “this could be particularly offensive”, given the diverse range of students who attend Vic.

A 2006 resident with no religious beliefs has said that “in most years, all, if not most, Residential Assistants are Christian,” and “if you’re Christian, you’re treated a whole lot nicer.”

In response, Arcus told Salient, “Christianity is as important at Helen Lowry as it is at any other hall”, and that she has never spoken publicly about her own religious beliefs.

However, the students who have complaints about the hostel’s religious stance say it is the Bibles, the visits from The City Church and the “obvious favouritism” of Christian residents that makes them uncomfortable.

VUWSA also has had run-ins with Helen Lowry in the past because of the Hall’s refusal of condoms included in first year Orientation packs. VUWSA Activities Coordinator Dusty McLoughlin says the students at Helen Lowry are “adults and should be able to be exposed and informed” about condoms.

Brown says the hostel’s stance is irresponsible, and asks if students are therefore expected to give themselves abortions with the coathangers Helen Lowry provides residents, quoting the University’s marketing campaign: “It makes you think.”

Another major concern of residents is the vague rules about students’ privacy. A current resident told Salient she only became aware of management entering her room when she was awoken by Arcus, who informed her that her room was too messy.

A 2006 resident says he awoke one morning “to a complete stranger in his bedroom” who had been allowed to enter the room for maintenance reasons. “I was angry about not being informed,” he told Salient.

Helen Lowry’s privacy practices were highlighted in Salient’s August 13 issue, in a story about a former resident whose creative writing was discovered and read by a Residential Assistant.

Arcus justifies this, saying management sometimes have to enter rooms for “maintenance and health and safety reasons.”

Residents have also told Salient that management has searched through wardrobes and drawers for contraband personal heaters. Arcus admits searching rooms for these, but denies ever looking in draws or wardrobes, saying the residents’ “privacy is very important.”

Four past residents told Salient of finding things out of place in their rooms, and believing that management had been in their rooms.

Helen Lowry residential agreements do not include any specifications for warning students before a room inspection or before management enters a room.

University Tenancy Law lecturer David Brown outlined to Salient that Halls of Residence are largely exempt from property law, but that invasions of privacy could be covered by harassment. He was unable to comment specifically due to his employment relationship with the University.

Brown recommended Salient contact University Counsel Victoria Healy, but attempts to reach her before time of press failed.

Complaints to Salient regarding Arcus’ interference in students’ lives include demands to see residents’ grades and interfering in friendships, including telling residents that their associates are ‘bad influences’. Arcus denies both claims.

However, residents from 2005 and 2006 described Janine as “an expert manipulator” who “pushes people she doesn’t like around.”

Arcus says “Salient is not the appropriate channel for student complaints”, and that most complaints Salient has enquired about have been resolved through the Hall and Accommodation Office – which suggests that the complaints may be well-based.

Arcus also says one of the former residents Salient enquired about was “extremely disrespectful” and was ‘stood down’ after nine warnings, the final warning coming after the student smoked in a non-smoking area.

The student stayed a week in Unicomm at the University’s expense whilst the University attempted to resolve the issue, before the student was returned to Helen Lowry. Arcus says the former resident was allowed back because “we wanted to help her.”

The former resident says she was ‘kicked out’, rather than ‘stood down’, whilst “[the University] tried to convince Janine to take [me] back.”

The student says the nine warnings she received included accusations of being too noisy and leaving a lounge messy during dates when she was out of town.

When Salient recently visited Helen Lowry, a group of current residents were asked for their thoughts on the hostel. Some said the rules were “too strict” and they “weren’t getting treated like adults.” Others said that “there were problems” but “had been mostly over exaggerated.”

“I love it here, I love Helen Lowry,” said one resident, whilst another said that “anyone who loves Helen Lowry obviously hasn’t been in Janine’s crossfire.”

Arcus told Salient surveys taken during the first semester of each year showed most residents were happy, and that she has received awards for her services at Helen Lowry.

Paul Brown believes that further investigation needs to be undertaken into the allegations against the Hall, and says he will personally be looking into conditions and residents’ rights.

O’Caine told Salient the Accommodation Service will “investigate any complaint that is brought to them.”

Salient encourages residents with any issues about any Hall of Residence to share their stories, and to get in touch with either VUWSA or the University’s Accommodation Service.


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  1. David Knight says:

    I would like to clear up that I am currently a non-Christian residential assistant at Helen Lowry Hall. This is written independently to the stance of Janine and/or the hall itself. It seems fitting to firstly address the issue of religion that is included within the article above. As far as I understand City Church (or Arise) has visited the hall just once this year and this was part of an overall hostel tour. Furthermore it seems inconsistent to criticise the hall for placing bibles in residents rooms then to criticise for not putting condoms in o-week bags. Could the latter not be deemed as an equal an “invasion” as the former? If a student wants to have sex can they not bring their own condoms just as Mr Brown suggests they would bring their own bibles?. I know of non-Christian students who have found these a true blessing with their sections on how to cope with tough/stressful times etc -these bibles can also be returned to the office if the resident does not wish to keep them. I am sorry to say the hall does not provide coat-hangars, but I love the use of the Vic quote, truly inspiring.

    In regards to the incident reported previously, aside from fixing the factual errors, would an option be Salient passing the piece of creative writing from the student and actually showing it to the lawyer they received comment from(obviously with the student remaining anonymous and with his consent). Regardless, and contrary to Claire’s suggestion above, I personally believe the counseling services a far greater judge of such tender situations which involve student welfare as opposed to a lawyer. Fortunately the hall was not correct in its interpretation of the writing but if it had been and had not acted, the consequences may have been far worse than the criticism it has received.

    I do not see much justification for alcohol related complaints given the hall is one of the least strict I know of in this regards, and to my knowledge it is the only hostel to allow glass bottles. Again, student welfare is deemed a priority in relation to excessive alcohol consumption etc.

    I know the mould has been a problem in some rooms and this indeed needs to be looked into, though in the self-catered units in particular, some responsibility (in addition to the halls and other parties) does at times have to be taken for the situation especially if the area is in a state prone to the growth of mould etc.

    Finally it should be noted that warnings are given prior to fire alarms being replaced etc and that residents are asked to give us a copy of their courses so that study groups can be set up throughout the year. The paper on walls thing does stink, I agree, but I guess we students must just try to understand in the administration of a student hostel Janine also has demands to meet. And jelly could be nice. lol. Thanks for hearing me out.

  2. cijawa says:


    The first two sentences of your post indicate that you were jacked up to write this.

    Nice try.

  3. T says:

    I agree with cijawa!!
    Thanks to Janine telling people my room was available when it wasnt i had people let themselves into my room, and DWs showin people around my room without my knowledge or permission. That is a breach of privacy!

    Also, the stuff about investigatin complaints is crap, we lodged a complaint last year and still have not heard back!

  4. kate says:

    OK David don’t you think there is a difference between a muslim of jewish person arriving to thier home for the next year to find a bible by their bed!!!???? and hello those condoms are provided by the VUWSA thats vuwsa trying to be nice not pushy. i know what your gonna say….”blahblah giving people condoms is peer pressure’ and the fact you are even considering saying that shows how much Janine has got you by the balls. i agree with whoever said it in the article…they r adults and they should be able to be exposed to that. Plus its not like the students can get rid of the bibles as the are part of the inventory of the room…and u know even if they weren’t janine would have to have a talk to u about your mental health if you decided to get rid of them. As for for the condoms if the students don’t like them they can pass them on or just chuck them out…the fact they are not even given the option shows Janine as the overbearing jesus loving fruit loop that most people know her as. Get your shit together Helen Lowry. and Janine please stop making your minions leave comments about how great you are or how your not all that bad because we know its you behind it.

  5. Kerry Tankard says:

    I stayed in Halls of Residence in 1982, and this kind of behaviour would not have been acceptable then, from management in a hostel run by a secular, State-funded tertiary institution.

    This woman, Arcus, sounds like she’s been a matron at a private, church-run girls’college, and just hasn’t woken up to the facts that
    a) the kids are adults, legally, and
    b) it’s 2007, baby, get used to it!

    She appears to be a well-rounded bigot, with prejudices in every direction running riot. Why does she have this job, tormenting young people at a crucial time in their academic careers?

    If they want to have Christian accommodation, it’s still possible to find private boarding situations with Anglicans. Samual Marsden (Anglican Diocesan School for Girls) closed their hostel a good decade ago, but still have private boarders tucked away in nice suburban Karori and surrounds.

  6. dave says:

    If a bible is offensive in this day and age theres something wrong. You dont have to read it, just like you dont have to wear any condoms handed out. Why stop at bibles – why not church services, daily masses or trips to Christian Union meetings

  7. mike says:

    even if that is Arcus there are some fair points. yall getting too emotional about this shit. the personal attacks are ott-kind of hidethe real issue. dont go rippin anyone who supports hellen lowry. sure it has issues but let both sides speak on this. the mould is gross.

  8. mike says:

    even if that is Arcus there are some fair points. yall getting too emotional about this shit. the personal attacks are ott-kind of hidethe real issue. dont go rippin anyone who supports hellen lowry. sure it has issues but let both sides speak on this. the mould is gross. why not porn? why not local prostiututes numbers? .

  9. Janine says that we are not allowed Jelly because it is a kids food. She treats us like kids so why can’t we have it!!!!!!!

  10. Sara says:

    Sounds Betta than Cumby!

  11. Disgruntled ex-residents says:

    In regards to the above comments,
    Like David Knight, we are writing independently of the Hall and Janine Arcus. Unlike David however, we are no longer at the hall nor are we Residential Assistants. There are significant issues with how Helen Lowry is currently managed.
    Firstly, the condition of the rooms is the most serious and concerning problem. Students have a right to a healthy and reasonable standard of accommodation. Unfortunately, the hall is failing to provide in this regard. Having mushrooms and mould growing on the walls and the carpet is not a result of a resident’s negligence. Rather, it is a continuing structural problem which Janine has consistently failed to address. For example, several residents had carpet which literally rotted away from mould. Despite numerous persistent complaints, Janine either failed to address this problem or did not do so for half a year. Clearly, this is unacceptable.
    Although some issues in the Salient article are exaggerated, the management problems of Helen Lowry urgently need review. We sincerely hope that Salient’s article will be more than mere noise, but will result in concrete action.

  12. cijawa says:

    Disgruntled – you forget the location – there’s nothing healthy about students living in fucking Karori.

  13. ricky says:

    I agree with Sara.
    Haha Cumby.

  14. x-resident says:

    Some of the rooms at Helen Lowry are absolutely disgusting. The least the hall could do is provide dehumidifiers to the rooms worst affected to prevent mould and mushrooms from growing.

  15. Hyn says:

    “I stayed in Halls of Residence in 1982”

    And you’re still around?

    Get a f**kin’ job!

  16. ex-hlh resident says:

    we actually suggested that the hall get a dehumidifier for each of the blocks so that they could be used by the residents that didn’t have enough money to buy their own but Janine’s response was that they weren’t needed as there was not enough moisture in any of the buildings to justify them. I think this is absolute bollocks. My parents bought a dehumidifier for me while I was living at the hall and it was sucking at least 4L a day of moisture from my room alone, and I lived in one of the blocks least affected by moisture problems. When I made the suggestion a second time because of how much moisture my dehumidifier was removing Janine then responded that the power consumption of dehumidifiers would cost too much – but its been proven that having a dehumidifier reduces power costs because the rooms require much less heating, which is more expensive. Think about this… A dry/warm room means a healthier student, a healthier student is one who does their work and a student who does their work is a student who passes – isn’t that what Janine wants – students who pass?

  17. Z says:

    Bibles wouldn’t be a problem if residents were allowed to take them out of the rooms. At present this is strictly forbidden. Better: don’t have them in there but have them available for students who want them). Even better yet – students say on their application form what religious affiliation they have, only put bibles in the rooms of people who say they are Christian).

    Condoms probably aren’t a necessity, but if you think putting 114 coeds under one roof won’t result in sex, you need to wake up and smell the coffee – condoms are better than babies (at least as far as unemployed 17-20 year olds are concerned).

    The wooden houses in HLH don’t seem to have such a big problem with mold, rather the older cinder block buildings. Janine: Get extractor fans for all the bathrooms, dehumidify problem areas (install dvs if you have to), replace rotten furniture and carpet – don’t just repaint the rooms every year – it obviously doesn’t work. And finally, if you think a young student who has just moved out of home is going to clean their walls and windows every single day, you need serious help.

    Finally, butt out of peoples lives. Residents maybe students but they are also legally Adults. They can choose their own friends, get stupid drunk and make mistakes – we all do when we first move out of home. Telling people who they can and cant be friends with, threating to call peoples parents because they are misbehaving, and generally trying to control their lives is not within the job description. If you want to do that, Become the warden of a Catholic boarding school as mentioned earlier.


  18. Me says:

    People seem to like criticising
    It’s the culture we now live in
    Unless it’s “perfect” something is going to be wrong – and subsequently picked up on, and criticised.

    Also reading what you want to into things rather than the real story is always going to be an issue.
    However this goes against how natural instincts really
    Hearing people’s sides is simply going to build the issue up further.

    Perhaps we could all take a leaf out of Otago Unversity’s philosophy – and Get over it.

  19. cijawa says:

    Perfect? I don’t know who’s claiming things should be perfect.

    Just no mushrooms growing in the corners and no entry into rooms without warning, perhaps?

  20. Rob says:

    To the people that believe Janine is gettin others to write comments thats kinda crap. The people that stayed at HLH and focussed more on making genuine mates and study rather than mates provided by drunk orgies are the ones that don’t get in crap with management and thus don’t have a wah about others on here. Yeah the hall is crap in ways for sure just like every hall but I made the best mates of my life out of it and janine had no influence on that! Just because some hate it does not mean everyone hates it…janine aint that sad like all of u!

  21. Mike C. says:

    hello people. i am an ex-resident at HLH from 2006. i dont mind standing up and saying that the halls’ administration needs to be reviewed – changes in policy, change in warden, who knows. not my problem. most of the facts above are true – and it is up to you to decide what side you are on. i am no longer in the system, so it doesnt matter to me much – this artical was just brought to my attention by a mate.
    but the point i am trying to make is, though HLH may have many faults, it also provided me with great mates, a fucking good time, and a year that i will never forget. as cheesy as it sounds, do look at the bad stuff, look at the good stuff. make the most of your first year first, then complain later!

  22. Mike C. says:

    DAMMIT! fuck i cant proof read for shit. you should get the jist tho.

  23. Free from Helen Lowry says:

    I find it amusing that David Knight begins his letter by saying he is a non-Christian. Most of the people who stayed at Helen Lowry last year, as I did, know that was nott he case last year. Prayer meetings were held which were more like cult gatherings (independent of Hall management, although I assume they were aware of these) and others who did not share the same religious views were bullied and made to feel inferior by some residents. While the bible in my room did not offend me, I did feel at times that those of us who were non-Christian were excluded and treated differently to those who were. It was not a huge problem, but at times a little unfair.

    I’m confused as to how providing students with condoms is peer pressure? No one said they had to use them, but it would have been a responsible approach, to provide them to the students seeing as all are adults and quite capable of making their own decisions. Janine herself went to Otago to help out in the Hall after one of the students there dumped her baby in a bathroom, she has seen first hand what can happen when the safe option isn’t taken.

    As for notice given to students when their rooms will be entered, I never received this. I went back to my room after showering last year to find a man leaving my room after checking the heater. A rather awkward situation.

    A friend of mine had no extra furniture in her room, and was constantly having to shift things around to clean up the mould. Several complaints were made, yet nothing was done. In the end they ended up buying cleaning products and trying as best they could to clean it up.

    One of the low points of the year was when Janine yelled at the cook when we were all i the dinner line. Apart from this being incredibly unprofessional, he was the best cook we had all year and she was awful to him. There were several instances where people were embarassed in front of others, and the way things were handled last year on several occasions were inappropriate. Telling people who they can and can’t be friends with is just one of those instances.

    While David claims that HLH is one of the more lenient hostels in relation to alcohol, I can only assume the rules have relaxed significantly since 2006. While I agree rules should be in place, the residents also have the right to be treated like adults and make their own mistakes and decisions. We are all young, but 9 times out of 10 we manage to avoid disasters. Having too much to drink and feeling like crap the next day is something everyone has to learn from. Sending these people to meetings and treating it as a serious disciplinary matter is rather over the top.

    I enjoyed my first year at Uni, and made fantastic friends at the hall. However I do think that Helen Lowry needs to be seriously looked at. In any surverys I received last year I said exactly what I thought and Iknow others did too, so while Janine may say they have only received positive feedback I know this is not the case. There do need to be some changes made so instead of getting defensive and denying everything, maybe those in charge at HLH should listen to what is being said (and it is an issue seeing as this is the second time I have read about the problems in Salient in the last couple of months) and do something about it?

  24. Rachel says:

    I like many others was a resident last year at HLH. Firstly City/Arise Church doesn’t go to just one hostel they go to all of them not to force their views on people but to genuinely pamper the students and let them have a relaxing day. Secondly there were many problems last year and it seems like they have carried on to this year as well as most of what is coming up now came up last year too, but for some reason people are listening to you this year! Finally. I know that a lot of the people who were at HLH last year are really great people and many remain friends today, the root of the problem is Janine. Yes she can be nice to some people and yes she can be mean to others. I saw both sides of her and I am a Christian so don’t try to tell me that she is only mean to the non-Christians. Also I have seen HLH advertised as a Hall with Christian values. It clearly states in the booklet and on the HLH website what the rules are and how strict they are, so don’t sit there and complain about the restrictions because you obviously made a concious decison to go to HLH and therefore knew the rules before going. And the prayer meetings…I know of two that happened and really it’s only the business of those who took part what happened unless they want to share with others. It’s inevitable in a place of such varying ethnicities for some people to be pressured by others religions. And I imagine that this extends beyond just Christians.

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