A polar vortex has hit the University of Michigan this week, bringing some of the lowest temperatures in years to the Midwest. The University announced it will cancel class from Wednesday until 7 a.m. Friday, during which temperatures are expected to be the worst. However, disabled, injured and commuting students have already been feeling the harsh effects of the weather for days.
LSA freshman Madeline Walsh has a torn ACL, an injury that makes it difficult for her to get around campus. Walsh said the University has been doing a good job of getting the pathways clear in a timely fashion.
“Slipping was a very real possibility, but the snow hasn’t been too bad,” Walsh said. “They’re doing a pretty good job of keeping it off the most important sidewalks, so getting to the more populated areas hasn’t been too bad.”
Amir Baghdadchi, senior associate director of University Housing Association, told The Daily in an email the University staff works tirelessly day and night to maintain the campus conditions and keep the sidewalks walkable for all students.
“We have a full Facilities team that is always ready, at all hours, with shovels and snow machines,” Baghdadchi wrote. “Instead of ‘shutting down’ during the cold, our efforts ramp up, because cold can disrupt so many systems, and we have to be vigilant. Just like everything in Housing, it’s a 24-hour operation: once we’ve done each corner of the building, we start over again to maintain safety.”
In addition, Walsh noted the Services for Students With Disabilities has a program, Paratransit, that offers transportation for students with disabilities to help them get from building to building. However, Walsh claimed the program is limited in its abilities.
“You just kind of have to plan out when you’ll need to be driven and to what places way in advance of when you’ll need it, so if I needed to stop by CVS, I wouldn’t really have that flexibility,” Walsh said.
Walsh also said while the University has been doing a good job, she had to make sacrifices for her wellbeing and not attend her classes or club meetings due to the slippery sidewalks and roads last week. She noted her professors were accommodating of her situation.
“I had to skip class on Wednesday [last week], the day it was really icy out, and there were a few club mass meetings I didn’t get to go to on Tuesday night of last week,” Walsh said.
Walsh is one of many students who lives on North Campus and takes the buses every day. On Monday, a Blue Bus slid off of Fuller Road and crashed into a tree. She said the bus crash scared her, as she is already injured, and it made her think about other students and faculty who have to drive longer distances to get to campus.
“When one of the girls said she had felt herself jolt when the bus crashed, that was a little scary, because I’m not looking to get any more hurt,” Walsh said. “It definitely was concerning, especially with all of the professors and students that drive to school. It made me think that we should probably not expect everyone to have to endure all of those conditions.”
According to First District of the Michigan State Police, which includes Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe and Washtenaw Counties, there were a total of 117 crashes in the district on Monday.
The Division of Public Safety & Security issued a warning on Sunday about especially snowy and slippery roads on Monday and Tuesday. Similarly, the Ann Arbor Police Department advised city members and students to avoid driving during the snow and spend minimal amounts of time outside.
Engineering sophomore Giselle Roca lives off-campus and has approximately a 15-minute drive to Central Campus. Roca stated she usually parks on North Campus and takes the bus, but the crash on Monday scared her. She claimed the roads were not safe for anyone to drive on.
“I haven’t had any problems, but yesterday there were buses that got in crashes, which is crazy,” Roca said. “I feel like the weather conditions have been so bad these past few days, it’s not safe for anyone to drive.”
Roca uses a faculty parking pass that enables her to park near campus. However, she said she is unaware of any parking passes for students that are not expensive.
Student parking passes are notoriously pricey, and according to University Logistics, Transportation and Parking, only students of junior standing or above are eligible for most permits. The Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority Park & Ride Program is a free parking program, but the lots are farther away and it requires taking city buses and more driving in dangerous conditions.
LSA sophomore Shelby Alston commutes 90 minutes each way, five days a week. Alston was given a full ride to the University, including room and board, but she chose to live at home and get a refund check. She drives an hour every day and then parks 30 minutes away from campus as part of the free parking program. Alston said she often has to decide whether her safety or a class is more important.
“It’s been really tough, especially since, you know, every school from my house to the University is closing, and I know it’s going to be a dangerous drive and I find myself in my head weighing my options and sort of choosing between safety and a grade,” Alston said. “It’s really unfortunate sometimes to have to make those decisions.”
Alston noted that Perry Samson, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, live streamed his lectures and enabled students to continue to interact even if they were watching from home. She said she wishes the University would implement more classes like Samson’s.
“I think the main issue (is) that they either need to be more lenient in their (attendance) policies or they need to have more classes that do things live streaming,” Alston said. “I thought it was amazing. He took a video of himself, had the audio streaming, and if we had any questions, we could type it in an anonymous platform and his GSIs would tell him. It was still interactive, and I wasn’t stressed because if there was snow, I could still attend lecture and still get the valuable teaching that I wanted. Because it’s not that I don’t want to go — I want to hear what my teacher has to say. Lecture is valuable, you know?”