If you’ve got a son or daughter heading off to college within a few weeks, it’s essential that you (and they) know that their rights to privacy in a dorm room aren’t what they are in a private home.
Dorms and other campus housing are university property. However, that doesn’t mean that the students who live there have no right to privacy. Their privacy rights should be detailed in the housing agreements they sign. That includes under what circumstances school officials can enter their rooms. Be sure to read the agreement carefully with your child and keep a copy of it.
While college employees may be allowed to enter individual rooms, e.g., if they believe someone may be in danger or even for certain safety or sanitation issues, that doesn’t mean they have the right to search the premises. For example, in the University of Maryland housing agreement for the upcoming school year states, “The University will not use such entries and inspections as an opportunity to search a resident’s room for other reasons for which consent, a warrant and/or probable cause are required.”
If your child’s housing agreement has similar language, they may politely but firmly assert their right to refuse a search if authorities don’t have a warrant. It’s also wise for them to refrain from saying more than is absolutely necessary to authorities to avoid incriminating themselves.
On just about every campus in the country, there’s some type of illegal drug use or underage drinking going on behind closed doors in dorm rooms. Colleges vary in how many resources they put towards finding and punishing those engaged in this activity.
However, the consequences to your child’s future at the college and beyond can be substantial if they’re convicted of an alcohol or drug-related crime. That’s why it’s crucial not to take such charges lightly and make sure that your child doesn’t face the justice system alone.