COLUMN: If winter weather threatens student safety, cancel classes

MU puts students in danger when it refuses to cancel classes due to harsh weather, and that isn’t fair.

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Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore majoring in journalism, philosophy and women’s and gender studies at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

Go to your classes. That’s what a lot of people say if you ask for advice in college.

While it’s hard to argue against that logic, students and faculty shouldn’t have to choose between their safety and their classes. MU has an obligation to make sure students can get to classes.

Over the past few weeks, severe weather has created hazardous conditions on the MU campus. With students waiting to see if the university will cancel classes, a variety of concerns have created discussions around campus.

The age-old advice of going to class doesn’t work here because for some students that means putting their academics above their own safety. Last semester, MU tweeted out this advice and said, “Employees & students can exercise judgment when deciding if they can travel safely to campus.” Not only does this push the burden of choice onto the student, but it also ignores the obligation that MU has to all students, and that includes students with disabilities.

Students should be able to get to classes if they are required. MU’s reluctance to cancel classes can mean the university is failing to fulfill its obligation. The art of assigning blame is easy to manipulate, but it is clear that students aren’t being considered as much as they should be.

The weather being harsh isn’t the university’s fault; however, choosing to keep the campus open becomes a problem. The simple rule needs to be that students, of any ability, should be able to get to class without putting themselves in danger because skipping class isn’t always an option. While the university tells people to come to class if it is safe, students don’t get the luxury of deciding based on just safety.

For many, the points given during class can make or break a grade, meaning exercising judgment isn’t always beneficial to the student. In addition, if the weather poses a threat to the student but the campus is open, professors don’t have to be sympathetic to students’ concerns.

A couple of weeks ago, I messaged one of my professors because I was worried about getting to class in the already slick snow. MU had decided to close campus early, but not early enough for students with classes across campus. When I explained my concern to my professor prior to the start of class, he said there was no way to make up the assignments for his class. Despite the fact that students pay to be here, their concerns are treated as excuses.

Getting through campus, while actually sliding due to the snow, can be hard. More than once, my friends and I have helped individuals using wheelchairs or other mobility aids get out of the snow or off of the ice. If students can’t get to classes because of something as uncontrollable as the weather, then classes need to be canceled.

This isn’t about getting more snow days — this is about not forcing students to choose between their GPA and their health. Risking injury or exposure to low temperatures shouldn’t be a requirement of being a student. Students should go to classes, but not if doing so puts them in danger. The university can’t be blamed for the weather, but that doesn’t give them a reason to keep the campus open when the weather makes getting to classes a struggle. The options are to make sure that getting to campus is safe for everyone or cancel. Weather conditions aren’t MU’s fault, but they aren’t the student’s fault either.

If MU wants to claim that its campus is accessible, it can’t continue with classes on days where just going to class is dangerous. There is no university without students and staff, so there is no reason for MU to value class over safety.

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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