Campus remained open during extreme weather, students petition for reform
The University of Victoria’s treatment of snow-related campus closures on Jan. 17 and 18 has led to criticism from students about university policies and a student-led petition which demands an apology from university administration following student injuries.
On Jan. 16, the City of Victoria encouraged residents to be prepared for imminent snowfall per Environment Canada’s forecast. B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation also warned that, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, the weather would increase the risk of collision while travelling by road, and encouraged folks to stay home if possible.
As predicted, Jan. 17 and 18 saw heavy snowfall throughout the greater Victoria area. However, UVic remained open on Jan. 17 until 12:30 p.m., at which point multiple student injuries on or near UVic’s campus due to motor vehicle accidents had been reported on social media.
Sophie Taylor, a third-year theatre major, was rushing to her 9:30 a.m. class when, crossing Ring Road, a car slid on a patch of black ice and hit her left side.
“It was a little bit of a blur,” she told the Martlet. The next thing she remembers was asking her friends to notify her professors that she’d be missing from class, then heading to the hospital.
Taylor shattered her shoulder, but is otherwise okay. She identifies the reason for the crash as poorly managed, icy roads on UVic’s campus.
“I wish I had made the decision not to go to school that day,” she says. “It’s very weird how quickly your life can just get turned on its head within the span of ten minutes.”
On the evening of Jan. 17, UVic released an announcement stating that, due to improving road conditions, campus would reopen the morning of Thursday, Jan. 18. Come 1:00 p.m. that day, campus closed once again due to a morning of consistent snowfall.
In an email to the Martlet, a UVic spokesperson attributes the decision to keep campus open at various points on Jan. 17 and 18 to rapid shifts in forecasting.
“[Because] these situations are not static,” they write, “changes to recommendations on closures may be required and decisions may need to change rapidly.”
Following the two mid-day closures, a student petition was created on change.org. The petition demands that the university publicly address “negligence” and that administration justifies why they didn’t opt to conduct virtual classes during a period of known extreme weather.
Additionally, the petition calls for no academic penalty for students who made the decision — contrary to the university’s recommendations — to stay home from campus and miss class on those days.
Lastly, the petition requests that “damages be addressed to the students who sustained injuries as a result of potential administrative negligence.”
Lane O’Hara Cooke, director of outreach and university relations for the UVSS, met with Jim Dunsdon, associate vice-president student affairs, to discuss the petition.
According to Cooke, Dunsdon was receptive to their concerns and suggestions — including a recommendation to change UVic’s approach from “when in doubt, open the university” to “when in doubt, keep the university closed.”
The UVSS representative will follow up with Dunsdon and UVic administration in coming weeks to ensure that “commitments are followed through with.”
While the University of Victoria left an Instagram comment to a concerned student reading “I can assure you that the university follows up directly with individuals involved in any incident reported to UVic,” Taylor says that they haven’t heard from the university since the accident, except for a message from UVic’s Instagram account.
“They were essentially like ‘If you need any accommodations, let us know, we can try and pass it on for you.’ … I think they just wanted to reach out,” says Taylor. “I always assumed if something like this happened to me, [the university] would at least send me an email or something,” she adds.
Taylor explains that her professors have been understanding and offered her accommodations as she recovers. However, UVic administration has made no effort to acknowledge the accident and has not provided any standardized accommodations for Taylor.
A UVic spokesperson says that, due to confidentiality, they are unable to confirm or deny.
“When an injury occurs on campus, our campus security officers respond immediately to provide first-aid and support,” reads their email to the Martlet. “In the days following a safety incident, we do our best to make contact with the impacted parties in order to connect them with appropriate resources and supports.”
Cooke, however, is more concerned with academic accommodations following an accident like the one Taylor experienced. “The response needs to be more uniform,” says Cooke. “It can’t be dependent on the attitude of a [professor] because that could vary from one class to another.”
As of Feb. 2, the petition has 582 signatures with a goal of 1 000, and Cooke is still waiting on another meeting with UVic administration, at which point they will follow up on the concerns they voiced to Dunsdon.
A UVic spokesperson says, “We are listening carefully to feedback and will consider what we’ve heard as part of our debrief of this weather event as we look to refine our approach in the future.”
Taylor hopes this will be the case, so accidents like hers can be prevented.
“Person to person, [UVic is] such a wonderful community … but it does kind of feel like, at times, UVic as a corporation sees us as bodies instead of actual students,” says Taylor. “I hope this is a wake-up call for UVic.”