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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Student-administration divide apparent in wake of polar vortex decision

This past Tuesday, President Steve Poskanzer sent an email announcing the college would remain open in the face of record-breaking low temperatures and that classes would go on as usual. The National Weather Service had reported on Tuesday morning that the temperatures could be the coldest in more than twenty years in parts of Minnesota. Seventeen minutes after Poskanzer’s email, Carleton facilities sent a notice to check doors, lock windows, and to ensure the heat worked properly, as state officials urged Minnesotans to be prepared for the low temperatures. Meanwhile, Poskanzer relayed that “in the hope it would be helpful, free hot chocolate and apple cider would be served at the LDC, the Weitz Café, and the Sayles Café from 1:30pm until 8pm” on Wednesday.

In preparation for the cold, there were several student initiatives to cancel classes and work obligations. CSA passed a resolution urging that the administration “formally and explicitly announce that all classes and other mandatory campus events on January 30th, 2019 are cancelled and…. [that] Carleton administration forbid penalty of any form—academic, financial, or otherwise—for an individual’s absence from campus on January 30th, 2019.” In addition, a petition circulated to cancel classes and garnered 1,400 signatures, a vast majority of the student body of 2,078. I assume many students exchanged messages with anxious parents, who had been alerted to the dangerous weather; I personally spent Tuesday afternoon fielding my mother’s warnings to stay inside and to try to make sure that local personality Lyman the Cat was safe somewhere indoors. I checked my windows for draftiness and double-checked that I had enough Annie’s Mac and Cheese for my breakfast and lunch and dinner, if I ended up stranded. It was a day of perhaps unnecessary worrying and irritation (other students made it to class and work just fine, I am told) but I do know that one thing that didn’t help me at all was the promise of hot chocolate and apple cider. I thought about a classmate who had told me a story about a boy who lived on her floor who had no snow boots, only tennis shoes, and would probably have to traverse through the snow to reach a class or a work engagement. I also thought about the campus workers, both students and non-students, who would have to either walk to campus or risk driving, when the Northfield News reported that the Minnesota Department of Transportation warned drivers of “potentially life-threatening situations” through Thursday morning. I was lucky enough to have had my classes canceled by professors who worried for my safety when walking more than five minutes in the cold, but others weren’t, and the administration wasn’t completely on their side.

Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the first instance of the Carleton administration using food as petty offerings for larger problems. Last spring, students faced a parallel but opposite dilemma of rising temperatures and un-air conditioned dorms. In response, members of the Tuesday group stood on the steps of Sayles and offered students popsicles, advising that Sayles would remain open all night if students were too hot. I can remember lying in bed awake in Evans for the third night in a row, praying that my melatonin would eventually kick in and I could escape the hot, damp air at last. Just like this winter, students proposed a solution: turn on the air-conditioning in dorms. Though Watson eventually was air-conditioned, the remainder of campus dorms were left as they were, and students were left to their own devices to cool down; the popsicles were free of charge.

I acknowledge that the administration faces enormous pressure in situations like these. Colleges and schools nearby (Macalester, Grinnell, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Northfield elementary schools) closed in the face of the weather, while Carleton has a bit of a reputation to uphold for keeping classes open in the face of extreme weather. Nonetheless, it is a crucial tenet of any administration (perhaps the most crucial) to be concerned for its student body, faculty, and staff, and in weather like this, it feels like taking the long way around to demand that the campus remain open, rather than calling classes and work obligations off for one day. Times like these illustrate the gap between the administration and students, especially students who don’t have enough money for adequate outerwear. It’s an experience that favors the privileged (like most at Carleton) and fucks with the others. In the meantime, I urge the administration to think about quality of life at Carleton, and how it may relate to the fact that our student body tends to feel left behind and forgotten by the administration—and how that can be changed.

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