Ahead of the polar vortex hitting northeast Pennsylvania, students questioned if classes should be held. Sophomore Lindsay Becker launched a petition on Change.org asking the Wilkes University campus to close on Jan. 31.
The cold was enough an advisory to be issued by the National Weather Service, stating that it was too cold for people to be outside for any time past fifteen minutes. Exposed skin would be at risk for frostbite.
According to the National Weather Service, winds on Wednesday night into Thursday morning gusted upwards of 30 mph, with the wind chill registering at -20 and lower.
The campus initially called for a compressed schedule for Thursday on Wednesday evening, but the morning alert 6 a.m. said campus would change to closed for the day. The early morning decision allowed for commuters to stay home, nurses to avoid going to clinicals, and campus residents to stay in their buildings.
According to Change.org, 1,501 signatures were registered on the petition through Thursday.
“I started this (the petition) because of the cold weather advisory, it was all around unsafe for everyone involved,” Becker said. “People’s asthma was flaring up, commuter student’s cars were not starting, and there was a huge risk for frostbite. When I realized the dangers, I knew I had to do something.”
When asked about the number of signatures that this received, Becker said, “I never imagined that this would gain so much attention. I only put it on my Snapchat.
“I made this at 9:30 (p.m.) so I assumed that people would be going to sleep, calming down for the night. I never imagined it would jump by over 500 signatures in 45 minutes.”
But did this petition have any holding on whether or not we closed on the 31st?
Dr. Anne Skleder, university provost provided some insight.
“Our philosophy is, we are always trying to stay open as much as we can,” Skleder said. “We are in the business of educating students who are paying tuition. First and foremost, we have to take into consideration campus policies. This is so we can prevent issues with canceling too early.
“We as a campus consult many sources, these are things like the National Weather Service and our neighbor, King’s College. Wilkes has a subscription to the National Weather Service that updates about our specific area at least once a day. If I need more information, then I will call them for an update.”
There are also many factors that have to be considered when a potential closure is afoot. Skleder said,
“We decide what is best for our students,” Skelder said. “We have about 1,100 students living on campus. We have another 800 who live in walking distance of campus. This separates us from say, Luzerne County Community College or a K-12 school.
“We do not have buses running at 6 am, nor do we have primarily commuter students. But that is the beautiful thing about our policy, that if it is safe for our almost 2,000 students in the campus community to come, but some of our commuters cannot make it, we emphasize that it is the person’s judgment. If they (the commuter students) do not feel safe coming, they just need to email professors and make the right judgment that keeps them safe.”
Skleder also brought up the point of “I have never had any issues with students who decided it was unsafe. All of the faculty are incredibly understanding. I have more students email me about being upset with no classes on days that we do call off.”
Some students were quite happy about this decision.
“I think campus closing was the right decision, especially because of the wind chills,” Anna Culver, a freshman communication studies student said. “The weather was cold enough to give anyone who spent too much time outside from frostbite.”
According to Skelder, this decision was not based on the petition, rather based on the policies the university holds. Though, she said this does not mean that students should not express their opinions on hot button issues.
“I appreciate that students are using their voices,” Skleder said. “I hope that they continue to do this for bigger issues as well.”