Students concerned about campus safety following snow days

Photo by Esther Chong

By Esther Chong

Following three days of heavy snowfall over the second weekend of February, students were worried about whether or not they would be able to attend classes on campus. Now, students are looking ahead to see how Western will handle heavy snowfall in the future.

Although there was still nearly a foot of snow on the ground, a WWU Weather Advisory sent on Tuesday, Feb. 12 said only classes  before noon would be cancelled. During the day, maintenance teams would continue plowing snow and ice in parking lots and main campus, the alert said.

Some students felt that campus was still unsafe, and many took to social media, wondering whether or not their input was taken into account in discussions about class cancellation. 

“The university takes into consideration a number of factors on whether to open, delay opening or close the university during bad weather,” said Paul Cocke, Western’s director of communications and marketing. “Factors include the changing weather forecasts, the extent of snow or ice removal needed on campus sidewalks, parking lots and roads, and whether [Whatcom Transportation Authority] is running, since most students have access to WTA.” 

A maintenance worker plows the snow in Red Square. // Photos by Oliver Hamlin

The university released another weather alert on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 8 a.m., cancelling the remainder of classes for the day. 

During the aftermath of the snowstorm, students on campus witnessed injuries, sliding buses and stuck cars.

Third-year student Katelyn Power said she saw someone injure their ankle stepping off a bus near the Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 14.

“That sidewalk area was super bad and it was bound to happen, but it was shocking to just witness it,” said Power, who saw the bus driver and another student pull the injured person onto a safer part of the walkway.

“It was slippery on the bus and where she landed on her foot. We all physically saw her ankle twist like a corkscrew and she laid there until medical vehicles arrived,” she said.

“If busses can’t drive the campus route safely, then that essentially puts students taking the bus or [driving to campus] in danger,” fourth-year student Pauline Elevazo said.

Elevazo said she left for the bus 15 minutes early on Wednesday and arrived late to her stop because of the ice on the sidewalk.

 “I got out at the VU and there was still ice and snow when you exit out of the bus. I had to jump over it,” she said.

In instances of snow and ice accumulation on campus, director of Facilities Management John Furman and an outdoor maintenance supervisor examine snow and ice conditions on campus between 3-5 a.m., according to a 2018 Facilities and Management snow removal document.

People attempt to add traction to a stuck car with cardboard. // Photos by Oliver Hamlin

Furman then advises a course of action to the Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs, Richard Van Den Hul, who makes a recommendation to Western’s President Sabah Randhawa. Randhawa then makes a final decision, according to the document. 

Elevazo felt that the pathways last Thursday did not meet Americans with Disability Act standards. “It should be public and accessible,” she said.

Eighteen employees logged nearly 800 hours on campus since Feb. 11, starting at 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. of that week. About 500 hours of work were logged the week before, according to Cocke.

“I’d like to give a big shout-out to the dedicated and hard-working university grounds crew personnel who have worked long hours in often cold and wet conditions to clear sidewalks, parking lots and campus roads of a considerable amount of snow and ice,” he said.

However, students felt that a team of 18 wasn’t adequate.

 “I applaud them to work in these really bad conditions to speed up that work and put them in a harmful situation. You need more people. If it’s not doable then don’t force it,” Elevazo said.

Power agreed, saying she felt it was unfair to the 18-person crew to be responsible for making campus safe for 15,000 people.

Alissa Wegleitner, a second-year student, questioned the university’s commitment to student safety and responded to the alert with videos of her friends pulling cars out of uncleared parking lots in Birnam Wood. 

Wegleitner also shared videos of icy walkways around the university housing complex with The Western Front. 

“These are the paths we are taking to get to the buses,” she said.

Western’s official Twitter account responded to one concerned student’s tweet. 

“We understand your frustration. Please keep in mind that this amount of snowfall over this many days is extremely rare, and the grounds folks have been working extraordinarily hard to keep campus walkways and sidewalks as open as possible,” the tweet read.

Later that day a second alert was sent at 11 a.m.. The alert urged community members to stay home unless it was absolutely necessary for them to go to campus.

 “When employees and students travel to campus when it is closed, it significantly hampers the ability of the grounds crew to clear parking lots because of accumulated snow,” the alert read.

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