Harvard Needs a Rat Liaison | Opinion
Through all the ups and downs of my two years at Harvard, from Housing Day to the Harvard-Yale Game, one constant has stayed in the background.
A small, usually brown, animal that scurries across the street or is roughly flattened on the street. An animal glorified in Ratatouille and studied in labs on our campus.
In case you haven’t heard, yes, I write about rats.
In my last encounter, just a month ago, I jumped onto my swivel chair when I saw the swollen body of a rat trying to invade my well-warmed bathroom. My screams caused the rat to run back to where it was hiding: my closet. My scream turned into a cacophony as my roommate noticed what I was seeing and we immediately called Yard Operations in our panicked dismay.
When we told them about the problem, they started laughing and assured us that someone would be at our dorm in five minutes. While I appreciated their responsiveness, I was puzzled as to why they weren’t similarly disgusted. Upon arrival, our Yard Ops rep was similarly confused assuming our neighbors had called – apparently they had a rat situation too. He told us that the rats had slowly worked their way up the dormitory and had reached the third floor, one level above our own.
As I tried to fall asleep in a room where I was actively scared, with the desk lamp permanently on, I wondered how we got into this situation and what I had done to attract these obnoxious rodents.
Cambridge isn’t the only one with a rat problem; Many of the surrounding residential areas are also grappling with an influx of rats exacerbated by the pandemic. Experts speculate that the growing suburban population, milder winters and the pandemic-related closure of high-production garbage areas like restaurants mean that local rats have turned their wandering noses to residential areas. This development has led to Cambridge creating a Rat Liaison Office to serve as the contact point between the public and Cambridge City Council for all rat-related complaints and information.
As I tried to fall asleep that horrible night, all I could think about was why, here at Harvard, we need a specialized rat compound – not just Yard Ops’ multipurpose tool. We need more than a cheeky leader, we need a compassionate, humane individual to guide us in our legitimate, rat-inspired plight.
While the correct methods for dealing with animal pests may be obvious to New York City or rural students, this is not true for all, making dorm-wide coordination difficult. Although we have roof rats at home in Arizona, my family easily controls our indoor rodent population because we inhabit every room in our home and leave no gap for roaming rodents. In a community of people with different habits of food storage and garbage disposal like Harvard’s dormitories, stopping the invasion is much more difficult. A rat liaison could help coordinate the connection of living areas and educate each resident on rat reduction practices. If we could stop the infestation on the first floor in my own Russell Hall, or at least keep the rodents from migrating upstairs, then my neighbors and I on the second floor would not have experienced this calamity.
Another aspect where a rat connection might be helpful is in providing a guide to coexisting with such unwanted housemates when preventive efforts are unsuccessful; I know I would have appreciated a crash course in living with rats. The week before the break, when I had to deal with the rats, I almost slept with my head covered, afraid I’d wake up with a furry face next to mine. My sleep was rocky, culminating in a dream in which I was detained by the Transportation Security Agency for domestic animal transport because they found a dorm rat in my luggage.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but having to live with an extra roommate who doesn’t pay rent is ridiculous. Rodents like rats can carry diseases like hantavirus, rat bite fever, or lymphocytic choriomeningitis, all of which are transmissible to humans. During the final week it would have been nice to get a good night’s sleep and be able to turn off my lamp, or just have someone to vent about the infestation to.
If my life imitated art, this would be the point where I have a change of heart. I would let go of my disgust and fear of the rat that lives in my dorm. We became friends slowly and my dorm rat informed me that they are cousins of Remy from Ratatouille. They turned out to be pastry chefs and making culinary delights, and slowly my rat was replacing the Harvard University Dining Service with a patisserie.
But alas, my life does not emulate this particular arc of Ratatouille. Although my current dorm at Adams House is about to be renovated, I know my problems won’t end there. With a liaison, I could dream of pastries instead of rats—once I slow my heart to an acceptable pace.
Merlin A. D’souza ’25, a Crimson Editorial Board Editor, is a Human Development and Regenerative Biology Concentrator at Adams House.