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ASWU holds forum soliciting feedback on WU emergency response

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Chrissy Ewald

Staff writer

A photo of the 2024 ASWU senators' Zoom forum on Feb. 19. Taken by Chrissy Ewald.

In response to the ice storm and power outages that struck Salem last week, the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) Senators of the class of 2024 held a forum on Feb. 19 to listen to student experiences with the weather. The senators planned to relay the stories heard to Willamette’s administration, in order to help inform their future responses to crises. Senators Ainsley Moench, Zeke Druker and Inéz Nieves held the forum which was open to all College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) undergraduate students, in person and via Zoom. The forum began with an open comment period for students to voice their personal experiences with the ice storm, followed by presentations by Senators Nieves and Druker on how to access student resources.

The forum was sparsely attended, but senators used what comments students did offer to discuss a wide variety of issues, including off-campus power outages, the efficacy of accommodations offered by professors and administrators and effects on student mental health. Emma Bass (’24), the sole non-senatorial speaker, said: “[Her professors] haven’t been super lenient on everything going on. I still have two major exams this week that weren’t postponed.” Senator Druker responded that although it is difficult to regulate how individual professors manage their own classrooms, pressure from students might help establish new norms that are more lenient towards students in times of crisis. Senator Nieves floated the idea of adding a clause about weather crises and climate change to student-professor agreements such as those on nondiscrimination found in class syllabi.

In addition to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions that isolate students, Bass said: “I think there is a lack of understanding of how [the weather crisis] affects people indirectly who are neurodivergent, and how being locked in our rooms for several days and not having access to other people, and even just the weather and the power outages and the uncertainty, can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for people who are neurodivergent or have anxiety or depression.”

Michelle Doty (‘22) did not attend the forum but responded to an ASWU [Google survey] on the ice storm. Their house had running water, but lost power, heat, hot water and wi-fi. They criticized the administration’s response to the ice storm and power outages as “very poor.” By the time administration offered housing and food to students living off-campus who had lost power, Doty’s power was back on, and they felt that the amount of time it took for those services to be offered was unfair to students who live off campus.

Doty said they would prefer the CAS “give everyone the full week and add a couple days at the end of the semester” than hold classes during an emergency or make planned spring break days instructional days.

Bass and the senators discussed the financial impacts of the ice storm on student jobs. “I work with intramurals this semester. Our income is only based on the hours that we work, so there’s a lot of uncertainty because of the weather and everything going on,” said Bass. “The past few weeks, I haven’t gotten paid at all because of the weather… luckily I’m in a position where I save, and so I’ll be fine, but when there’s weather, they don’t really take into consideration all the students that rely on the bi-monthly pay that we get.”

Nieves said that many students who work on campus “rely on this pay [from their job] to pay for college,” car payments, and rent. “Even though Willamette tends to be very generous with our scholarship money, it’s still not enough to cover a lot of the issues that students have when it comes to accessing education monetarily.”

This discussion was followed by two presentations: the first, by Senator Nieves, covered the resources available to students at the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center (GRAC), the Sexual Assault Response Advocates (SARAs) and Bishop Wellness Center. The second, by Senator Druker, covered resources available to students including the SOAR center, local food banks, the Willamette Emergency Fund and the textbook assistance fund. “All of these are resources that are available to you, and are your right to access as Willamette students. You have a right to be safe, you have a right to have your needs met, and I really hope that everyone takes advantage of that.”

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