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UNL under fire in bedbug battle

UNL under fire in bedbug battle

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It's a two-sided story, and in the middle of it, bedbugs and a resident assistant.

Since students returned from Christmas break in early January, University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials have discovered bedbugs in 26 student rooms and in eight common areas of four residence halls.

A university Extension educator described the problem as indicative of a growing wave of bedbugs in Lincoln and the nation. It's a problem one director of a local nonprofit agency that serves the needy says he knows all too well.

The university has used a bedbug-sniffing dog named Spots to search for the tiny bugs and has begun to update students on its website about the situation.

On Tuesday, the student newspaper, Daily Nebraskan, called for Housing Director Sue Gildersleeve to resign over reports that her office attempted to hide at least one incidence of bedbugs in a resident assistant's room.

Selleck Hall RA Amanda Wekesser said she began noticing bites on her neck about the first week of January and later caught a tiny bug on a notebook, put it in a cup and gave it to university facilities staff.

In a blog on the situation, Gildersleeve said the bedbug was dead.

"I find it surprising they would say a single dead bedbug," said Wekesser, a 23-year-old meteorology student. "As far as I know, dead bedbugs don't bite."

Wekesser said she later asked her resident director if she could host a meeting of residents on her floor to inform them of the situation. She said the director rejected the idea and told her to put a note on her door informing residents that her room was being remodeled to explain her absence from the room while it was being cleaned of bedbugs.

Wekesser decided the students on her floor deserved to know more, and she wrote notes on her room door and posted a message on the floor's private Facebook page, informing residents of the situation.

"I think they need to be able to make informed decisions," she said.

Keith Zaborowski, associate director of residence life, said the Housing Department initially misunderstood the report from Wekesser's room, believing a dead bedbug had been found. He said the university typically doesn't host floor meetings unless more than one room is infected.

UNL spokeswoman Kelly Bartling said the university doesn't release personal information about students whose rooms have become infected in order to protect those students from being ostracized.

"Nobody was trying to keep anything from anybody, and nobody was lied to," she said.

Barb Ogg of the UNL Extension office said the bedbugs being found at UNL reflect a growing incidence of the bugs in Lincoln and the nation that began nearly a decade ago. She said they tend to become prevalent in places with dense and transient populations, such as apartments and long-term care facilities.

"There have been issues with nearly every group housing setting in Lincoln," she said.

Pastor Tom Barber, executive director of the People's City Mission, said the mission now makes people wash their clothes and their possessions before entering the homeless shelter. When the mission finds bedbugs, it cleans the affected person's clothes and possessions and treats the room with an exterminator's help, he said.

The mission's efforts have led to a dramatic decrease in bedbugs, Barber said.

"The way to fight bedbugs is to start with the people, not the rooms," he said.

​Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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