EDITORIAL: University needs improved winter safety policies
Winter is coming, and with it, increased danger to the safety of the Brandeis community. In the past several weeks, Brandeis and its surrounding area have seen the signs of the season approaching, from the dropping temperatures to the snowy weather right after Thanksgiving break. This board appreciates the work the University — and especially the facilities department — does to keep the community safe, but sees clear areas of improvement regarding snow day procedures and shuttle tracking services.
In an email to the Justice, Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley explained that the criteria in closing the University for a snow day prioritizes “safety for the campus community and visitors,” with the conditions of the roads and pathways on and leading to campus, as well as parking lots, being evaluated to determine if they are passable and clear. The forecasted timing of when snow will fall is also a consideration. “On Monday, the snow and wintry mix was forecasted and took place mostly overnight, which gave our Facilities crews enough time to clear the campus roads/pathways before people arrived at 8 or 9 a.m.,” Stanley explained regarding last week’s snow storm, but Tuesday’s snow occurred in the morning and did not allow for clearing the roads in time for a standard opening schedule.
This board is grateful to the “crew of 30 custodians, seven grounds members and 25 contract employees [who] worked 48 hours straight to make campus accessible,” as highlighted in a Dec. 5 Finance and Administration InBrief email. However, the conditions of campus pathways by the time of opening on both days were not sufficient to ensure the safety and ability of students to get to campus and class. Some paths between Ziv Residence Quad and the Carl & Ruth Shapiro Admissions Center, for instance, were not sufficiently cleared of snow on Monday, and hills and stairs were icy throughout the day. This is not only a danger to all members of the Brandeis campus community, but it is also an accessibility issue; these safety concerns are much more impactful on people with mobility issues. Ice poses one of the most significant threats to public safety, creating a risk of anyone slipping and injuring themselves.
Regarding last week’s snow storm, the University should also have considered that many students were unable to return to campus after leaving for Thanksgiving break because of the storm. In situations like this, the roads on and near campus may be cleared and navigable, but more people’s transportation will be delayed or unsafe when they are coming from farther away. The University’s standards for declaring a snow day should include this type of consideration.
No matter what the decision of the response team is in a particular case of deciding whether or not to have a snow day, delay or regular schedule day, the expectations of what occurs on campus in each situation must be clarified. On the recent snow delay day, there was no clear protocol in regards to how partially-canceled classes should occur. Some professors required students to come in for the last twenty minutes of 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. classes, but other professors simply canceled class, potentially leaving students confused. There needs to be a clearer understanding of what exactly should happen for classes, meetings and events in these gray-area situations.
In addition to snow dangers, students being out in sub-zero temperatures for long periods of time is a safety issue, and there are things the University can do to make it safer for students. In cases when people are dependent on Brandeis shuttles to get somewhere, especially returning from Boston or Waltham, it is the University’s responsibility to ensure that students are not stranded in the cold due to missing shuttles or malfunctioning trackers. This board recognizes that sometimes the shuttle may be unavoidably delayed due to traffic or other reasons, but the online tracking system should be consistently functional and accurate. Without working trackers, students waiting on a late shuttle cannot retreat indoors for fear of missing the shuttle. Instead, they must wait in often-freezing temperatures for long or undetermined periods of time — an obvious health risk. Fixing the tracker would allow students who need to wait for Brandeis transportation to wait in a warmer place instead of risking their health by standing in the cold.
Students can call Public Safety to find out the status and location of the shuttle, but sometimes Public Safety has been unable to provide that information. In instances when the tracker does not work as intended, there must be more communication between shuttles and Public Safety. It is essential that the University fix these aspects of the lack of reliable tracking, and perhaps offer some sort of affordable alternative in the worst case. The Student Union was able to begin work on a partnership with Lyft; there could be potential for the University to implement some sort of emergency Lyft discount, where students can be given access to a discount code by Public Safety if they have been waiting for an unexpectedly long time in dangerous weather.
Along with the snow and the cold, the season change means it is getting dark outside much earlier — and especially on the Rabb steps, on which the lighting is currently broken, this is potential for danger. It is a real risk to students and everyone who has to go on the steps at night, especially when there is ice and slush, and this board encourages the University to fix the lighting on the Rabb steps to make it easier to see and decrease the danger of falling.
This board also recognizes that having a day off of school for a snow day can improve students’ emotional wellbeing. Other schools close campus occasionally to promote student morale: at Smith College, there is an annual “Mountain Day” held a day in the fall when classes are canceled, per the Smith website. Smith provides a picnic lunch for students and encourages them to enjoy the lovely day. Williams College has a similar tradition. Brandeis has been working hard to promote students’ wellness — from Sleep Week to finals period Stressbuster activities — and giving students a full snow day instead of a delayed opening could help serve this goal.
The spring semester contains a sizable number of the winter months. The board encourages the University to explore all of the facets of what it takes to keep students safe in the cold and snow.