The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

Residents spot snake in Sankofa stairway

The uninvited guest was removed, but students remain concerned about safety at the theme house
A small black snake was found in the Sankofa house on Sept. 11. Photo obtained by the Ring-tum Phi

Students living in the Sankofa theme house came home to a surprise last month when they realized there was a snake living among them.

Jowita Chotkiewicz, ’24, said the encounter prompted anxieties for some residents.

“If snakes can get into the house, what other infestations are we going to have this year?” Chotkiewicz told the Phi.

A resident first noticed a “small and black” snake on the stairwell leading to the basement of the theme house, Chotkiewicz said. That resident immediately notified the rest of the residents through a group chat, and later called Public Safety.

Public Safety attempted to trap the snake in a plastic box, but was only able to do so for a moment.

The snake slipped out of the container and slithered into a hole in the stairwell – one of many holes, Chotkiewicz said.

After discovering the holes, the residents thought there may be more than one snake in the house.

However, in an email exchange, Chris Reid, director of student housing, told the Phi that only one snake was spotted.

“The term ‘infestation’ is an inaccurate representation of the situation,” he said.

The basement was closed off that evening, until University Facilities staff arrived the next day. The only thing that they communicated with the students in Sankofa was that the situation “had been taken care of,” Chotkiewicz told the Phi.

“University Facilities did a thorough inspection of the basement and perimeter of the building,” Reid said.

A few days after the incident, Chotkiewicz said, a snake appeared on the porch of the house.

“It may very well have been the same snake as before,” Reid said.

Both sightings were of a small black snake, believed to be a garter snake. No students were harmed during the snake sightings, Chotkiewicz said.

In a phone interview with the Phi, a Rockbridge County Animal Control dispatcher said she had never received complaints of snakes being found inside buildings. It’s much more common for snakes to be found outside or on hiking trails, she said.

The Department of Wildlife Resources recommends that if a snake enters a building, people should “examine the foundation of the house thoroughly” and “seal all areas around pipes, vents or other places that may provide small openings.”

The department also recommends checking for rodents, as snakes in houses are often indicators of a rodent infestation.

This isn’t the first time a theme house has been subject to below-standard living conditions at Washington and Lee. In 2021, a ceiling collapsed in a resident’s room at Nuestro Hogar Latino, the Phi previously reported. The house has since been moved to a new location.

Chotkiewicz said multiple residents of the house expressed that it was the school’s responsibility to ensure that there were no pests living in any university housing.

She said she wants more transparency on the school’s behalf.

While there have been no further reports of snakes at Sankofa, Chotkiewicz told the Phi that the 11 residents and community advisor are still living on edge.

“Some people here, they’re still, you know, semi-traumatized,” Chotkiewicz said.

A text message from another resident read, “Every time there’s a message [in the house group chat], I think it’s another snake, and I’m so relieved when it isn’t.”

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  • J

    John ThomasOct 19, 2023 at 7:52 am

    The snake’s underside coloration/pattern leads me to believe it is a rat snake (also called a black snake in my area). Non-venomous, feeds on on rodents and other small animals. It is generally considered a “good” snake, but that depends on one’s general opinion of snakes found in people living spaces!

  • R

    Rhoni ConnorOct 10, 2023 at 10:26 pm

    Oh how interesting!!!