Editor’s Note: (The Equinox received this letter on deadline day and will investigate in whole and invites other students to email with their experiences. The Equinox is going on hiatus over the winter recess but will return in the spring to cover the incident in full.)
I’ll never forget what happened Thursday, Nov. 15 2018, the day all hell broke loose. A hole in the system, here at Fairleigh Dickinson University, allowed for ten students, including me, to be left stranded outside for hours in the downpour of heavy snow. All ten of us had no way of getting home. Ubers, Lyfts, and the busses were not in service, and while we were helplessly panicking to find a way home, Public Safety forcibly removed us from Becton Hall, kicking us out into the storm. I hope after reading my story that the university considers installing a plan of emergency that prevents such discomforting situations from ever happening here again.
As it was announced to all students that classes were cancelled at 3:00p.m., I happily thought to myself I would get to go home early. Sadly, I was mistaken. I waited at the bus stop for over 30 minutes as the snow engulfed me, hopelessly waiting for a bus that never came. I walked to Becton Hall since it was the nearest facility. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one waiting for a ghost bus. All the busses that passed were not in service, teasing us with deception as they slowly inched their way through traffic.
Uber rates were tripled in price, and I didn’t have enough money in my account to order a trip home. Again, I wasn’t alone. All of the students trapped in Becton Hall had the same issue. Ubers and Lyfts were overpricing, and some students live so far from campus that rates were upwards $80.
On Thursdays I host a show at the campus’s radio station from six to seven p.m. It wasn’t required for me to go since the university had closed, but because I was stranded on campus I did so anyways. Going to and from Becton Hall to the Radio Station is a short passage, yet I still had difficulty treading through the snow trying not to slip and fall.
There I was complaining on air how my bus never came and I couldn’t get home. I ranted in frustration, not knowing that the real struggle awaiting me had yet to strike. After my show ended at seven, I stayed at the station thinking of how I could get home. I tried everything. I called my mom and she was stuck in New York where the traffic was not even moving. I called my father but got no response. I reached out to friends to see if anybody could pick me up. I had no luck.
I walked back to Becton Hall so I could see if the bus stopped by. When I got back to Becton Hall, there were still over a dozen students waiting for their bus to pass by. Shortly after I got there, few students were lucky enough to see their bus driving through with enough time to signal it down. Eventually, there were ten of us left, all waiting for the same bus, the 83. We called NJ Transit and they assured us it was on its way to just sit tight.
Ordered to Leave
What happened next enraged me, and still does. A public safety officer walked in and ordered us to leave, claiming we were no longer allowed inside the facility. Instantly I pulled out my phone in protest and recorded him as I voiced that we refuse to be forced out in the snow, but he relentlessly continued to press each one of us. I was unaware that this had been the third visit from the same officer, as he had come by twice to Becton Hall to warn the students they would have to leave. I was hosting my show at the radio station at the time of the two warnings, so for me this was my first encounter with the officer.
Expressing my anger and frustration to the officer, I stood by the door refusing to leave. He snuck up from behind me and pressed his body against my back, giving me a shove forward that forced me outside the door. All ten of us felt we were treated unfairly, as they yelled at us, claiming that it was our fault that we were still there. Their justification to this claim was that they gave us 5 hours to find a way home, and that should have been enough, as if any of us wanted to be stuck on campus. We were victims of circumstance, and when Public Safety needs to step in and provide comfort to the students, they did the exact opposite.
In their utter ignorance to our feelings and concerns, they successfully followed their orders by locking up Becton Hall. As we were outside of Becton arguing with the officers, they suggested we go to the Student Union building if we wanted warmth. We rebutted, explaining we wouldn’t be able to see when the bus comes. The same officer to force me out the door asked where I live before insisting I walk home by saying, “You are complaining the most and you live the closest. You could walk home from here!”
I responded in shock, “are you serious?!”
A walk home from the campus takes me and hour and fifteen minutes on a good day. The roads and sidewalks were in an extremely hazardous condition, and there are several uphill path’s I have to cross on my trail home. It was hard enough to keep from falling on flat ground; I couldn’t imagine trying to walk up the hills while the streets were in that condition.
The only boy other than me in the group of stranded students asked one of the officer’s if we could wait under the Public Safety’s deck. At least this way, we would have some kind of roof over our heads’ while we waited to see when the bus comes. The officer agreed, but unfortunately for us, we were still outside in the cold, and there seemed to be no solution for our issue, and no help from Public Safety what’s so ever.
We waited over two hours outside on the Public Safety’s deck, before one of the officer’s came out and announced that the university was offering a room for each one of us to stay in. In my head I thought finally some good news, but the other students felt differently. One of the girls stood up for herself and her friends, “We don’t want rooms,” she said politely, “we want a ride home, because our clothes are soaked, we will be cold and get sick.”
The Public Safety officer turned to me and said, “clearly she’s not understanding me, maybe you will, we can only offer–”
I interrupted and said, “no, we understand you perfectly.” I turned to the girls and said, “Pretty much what they’re telling us is they have no power and they’re not going to help us get home. They’re only giving us rooms. That’s the best they can do.”
I asked the officer about the FDU bookstore/gift-shop, and that if somehow we can borrow some dry clothes for the night. They rejected all of our suggestions and gave us an ultimatum; either take the rooms or we were on our own. The girls refused to agree to this deal. They insisted they would wait until an Uber would respond to them. The boy who was with them stood by their decision and waited with them. I was the only one that felt I had no choice, because even if I wanted to wait for the uber or lyft drivers to get back on the roads, I wouldn’t have enough to money to order either service.
It wasn’t until this point in time that one officer offered us to stay inside the Public Safety building, not that all of us could fit in there anyway. The workers who were also stranded with no way home were already inside sitting down, occupying every seat.
I agreed to take an open room and gave one of the staff member’s all my information. One officer took the workers and I to the rooms we would be staying at. It was freezing in the empty rooms, no bed sheets, no pillows, just a door pried open so we wouldn’t get locked out.
I got a call about a half an hour later from the staff member I gave my information to. She informed me that they found a staff member willing to drive me home since I don’t live too far from the school. I was finally going home.
As I got into the car, I was immediately greeted with what felt to be distilled hostility. First thing I was told was, “You’re not a foreign exchange student.”
I said, “No.”
He said, “That’s weird that we made this accommodation for you, we usually only make it for foreign exchange students.”
I respectively responded, “That’s weird because I wonder how I would’ve gotten home. I would’ve been stranded out in the storm.”
He said, “Well, you could have left at 3 when classes canceled.”
I said, “Actually I tried to but my bus never came and I don’t have enough for an Uber. So…”
The rest of the ride was quiet until we entered my town Ridgefield Park. He then says, “You know I’ve walked from the campus to here before.”
This to me felt like an insinuation. He was blatantly pointing out that I could have just walked home. I responded better this time than when the Public Safety officer had suggested the same.
“I have walked home from campus many times. Just not in this weather. I wouldn’t risk my life when it’s unnecessary.”
I, along with the nine other students that were stuck outside in the storm, deserve better. Tuition is more than $40,000 a year. We have enough resources to have an effective plan of action in our system for any emergency such as this one. If the university cannot provide transportation for the students who get stranded, then at least provide a room and dry clothes, a pillow, and clean sheets. It’s the least FDU can do for its students. On Thursday, Nov. 15 2018, I involuntarily was one of ten victims to a chilling absence of basic humanity and lack of care for others. An absence which could have potentially resulted in numerous tragedies.
– Julian Oliver
Categories: Knight Voices