Here’s a scenario every Amherst student is familiar with: You’re sitting at your computer late at night, skimming weather.com and avoiding writing that response paper or studying for that orgo exam tomorrow. Instead, you’re desperately searching for Facebook statuses, Groupme Messages, texts or even Snapchats with a hint of hope that classes will be canceling the next day. Your Hampshire, UMass, Smith and Mount Holyoke friends (and pretty much any college student in the Northeast) have already had class cancelled for the next day. Out of the Five Colleges, Amherst is by far the most cautious about cancelling classes due to inclement weather. But in avoiding calling snow days for the sake of our intellectual endeavors, Amherst shows its institutional lack of insight and concern for some students.
Last Monday, the administration sent out an email that made it clear that classes were still on for most students, stating, “as academics are the primary function of the college, and we are a residential campus, we only cancel all classes under extreme circumstances such as when the governor of Massachusetts announces a state of emergency.” Amherst only unilaterally cancels classes during supposedly “historic blizzards.” Indeed, by this logic, Amherst takes its academics more seriously than other colleges who cancel classes whenever there are a few inches of snow. Often, when the administration reluctantly allows some professors to cancel class, most students still find themselves having to wake up for their 8:30 a.m. lab.
Yet, as we’ve seen by the snowfall of the past three Mondays, this federal distinction of “emergency” doesn’t mean much to students. At the dorm level, there are still plenty of students who, either due to a temporary injury or permanent disability, are simply unable to walk to class in heavy snowfall. The administrators are aware of the issue: Every year, they send notes to RCs about particular students, and last year they even received a petition from members of the AAS expressing concern about the problem. In addition, many faculty and staff members faced hazardous road conditions as they tried to drive to work in the snow. Our institutional priorities must be in order: The safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff should come first, followed by the need for more class time.
A crucial aspect of spring semester for the administration and faculty to remember is that classes meet for 14 weeks as opposed to 13 in the fall. While some science classes admittedly do require the extra time, many of the classes during second semester could easily fit into a 13-week framework. With the Day of Dialogue and an administrative snow day, a lot of fuss has been made about “falling behind,” but it is important to remember that the spring semester has this forgotten cushion. Snow days are nothing new; they happen every January and February in the Pioneer Valley. It’s true that the hours we spend in class are precious, but it’s time that the administration prioritizes health and safety. We should treat snow days as a necessary inconvenience rather than a sacrifice to be avoided at all costs.