Winter safety hazards at Gustavus

This winter has not been normal. Records have been set, or nearly set, for snow cumulation and low, low, temperatures. With cold weather and blizzards come bad road conditions, broken heaters, and cold water. As every Gustie knows, this can mean delayed starts (if we are lucky), canceled classes, and finger-freezing walks to class.

The last blizzard we endured was one of the worst I have experienced at Gustavus, perhaps the worst of my twenty years of living in Minnesota. The winds were whipping, the ice was frozen, and the snow was piling. The known-to-all triple threat. Within the first few hours, activities were canceled for Sunday and roads were shutting down. It looked to be a weekend full of Netflix and bags of popcorn for meals, and that was definitely what it turned out to be.

As soon as the snow began to pile up past my waist and the wind blow-dried my hair, I knew that travel of any sort would be incredibly difficult. Upon waking up on Sunday, I got alerts from the National Weather Service about closed roads, cities being in states of emergency, and snapchats of cars stuck in the middle of the road and abandoned there.

My roommate tried to go to work and was one of the unlucky people who had to leave their cars in the middle of a street. When she got back, thanks to the help of a Campus Safety officer, she informed me that the man who had given her a ride and attempted to get her unstuck was the only Campus Safety officer on campus that day-not because the rest decided to call it a day and not come in, but because he was the only one who could physically make it there. I did not think twice about this as I knew I would never risk my own safety, and others on the road, to make it to work when roads are shut down and I am told to drive only in an emergency.

I was caught off-guard when my classmates were upset due to the fact that Campus Safety and the grounds crew was unable to assist with stranded cars and unplowed sidewalks. The arguments did make sense: students were put in potential danger by unheated apartments and stuck cars. But what did not make sense is the argument that there should have been workers scheduled.

I am positive that there were Campus Safety officers and grounds crew workers scheduled for Sunday, but I am also certain that the blizzard also caught them as off-guard as it did us. It may have just been me, but I did not expect the conditions to be quite as severe as they turned out to be. I do not speak for the officers and grounds crew, but I am sure that they expected to be able to, at least, drive up to campus–assuming they live in St. Peter-even if the conditions were not ideal.

It is hard to live on a residential campus and have your heat go out. It is difficult to struggle walking to places on campus due to large drifts of snow, and it is frustrating when you cannot take a hot shower.

But it is also unfair to expect workers to risk getting stuck, spinning out, or being stranded in such severe conditions. It was nearly impossible to drive a block on campus, let alone up the various hills to get onto campus. Yes, it would be convenient to have a live-in handyman or landlord of sorts to address these issues in times of snow crises, but it simply does not exist at this moment in time at Gustavus, unfortunately.

There are certainly flaws in the residential system, but those are not solvable in one day, let alone in the middle of a blizzard. If one good thing came out of the cold water, stranded cars, and freezing apartments, it is that these are serious issues ,and that they need to be addressed. It is incredibly unfortunate that they happened and they all have a certain degree of risk for those experiencing them. But it is wrong to place blame on the shoulders of those who could not make it to work in the blizzard.