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Administration takes ASWU questions on ice storm response

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Emma Innes

Staff writer

Screenshot of the Feb. 25 meeting taken by Emma Innes.

Members of Willamette University’s administration attended the Feb. 25 Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) meeting for a Q & A session regarding Willamette’s response to the [ice storm]. Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Ruth Feingold, Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Landreman, Director of Housing and Conferences Scott Etherton, Director of Bishop Wellness Center Don Thomson and Director of Campus Safety Ross Stout were in attendance to take questions from senators. Some questions had been sent in ahead of time, but others were taken on the spot from senators.

The first question, addressed to Landreman and Feingold, asked what informed the initial decision to not offer housing to off-campus students and to keep classes going. Landreman said that the primary concern was communicating that campus had power, heat and wifi. She said the ROC believed the outages would only last one or two days, so offering on-campus housing was not needed except for those in a damaged home exposed to the elements or with a medical need. Once they realized how long the power outages were going to last, they looked into offering on-campus housing.

During the Q & A, two senators shared their experiences with housing during the start of the emergency. Senator Zoe Chittick (‘21) expressed gratitude for having been accommodated by Willamette after she had to vacate her room. Senator Inéz Nieves (‘24) said she had a negative experience Saturday, Feb. 13 helping an off-campus friend who lost power and has a medical need. The student was unable to be provided transport by Campus Safety and did not have a taxi ride arranged for them, something Campus safety can do. The student was then denied housing once on campus. Nieves questioned why the responsibility fell on her, a student, to handle the situation. Landreman said she had a conversation with the student about her experience and that there had been some miscommunication regarding if the student qualified for housing that day. Landreman mentioned the student had reached out for accommodation three hours before the email stating off-campus students who are exposed to the elements or have a medical need can receive housing accomodations.

On the question of what went into the original decision to not cancel classes, Landreman said “our goal is to try as much as we can to not cancel classes.” Feingold said that universities tend to be conservative in canceling classes due to wanting to give students what they paid for, as well as to meet federal rules to receive financial aid and accreditation. She acknowledged concern [expressed] over the day-to-day, last-minute announcements over cancelled classes, saying that is standard procedure every university uses during emergencies. Feingold said it’s important to remain flexible as the situation can always change so this policy will remain. Feingold apologized for the miscommunication on Sunday due to issues with the listservs, and thanked those who helped spread the word of classes being cancelled.

When asked what Student Affairs will do differently next time, Landreman placed an emphasis on communication, stating that “communication communicates care.” She then brought up an idea to have emergency tips for students on Willamette’s website to be linked to in initial emergency emails.

Housing and Campus Safety were asked what they will do differently next time. Etherton and Stout both said their departments won't do much different next time. Housing will go through the same process of weighing the risks and pros of accommodating off-campus students depending on the situation. Landreman said that without COVID-19, housing would have been easier to provide. The only available rooms were those set aside for quarantine, which Landreman said they need available due to state requirements for higher education. Stout said for the next crisis, Campus Safety will once again provide a 24/7 call center and triage to connect students to resources. There had been concerns expressed by Landreman that students didn’t know to call campus safety for help connecting to resources.

During open questions from senators, Senator Zeke Druker (‘24) expressed concerns about food insecurity during the emergency and the lack of communication regarding resources such as the SOAR Center and the emergency fund. Landreman admitted she didn’t have information regarding the SOAR Center and did not think about it, but promised to not forget about it again. Feingold then questioned why the SOAR Center didn’t send an email out themselves to send word out. ASWU President Claire Mathews-Lingen (‘21) stepped in to say that the SOAR Center spread the word on social media as much as they could but don’t have the ability to send a campus-wide email, and were concerned about the providing of hot meals being disrupted if they directly collaborated with the university, since they were unable to follow Willamette’s food prep protocols. When Druker continued to express frustration over the lacking communication, Landreman responded that they could have emailed her regarding the SOAR Center before backtracking to admit it’s her responsibility, and welcomed senators to reach out if there’s information not being provided to the student body. Senator Kristin Jradi (‘21) said the SOAR Center is funded by the Community Action Fund for Equity and Sustainability (CAFES), which retains funding from an optional student fee, meaning there is risk of losing funds. She said that if Willamette wants to rely on the SOAR Center, it needs to be institutionalized. Landreman agreed and is having conversations to better fund the SOAR center. When questioned about plans for giving out food during future emergencies, Landreman said they will need to work out meal storage and communicate with Bon appetit.

Asked about WU’s generators, Stout said some buildings on campus have backup generators but it’s not enough to keep the building running as normal. Landreman said a goal is to build up Willamette’s backup generators to be able to power regular operations of a building. Landreman then mentioned there’s been talk of bringing in a consulting group for improving WU’s emergency preparation. Mathews-Lingen expressed hope for planning over the summer.

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