Around 8 p.m. on Monday night, the Michigan Student Power Network created a petition called #UMichColdShoulder demanding the University of Michigan cancel classes.
“The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor must close campus during harsh weather conditions – not just in extreme circumstances,” the petition reads. “A refusal to do so is classist and ableist, with disproportionate effects on workers, low income community members, and community members who are not able-bodied.”
The petition calls for students to email and call University President Mark Schlissel as well as sign the petition. As of 10 p.m Monday night — about two hours after its creation — the petition had 2,236 signatures.
Students say it’s an equity issue
The petition came after students trudged through deep snow in an effort to make it to class on Monday. U-M students felt the effects of Winter Storm Jayden, facing a day of constant snow that accumulated quickly on University sidewalks and streets. The weather conditions caused many students to question the University’s decision to remain fully operational.
According to the National Weather Service, a winter weather advisory was put into effect for the Ann Arbor area at 4:30 p.m. Monday. The advisory predicted two to four inches of snow to accumulate throughout the day.
LSA junior Rylei McAllister took to Facebook to express her opinions on the University not canceling classes on Monday.
“I understand why the University doesn’t cancel classes for weather,” McAllister wrote. “But think of the kids who are already at a disadvantage because they are struggling to afford to go here and are expected to walk long distances.”
Over the weekend, the University sent out multiple warnings regarding the severe cold, detailing remaining outside in subzero temperatures could result in frostbite in less than 10 minutes.
“The university released a statement telling these same students they will get frostbite if they are outside for longer than ten minutes,” McAllister wrote. “But (the administration) knows misses (sic) classes can mean a lower grade for attendance and participation, which financial aid rides on. And think of the students with disabilities or injuries that are going to have a hard time getting to and from classes this week.”
In an interview with The Daily, McAllister said she understands the difficult logistics behind canceling classes, but the University should take the safety of students and staff into account.
“I think there’s a biased assumption that all students live very centrally … close to the Diag and so it’s not that big of a deal if there are bad conditions because it’s not that far to go, but that’s not the case,” McAllister said. “I think that in the mix of it, we forget about students who live off campus or far from campus and have to commute; their lives are put in danger by having to drive in these conditions. Students who are disabled have to find a way to get to campus through all of the mess as well.”
LSA junior Iman Elkahlah lives about 15 minutes away and commutes to campus. She said the University should value safety over classes as the roads she takes to get to school are not fully cleared of snow.
“I’m debating whether I’ll be able to go to class or not because my safety is my number one priority,” Elkahlah said. “The campus roads are clean, but the roads in downtown Ann Arbor are harsh. They are not taking into consideration the roads to come here.”
When asked about taking disabled and commuter students into consideration, the Office of Public Affairs declined to comment.
Blue busses face difficulties
The University of Michigan Campus Bus System Facebook page posted Saturday about the predicted hazardous weather conditions in the coming week. The post advised students of possible bus delays and warned of the chance of frostbite after 10 minutes of exposed skin under the current weather conditions.
On Monday afternoon, a Blue Bus slid off the road and hit a nearby tree.
Stephen Dolen, executive director of logistics, transportation and parking at the University, said the department is working to ensure buses run on schedule in this week’s snowy weather. He said there is an additional challenge making sure enough staff is able to safely get to work, and the department is trying their best to get as many overtime volunteers as possible.
“Any weather event has a huge impact on transit,” Dolen said. “Things are going slower, and our drivers are directed to not take any additional chances because they are trying to stay on time. When it comes to days like this, you have to be safe and do the best you can to stay as on time as possible. We’re very considerate of what’s going on with the cold.”
Other schools, businesses close for inclimate weather
Multiple services and events on campus were closed or rescheduled Monday. The LSA Social Impact Fair, originally scheduled for Monday evening, was rescheduled for March 11. Center for Global and Intercultural Study closed at 3 p.m. and moved a First Step session to Tuesday afternoon. The Fishbowl closed early Monday afternoon due to weather-based student safety concerns, and Espresso Royale on South University Avenue closed early at 8 p.m.
U-M Dearborn and U-M Flint both closed on Jan. 28. Eastern Michigan University canceled classes Jan. 28, and Wayne State University will close at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and reopen on Thursday. An additional 72 public schools in the Metro Detroit area are scheduled to close Tuesday.
Michigan’s state government offices in the Lower Peninsula also shut down due to emergency snow conditions Monday morning. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement saying the offices plan to reopen Tuesday.
“This is about keeping all Michiganders safe,” Whitmer wrote in the statement. “All motorists are encouraged to stay off of the roads. If you must be out, please drive safely in these dangerous weather conditions and be respectful of road crews working to clear snow and ice.”
University to monitor future weather conditions
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said the University is paying attention to the current situation. Going forward, Broekhuizen said administrators will make decisions about canceling classes accordingly.
“The university is closely monitoring the weather forecast for later this week,” Broekhuizen wrote in an email interview with The Daily.
Regardless of the University’s official decision, some students are considering staying home in the coming days as temperatures are predicted to plummet. Engineering sophomore Jake Kovalic said none of his classes have been canceled, but he thinks the snowy and icy conditions will have an impact on campus operations. A low temperature of negative 17 degrees Fahrenheit is predicted for Wednesday with possible wind chills as low as 40 degrees below zero Tuesday night through Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
“Last week it was very icy, and at least one of the days, every surface was iced,” Kovalic said. “I would hope they cancel classes. I’ll see how the weather is on Wednesday, but I might not go either way.”