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Commentary Opinion

Sharknado? Planet Hoth temperatures? No problem, campus open

Photo by Grace Altenhofen | Editor-in-Chief

As several inches of snow fell on Feb. 16, students across the state – including those at Des Moines Public Schools and Des Moines Area Community College – woke up to the news of school closures. At Drake University, students were greeted by an early morning email titled “Campus is open today.”

While many individual professors canceled classes or moved to virtual learning, many did not. For some commuter students like myself, this presented a choice: risk our personal safety to get to campus while I-235 was already littered with wrecks, or miss class and risk academic harm. 

It was a tough choice for me, a student from out-of-state whose tires are not equipped to handle that much snow. Looking out at I-235 from my apartment parking lot, I knew I would end up in the same situation as the wrecked cars below if I tried to make it to campus. But I had my first quiz of the semester that afternoon, and the professor refused to cancel class unless the university did. 

After an anxiety-filled morning monitoring the weather reports and road conditions, I booked an Uber – no small feat on a day when even most Uber drivers chose to stay off the roads. Due to the weather conditions and lack of drivers, a 15-minute trip to campus cost me $48 in total. 

Considering some of the wrecks I saw, it was worth it – I paid $48 to be out during a snowstorm, while some drivers paid with their lives. But it made me wonder: for an institution entrusted with the safety of its students, why would Drake consider that risk to be worth it? 

According to a Drake University policy entitled “University Closings, Delays and Class Cancellations,” “In certain circumstances such as inclement weather, power outages or other extreme conditions the Provost or President will make the decision regarding class cancellations, university delays or closings after consulting with appropriate members of the University community.” 

The policy lists no specific guidance for what qualifies as inclement weather, but the Des Moines metropolitan area received nearly six inches of snow Thursday on top of the sheet of ice covering roadways. Schools and colleges across the area, both public and private, issued campus closures. Even Drake administrative staff were allowed to work from home that day, I found out – all signaling to me that what we experienced was, in fact, inclement weather. 

So if the roads weren’t safe enough for some Drake staff, why were they considered safe enough for Drake students? 

Drake students come from all over the country – and the world – and many are not used to driving in snow and ice. Others, like myself, live away from campus and drive cars that do not handle snow well. 

One might say, “Why can’t everyone do what you did, and take an Uber when it snows?” That’s an accessibility issue. While I don’t love the idea of spending $48 to get to campus, I can if I have to – but not everyone has the same luxury. That $48 could have been a make-or-break amount to another student trying to get to campus. And while I wish public transportation was more accessible, there’s still a long way to go – I checked, and the next DART bus to campus wouldn’t have arrived until my class was already over. 

The Drake administration is entitled to make the decisions they want. But by not closing campus on severe weather days like this, it conveys an assumption that everyone has reliable transportation or the $48 to spend on a ride to campus. And for a school that prides itself on accessibility and inclusion, that feels like a bold assumption to make. 

For the next snowstorm – because in Iowa, there’s always a next one – I hope the administration considers the safety of Drake students and reflects on its promise of accessibility. There’s no college class that’s worth risking our lives.

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