College should better address winter effects

While the Vassar community is still recovering from the copious amounts of snow that has fallen on campus during the past few weeks, we at The Miscellany News would like to offer some feedback on the College’s snow removal procedures and class cancellation policy. We believe that a few changes to the school’s policy would result in increased safety for members of the staff, administration and student body.

First, we would like to recognize the work of the Building and Grounds employees who were involved in snow removal and thank them for crucial work in keeping the school running during snow storms that resulted in Poughkeepsie issuing a sustained State of Emergency. Without their work we would likely still be unable to move around campus.

That being said, we do have some safety concerns regarding the campus’ response to the snowfall that went unaddressed by the College’s administration. Specifically, we question Vassar’s reluctance to cancel classes. Closing administrative office and allowing professors to cancel classes at their discretion misses the larger safety issues faced by students on and off campus. During both snow storms, many of the pathways and roads were extremely slippery and generally unsafe for travel. While it would have likely been safe for students in the residential quad to walk to classes in Rockefeller Hall, Taylor Hall or Chicago Hall, many students living in senior apartment areas or off campus had to travel much farther and those conditions were a great deal more unsafe.

While Vassar is predominantly a residential campus, it is important to remember that not all students live on campus. For these students, it was unsafe to travel to campus during the days the storms hit. Of course, these students could notify their professors of their inability to get to campus, but many students often feel pressure to attend classes regardless of the conditions outside. Therefore, we urge the Administration to consider these students in the event of severe winter storms. Either cancelling classes or suggesting that professors cancel their classes would not only be a safer response but also a more inclusive one. Additionally, we would urge the Administration to be more communicative in cases of winter storms that result in the closure of administrative offices. A campus-wide email stating that administrative offices are closed would alleviate confusion over what campus resources are still functioning.

We, as students, would also like to know the plan for snow removal from pathways. Many of the campus pathways were, and continue to be, incredibly icy. If we knew certain pathways would always be cleared first, we could reconsider our routes to classes and other activities. As The Miscellany News reported in the Feb. 27 article  “Snow crew surmounts harsh winter,” the routes to the All Campus Dining Center, Baldwin and the Athletic Fitness Center from the residential halls are prioritized. While these are certainly important areas to be cleared, paths from senior housing to central campus are also essential, especially those that are popularly used by students. For example, although Buildings and Grounds created a path for South Commons residents toward campus along Raymond Avenue, a vast majority of these students travel to campus via the path by Skinner Hall. Since students did not know that an alternative path was cleared, they instead traveled on the unclear path. Regardless of what paths are prioritized, however, we recommend that these plans are communicated to students. Since the school has a large number of paths, such communication would help students travel safely even when there is not time to clear all paths of snow and ice.

Lastly, the fact that the Campus Shuttle does not run when administrative offices are closed is alarming. In cases of winter storms, the Campus Shuttle allows students who live in non-central locations on campus to safely return home from classes and other activities. It seems contradictory to stop running the Shuttle because staff cannot get to campus or because it is too unsafe to drive, yet still expect students to be able to go to class. This is made worse by the fact that there is no communication regarding whether the shuttle is running. Many students realize that the shuttle is no longer running only when they have stood out in the winter storm conditions for some time. We implore the Office of Safety and Security to create a means of communicating the status of shuttle operation to the student body en masse. This could either be in the form of a regularly updated Facebook or Twitter account, as suggested by some of the Presidents of the apartment areas, or a voluntary email list. We would also recommend that this communication include real-time updates on shuttle delays. Last week, for example, the shuttle was unable to run to the Town Houses due to city snow removal but there was no communication relaying this fact.

While we at The Miscellany News are aware that students can call the Campus Response Center at any time for a ride if they feel unsafe, many students are either unaware of this option or do not feel comfortable requesting a ride. The Campus Shuttle provides an invaluable service and it is important that students be regularly updated about delays or changes to its operating schedule even when the delays are not due to a winter storm.

We at The Miscellany News understand that the weather conditions over the past month have been particularly harsh and have put a strain on the entire campus community, especially the Buildings and Grounds staff. However, we believe that the changes we suggested would better provide for the safety of students in the event of future severe winter storms.

—Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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