By Cassandra Gilbert
In December, The Equinox received a letter regarding the November snowstorm and one student’s story of struggle, including how he believed Public Safety had failed him and his fellow students. The Equinox sat down with University Director of Public Safety Dave Miles to discuss the weather response policies.
The policy prior to the severe snowstorm was, “Pretty much the campus closes at a certain time, everybody leaves, and the only people we have on campus [are] the students in the residence halls,” Miles said.
Public Safety realized after this snowstorm that this tactic was not sufficient, especially with a campus that is predominately commuters.
“What we will be doing is we’ll be keeping the Student Union Building open,” Miles said.
The reason for this, according to Miles, is that the SUB has heat, Wi-Fi connection, couches, and study space.
“We opened up the Student Union Building, but some students didn’t feel that was good enough because they couldn’t see the buses… And again, we have to put people in a location that has the facilities that they need, and that’s why we chose the Student Union Building. Because number one: it was the closest building to Becton Hall. We’re not going to leave them in Becton Hall because Becton Hall is a classroom building. There’s not comfortable chairs in there for people to sit, so that’s why we made the decision to do that,” Miles said. “Becton to the SUB is not a far walk.”
The SUB is offset from the street and, given icy, snowy, and windy conditions, can be viewed as a far walk, especially if, as Miles reiterated, people were not prepared. When asked if the sidewalks were salted and cleared of snow at 8 P.M. (the time of the incident at Becton), Miles could not confirm.
“You have to understand, crews coming here have to get here. It’s not where they’re standing here and waiting. But they started doing the work as soon as they got here,” Miles said.
He did, however, acknowledge that their own vehicles were unable to get through, forcing the Public Safety officers to abandon their vehicles and walk.
“I’ve got to say, it was wintertime, it was November, so you had a jacket on…And it wasn’t like we had a foot of snow . . . It was ice, and a lot of other things, yes,” he said.
The two weeks leading up to the storm Nov. 15, however, temperatures ranged from 41 degrees to as high as 74. Even Miles said, “it was predicted, but nobody prepared for it.” Despite this acknowledgment, Miles continued to maintain that the SUB was the most reasonable place to send students.
Miles explained that the reason students weren’t allowed to remain in Becton was due to safety concerns.
“We just can’t have every building open, y’know, for safety reasons, because especially with weather, [we] may not be able to get there in the event of a problem,” Miles said.
When asked if they had considered opening the library due to the fact that it poses the same conveniences as the SUB, but is the building right next to Becton and also is in view of the bus stop that the students were concerned with seeing, Miles said they hadn’t.
Earlier in the interview Miles had said, “Sure. Again, another area we can look at,” when the question of opening the library had come up, but after asking if they would have considered opening the library that night had students asked, Miles was reluctant to say yes.
“Possibly. Possibly. Y’know you have to understand, again, the library, the library is a big building. [If] we start putting students in there, we have to monitor where they’re going, so we would have to see at that time. Yes, there’s Internet in there, there’s couches in there, but it’s a different type of building. We can’t have people on three different levels. Student Union Building is kind of a student building and its combined lounge areas, but then other areas-are locked. We would’ve had to go in and start locking areas and closing areas off,” Miles said. “[W]ould we go to other buildings? Possibly…that’s something that’s hard to predict until something happens.”
Overall, a consistent theme was that Public Safety will “play it by ear.”
“We don’t want a repeat of what happened last [semester]. We don’t want to take the criticism, we don’t want the students to feel inconvenienced, so [we] don’t want a repeat of that and if we’ve got to make adjustments, we make adjustments,” Miles said. “As far as them staying on campus…the university, through Residence Life, will try and make accommodations for them with a room. However, what you have to understand is that the university will not provide any kind of bedding or anything.”
Miles’ recommendation to students is that they leave campus more quickly.
“[S]ometimes common sense has to play into some of this also,” Miles said. “What we urge people to do… [if] you know the storm’s coming, y’know, leave a little earlier.”
This recommendation came in response to the student saying he was on campus until 8 P.M.
“When we closed at three o’clock, it wasn’t until about eight o’clock that the student complained. So that’s a five-hour difference,” Miles said. “[T]he student was on campus and then decided to go to the radio station, and then from the radio station wanted to go at eight o’clock to Becton Hall, this is five hours after the storm has hit, why go at three o’clock when the storm is starting[?]”
The email to the FDU community that the campus was closed came in at 3:12 P.M. The student reported that he was waiting for his bus, which never came, until 3:30 P.M. before deciding to make his way to the radio station. After he got done with his show, he reportedly decided to wait in Becton since his bus still hadn’t arrived, so he could stay warm and still see the bus coming.
The student had reported in his letter that no buses showed up until this time that were in service and that Ubers were too expensive. The student had apparently complained about being kicked out, not about being stranded on campus.
“We’ll assess it but we’ll also help if need be, to check with New Jersey Transit, check with taxis, check with Uber, whatever anybody wants,” Miles said.
“Everybody has a right to write whatever they want and to make their complaints known,” Miles said. “Some of the things [dry clothes and driving students’ home] were kind of unreasonable, as far as I’m concerned. And again, the person that wrote the letter was not the only person that was inconvenienced.”
Miles explained that they could not provide dry clothes from the bookstore like the student requested because it is an outside company that they had no right to give out. He explained that they could not simply drive students’ home because then they’d “have nobody on the campus.”
The situation does demonstrate just how important it is for students to speak up. Miles said that it was only after he saw the letter that Public Safety decided to come up with a strategy to tackle these situations in the future. This talk did not come about after the incident itself, but rather as a direct result of the published letter.
“I just want to say that, for the student that wrote the letter, we don’t want this to happen, we tried to do the best that we could, and hopefully it won’t happen again,” Miles said.
To read the full letter sent in to the Equinox, please go to https://fduequinox.wordpress.com
Written February 5, 2019
Photograph by Patricia Ressell-Deras