When temperatures dipped to -29 degrees with windchill just before 8 a.m. last Wednesday, SIUE remained open. This pressured students to head to class and faculty and staff to brave the chilling temperatures to head to work, even though Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued disaster proclamation for the entire state the day before.
While we at The Alestle highly value the education we’re getting at SIUE and realize it’s administration’s goal to keep the university open as much as possible, we worry that administrators weren’t considering student-parents, students who struggle financially, individuals with disabilities and otherwise less-privileged students Wednesday when the university remained open.
Students, faculty and staff received a statement via social media shortly after 10 a.m., long after students requested information on the university’s position and after students began what could be a long hike from the red lots to their 8 a.m. classes:
“What is happening in SIUE’s classrooms is so important to students’ future success. It is the goal of the University to remain open unless emergency conditions require otherwise. With no snow, no ice, plenty of sunshine, and low winds, individuals can protect themselves with proper precautions against this winter weather. Individuals should dress warmly, make outdoor trips as brief as possible and drink plenty of water.”
In interviews with The Alestle, university administrators said they look at the facts when considering to close the campus due to inclement weather, including those factors mentioned in their statement. Even in daylight and “low winds,” -29 degrees with windchill is not typical for making the 10-minute walk from the red lots to classrooms, especially for students who may have classes in the Science East and West or the Engineering Building, even dressed warmly. While the time may vary depending on the parking lot and building a student is traveling between, those with longer walks may end up spending too much time in the cold.
Regardless, even if students can bundle up to protect against frostbite, not everyone may be able to meet this need. Some students might not have extra money to spend on extra winter gear to make it to one day of classes, especially since the Metro East is not accustomed to such cold temperatures. Others might be too strapped for cash to fix broken heating in their cars. Some commuters might have cars that are unable to run in such frigid temperatures; one of our staff members dealt with a dead battery as a result of the cold leaving campus Wednesday night.
Additionally, students with children in local elementary schools were put at an extreme disadvantage compared to students without children. Because local schools were closed, university students who normally rely on schools to care for their children during the day while they’re in class had to take their children out in the freezing weather to attend class with them, had to find and possibly pay for a sitter or had to skip class to keep their kids indoors — where their own schools decided they were safest. If it’s too cold outside for children, then it’s also too cold outside for their parents who can’t leave them.
While we do live in the Midwest and are accustomed to some levels of below-freezing weather, frigid temperatures before 8 a.m. classes are not typical to the Metro East and many students may not have been prepared for it.
Of course, elementary and high schools might be canceled so students don’t have to wait in the cold for the bus. However, the university boasts Cougar Village’s access to campus by bus, a service many residents rely on to get to class every day. While they can check the schedule, buses are not always on time, especially in cold weather.
We also wish administrators in the future would consider students, faculty and staff with disabilities or injuries that may impede their mobility. These individuals might take longer than others to get to class, meaning more time in the cold, and although these individuals may have access to parking accommodations, they still may end up out in the cold for longer than recommended.
With other area schools closing like Lewis and Clark and UMSL, SIUE would not have been setting a bad example for its students by closing. We are not looking to be babied or just to sleep in a little longer. Administration allowing the university to remain open in spite of these reasons shows little consideration for their nontraditional or underprivileged students.
The next time Illinois is under a disaster proclamation from the governor due to cold temperatures, we sincerely hope that the university makes a different decision.