Admin leaves off-campus students stranded

Illustration by Amelia Madarang

I recently wrote a letter to Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan expressing my deep frustration with the administration’s decision to resume academic classes on Wednesday, Feb. 17. As we all know, over 150,000 Portland homes were left without electricity, heat, WiFi and warm water beginning Feb. 14, and many did not regain these necessities until the following weekend. 

While Lewis & Clark’s undergraduate campus was fortunate enough to lose power for less than 24 hours, many off-campus students, including myself, did not have such luck. My housemates and I spent four nights without heat, WiFi and warm water; our house temperature dropped to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It was not until Thursday, Feb. 18 when we decided to book hotels and AirBnBs because we felt stressed about falling behind in school and yearned for a warm shower. Luckily, the gods and goddesses heard our shivering prayers and restored power to our house the morning of Friday, Feb. 19. With this experience, the administration made it very clear that when natural disasters occur, LC prioritizes on-campus students at the expense of off-campus students.

The decision to reopen the college demonstrated that on-campus students were more of a priority than those living off campus. Not only were off-campus students put at an extreme disadvantage, but they were forced to prioritize academics over mental health and general safety. A number of students chose to live off-campus this year for a variety of reasons. Many underclassmen elected to do this at the college’s request in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Reopening the college amid a widespread power outage is no way to thank these students for alleviating the administration’s stresses. The college advertises the LC community as a unified body, but this body was divided two weeks ago in their decision to look after on-campus students while leaving everyone else behind. 

The administration’s idea to share on-campus resources with off-campus students was offensive to the struggles these students were facing at home. In an email, off-campus students were told  they could go to Templeton Student Center, Watzek Library or Pamplin Sports Center to use their facilities. As well-intentioned as these suggestions may have been, they appeared as an attempt to strengthen the administration’s reasons for reopening while dampening the numerous stresses and difficulties students faced off campus. With most roads being left in terrible conditions, many off-campus students did not feel comfortable or safe driving to campus. And to expect that students to fork out $50 for a round-trip Uber ride is nothing short of ignorant. In the future, I suggest classes be canceled while also offering those resources to students in need. 

This is the second time this year that the administration made an inappropriate decision to continue classes during a natural disaster. Last fall, wildfires raged across Oregon, compromising the air quality and temperature in students’ homes. Instead of canceling classes so that students could manage their health and mental well-being or prepare to evacuate, students felt immense pressure to attend Zoom classes in fear of falling behind. Being expected to attend school amid a natural disaster, whether virtual or in-person, is not normal and should not be deemed as such. 

I understand that the college is required to facilitate classes for a certain number of hours each semester. However, forcing students to attend school during two natural disasters generates more harm than good. When Portland undergoes its next natural disaster, I and many other students suggest pausing classes until the situation has been resolved and reassessing how those lost hours in the classroom will be made up. Perhaps adding additional days at the end of the semester is a viable option. Given my lack of expertise in running a college, I am not certain if this is the most productive solution, but any alternative is exponentially better than the choices the administration executed this past year. 

The intention of this article is not to assign blame, but to formulate a comprehensive solution ensuring that LC students will not experience these tribulations again. If administrators are still looking for ways to listen to students and improve the workings of the college, pausing classes and and reassessing after the fact would be one way to successfully do that.

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