On a late October night, Ressa Bhowmik (SFS ’26) and her friend were walking back to their Village C dorms from Lauinger Library when a rat jumped out of the bushes, scuttling directly over their feet.
“It was the most scary, disgusting, all in one experience that I think I’ve ever had on campus,” Bhowmik said in an interview with The Hoya. “At least I was wearing shoes. My friend was in these sort of slippers, so the rat touched her bare feet, and I think she almost started crying.”
Bhowmik’s experience is far from rare. Countless Georgetown University students have recounted harrowing details of their encounters with rats, whether it be in their dorm rooms, outside classrooms or even in the Leavey Center Starbucks, including Kaylie Roberts (CAS ’26).
“I pretty much always feel safe walking around campus at night. The only thing I’m afraid of is a rat jumping out at me from the dark,” Roberts wrote to The Hoya. “I tend to overreact about things, so I usually scream and jump out of the way when I see one.”
Besides being a general nuisance to students, rats pose a safety hazard to the community as they can spread diseases or cause structural damage to buildings by gnawing at wires and constructing nests. With a city-wide increase in the rat population the past few years according to the Washington, D.C. Department of Health (DOH), community members told The Hoya they have been frustrated with the city’s and Georgetown’s limited efforts to control the rodent invasion.
Joe Massaua (SFS ’25), the elected student commissioner on D.C.’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, represents students residing in the dorms Village A, Village C, New South and the Southwest Quad and Wolfington area — roughly 2,100 constituents. Massaua said his constituents have a frequent complaint.
“One of the most pressing issues, obviously, is rats,” Massaua said in an interview with The Hoya.
Massaua said many students have gotten used to seeing rats on campus.
“I feel like that’s definitely a common theme of Georgetown students, you know, coming in, and maybe being initially disgusted by them. But then you’re kind of like, ‘What do I do now? How do I cope with the fact that the university isn’t doing squat on rats?’” Massaua said.
The Neighborhood Approach to Rats
DOH’s statistics indicate that the rat population has grown from 8,000 to nearly 13,500 since 2020, a boom the organization attributes to several factors, notably an increase in the amount of food establishments, milder winters, an uptick in the amount of trash and new construction.
With the ongoing destruction of Henle Village and the expansion of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Georgetown’s campus has seen the kind of construction associated with increases in rat infestations.
According to J.P. Szymkowicz (LAW ’91), the neighborhood commissioner for the Foxhall neighborhood located just west of campus, such construction has uprooted the resident rodent population.
“When they dug up Henle Village, which just happened this summer, the rats that were living under Henle suddenly had to go somewhere,” Szymkowicz said in an interview with The Hoya.
“In Foxhall, in Burleith and in Georgetown — the three neighborhoods that surround the university — the problems got worse,” Szymkowicz added. “And I didn’t ever see rats in my neighborhood.”
According to a university spokesperson, administrators have not observed such an uptick in rodent activity on campus.
The University monitors for and responds to reports of mice, rats and other rodents on campus. While Georgetown has not observed a year-over-year increase in rats on campus, rodents and other pests are not uncommon in an urban environment, especially when the weather outside becomes extremely cold or hot.
The Georgetown neighborhood has implemented multiple solutions in order to decrease the rat population and keep them from threatening businesses. The Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) helps manage the rodents by providing regular inspections, abatement methods and general recommendations on how businesses can best keep rats out.
John Wiebenson, who oversees the public space improvement, cleaning and maintenance programs for the BID, said he talked with Massaua about some of the neighborhood policies.
“Trash management is the number one piece. As much as we can, we provide physical resources, regular education, regular inspections and recommendations,” Wiebenson said in an interview with The Hoya. “We also have a full-time staff person, which we’re probably the only BID in the city that does that. All he does is go out and do regular space inspections of public space, regular site visits for businesses who need help.”
Wiebenson said that having an in-house rodent expert was more effective than using a pest control contractor who did not make frequent visits and was not as knowledgeable on the area.
“I will say we tried that route two or three times,” Wiebenson said. “We saw that they weren’t the best.”
The Citizens Association of Georgetown website also outlines tips to prevent the growth of the rat population for residents, encouraging people to take simple actions such as storing garbage in metal or heavy plastic containers with tight lids and only placing trash outside shortly before pickup.
One of the most innovative approaches in the neighborhood are the Ratscallions, a group of owners and dogs who prowl the neighborhood on weekend nights hunting rats. Most of the dogs are terriers, known for their hunting skills, and they track down rats and swiftly kill them.
The Ratscallions maintain a low profile, with no official website or social media presence. Some students, including Alan Chen (CAS ’25), have nonetheless found creative ways to engage with the group.
Full Disclosure: Alan Chen currently serves as Senior Blog Editor for The Hoya.
Chen said he came across the group one night in September in Northwest Washington and joined them on their hunt. On that night, the dogs killed a total of 33 rats.
“It was thrilling,” Chen said in an interview with The Hoya. “For the dogs, the owners, and as a viewer.”
University Approach to Rats
According to a university spokesperson, Georgetown internally manages its rodent inspections. The department of planning and facilities management coordinates pest control inspections on campus.
The only mention of rodents on the university’s website appears under “procedures” in the Residential Living section.
“During the course of the academic year, students are expected to clean and discard trash regularly. Excessive trash, dirty dishes and open/left out food can attract insects and rodents. Vacuum cleaners are available at the Harbin Key Room,” the website reads.
While there is no mention on the school site about what pest control groups do on campus, there are black box rodent traps around campus.
“They just have little black boxes that you’ll see around,” Massaua said.
These traps typically have an entrance for rodents, and inside there is a toxic rodenticide that the rats consume. The poison either kills them in the box, or if the rats manage to escape, allows them to bring the bait back to their nest, fatally spreading it to other rats.
According to the website of Terminix, a pest control service, if the boxes are not managed properly, they lose their impact. The traps also need to be checked often, meaning a lapse in care could imperil their effectiveness.
For Massaua, a different method is the best means of curbing the rat problem found both on campus and outside the front gates.
“We don’t need a patch solution that is just tiny little black boxes that sometimes are misstated or put in the wrong spots,” Massaua said. “We need to actually start hunting out these burrows.”
Wiebenson said hunting out burrows requires coordinated, intense efforts and a simpler solution the campus could employ would be better trash management. A research team in Chicago found that there were more frequent rat complaints in areas with more garbage.
“We should be telling residents and Vil B residents and townhouses or residents in Village A too: here’s how to properly dispose of your trash,” Massaua said. “And if you don’t properly dispose of your trash, you will be fined.”
Even though students living in university-owned housing do not have their own individual outdoor trash bins, Massaua said students should ensure trash is bagged properly when they bring it outside to dumpsters.
According to the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, properly disposing of trash includes keeping trash cans and dumpster lids tightly closed to prevent rats from getting in, bagging trash before putting it in a dumpster, rinsing food out of containers before throwing out or recycling the waste, only placing trash in outside dumpsters shortly before pick up and regularly checking dumpsters for holes through which rats could crawl.
In late September, Massaua, Szymkowicz and a few others went on a walk around campus with Gerard Brown, the DOH Rodent and Vector Control Program Manager and “Rat Czar” of the District, where Brown broke down the school’s rat problem.
Massaua said that he has observed multiple dumpster areas and trash cans on campus that do not have sealed lids, and that overflowing trash is a breeding ground for rats.
Massaua, Szymkowicz and Wiebenson all said that getting rid of the rats is an easy, manageable change the university could make, especially through an education campaign for students.
“I think you have to get the message through at the beginning of every year and then repeat the message frequently,” Szymkowicz said.
Students versus Rats
With the rat population increasing, students have adopted ways to handle the rodents. Between keeping rooms clean, using rodent repellent and generally accepting the rat situation, students like Elinor Clark (CAS ’27), a Darnall Hall resident, said they are managing the unwanted roommates.
“We clean weekly. We don’t throw out food in our trash cans,” Clark said in an interview with The Hoya. “All of the rooms smell like really strong peppermint because that’s what the rat repellent that everybody uses smells like.”
Dylan Shapiro (CAS ’26), a Village B resident who said he is no stranger to the rodent neighbors cohabiting with students across campus, particularly in his apartment-style accommodation notorious for its infestation, said the rats make their most frequent appearances at night.
“It’s just kind of hospitable after about 5 p.m.,” Shapiro said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s just a part of life at this point.”
Students in Village B, whose communal trash bins sit outside, said they have to brave the rats when taking out their trash late in the day.
“We generally avoid taking out our trash at night. You never know what you are going to see over there,” Shapiro said.
Simone Guite (COL ’26), another Village B resident, agrees and said they have seen them in Lauinger Library.
“I avoid the garage area at all costs if it’s not light out,” Guite said in an interview with The Hoya. “I feel like the rats aren’t scared of it. There’s also this really old fat rat that walks around Lau really slowly. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”
Students who have rodents in their dorms can send in a work request for rodents, though some including Sam Berryessa (CAS ’27) take matters into their own hands.
“I caught two rats on our floor in the Copley basement,” Berryessa said. “When we caught them, we ran them over near the koi pond and let them out. Hopefully they don’t come back.”
When Roberts had mice in her room, she said she first turned to facilities.
“We originally put in a work order and facilities came and gave us glue traps, but they said that is all they could do. The only mouse we ended up catching was with a trap we bought ourselves.”
Despite her multiple encounters with rats, Bhowmik says she has built up immunity to them.
“I think last year, they would stick out to me more, so I felt like I was noticing them a lot more,” Bhowmik said. “I think this year I’m just so used to them.”
Guite has also adopted ways to handle the rats.
“Last year, my roommate bought rubber rats for our dorm because we kept seeing them around campus, and we thought the rubber ones would be a funny way to make light of the real ones,” Guite said.
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to address the lack of specific statistics indicating the extent to which the city-wide rat problem has impacted the university.