Braving the Snowvember storm

UB students discuss impact of massive snowstorm


The last week has been more than trying for some Western New Yorkers as people in the area’s Southtowns were barricaded in their homes for days, snow engulfing their driveways, cars and homes, leaving them trapped inside.

At least 12 people died directly from the area’s historic lake effect snowstorm. The National Guard rolled in to rescue those most affected. Driving bans in South Buffalo weren’t lifted until Sunday.

Students were unable to make it to classes Tuesday and Wednesday under various driving bans – the school didn’t shut down until Thursday, a decision many students felt came too late.

Mother Nature dumped more than 7 feet of snow in some parts of the greater Buffalo area. By Sunday, the storm was gone with its traces impossible to miss. Now, people are starting to trade their shovels in for umbrellas, as the area’s massive mounds of snow begin to melt, and rain and potential flooding moves in.

But UB was faced with the decision to close or not close throughout the week. Amherst was relatively unaffected the storm, which made other parts of the area look like a tsunami of snow had consumed vehicles and homes – especially in areas like Hamburg, South Buffalo, Lancaster, West Seneca, East Aurora and Orchard Park.SUNY Buffalo State, Canisius, Daemen and D’Youville, among other local colleges, were closed Wednesday, some even Tuesday – UB didn’t add itself to the list right away, which left many questioning how UB makes its decisions. The university did tell students to use their "best judgement" in making their decision on whether to come to campus in online alerts.

One student was so fed up he started an online petition that reached more than 1,200 signatures. Jason Fialkowski, a senior computer science major, asked officials to close the campus “until the surrounding area is removed from its status as a ‘state of emergency,’” according to the web posting.

“I’m glad they made the decision, but disappointed that it took so much community pressure for them to do it,” Fialkowski said.

UB Chief of Police Gerald Schoenle said as the storm “intensified and lengthened in duration throughout the region” it became necessary to cancel classes.

“While not everyone on our emergency oversight team was aware of this petition, during an emergency situation such as this input from those affected by an incident is always valuable and always informs decision-making,” Schoenle said in an email.

Frustrated commuters

Molly Deacon, a third-year law student, said she spent Tuesday night nervously awaiting an email from her professor about a midterm. She was stuck in Cheektowaga facing a driving ban.

She said law students are required to disclose any traffic violations – which would be issued if she were caught driving during the ban – to become licensed attorneys.

For the days when school was not canceled, she said she felt like she was “being asked to choose between accruing traffic tickets or taking absences.”

She was thankful her professor turned the midterm into a take-home exam.

“Individual professors have been accommodating, but when we miss material in class, we’re at a disadvantage for finals based on where we live,” she said.

Some students said professors weren’t as understanding. Chelsie Khoury, a junior political science major, said her professor expected her to find a way to get to campus for an exam Friday – before UB canceled classes, which was verified in an email obtained by The Spectrum.

The email, which was sent on Tuesday evening, stated her professor wouldn’t excuse the absence unless the university was closed.

On Wednesday afternoon, A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost of Academic Affairs, sent out a letter to faculty stating they should be understanding of students who missed classes because of driving bans. Khoury said the university should have sent the notice out Tuesday morning.

The letter read: “I remind all faculty that any student who is unable to attend a regularly scheduled class or exam or complete assignments because of weather related conditions should be offered reasonable accommodations for any missed academic work.”

Khoury felt not canceling classes gave professors too much wiggle room and it didn’t change the fact she missed class material, she said.

Kristen Kozlowski, a junior business major who lives in Lancaster, said her professor refused to give her an extension on a project that required a Windows computer to complete. Kozlowski, who has a Mac, usually does those assignments on campus. Instead of spending Thursday helping her family shovel snow to prevent her roof from collapsing, she had to struggle to download a program to essentially turn her Mac into a PC.

“The problem is, I don’t believe he understood the gravity of the storm, and how immobilizing it was,” she said in an email. “Failing to push back the assignment only made the lives harder for those who were enduring enough hardship.”

Storm ‘Knife’ creates a great divide

UB estimates it has 2,100 commuters who were affected by the travel bans and more than half the campus’ 30,000 students live on or near campus.

“Our goal always is to make the best decision possible, based on the most current information available and the well-being of the university community,” Schoenle said. “There are a lot factors to consider. In this case, we decided to cancel classes and activities because we felt it was in best interest of the larger community.”

Despite UB not officially canceling classes until Wednesday night for Thursday, numerous professors called off classes Wednesday, citing the conditions as too risky to drive in.

Adam Fries, a first-year business graduate student, was able to make it to campus from Williamsville on Wednesday, but the snow was picking up when he left his home. He said he was driving into campus on Flint Road when his car almost “did a 360,” but he was able to get it back on track.

He said many of his friends were not able to make it to campus.

“There’s just too many people who were worried about things, and the few people who didn’t go to school were texting me all day asking what they missed,” he said.

Fialkowski said he created the online petition because he saw the demand. He said every time a student signed the petition an email was sent to UB administration he linked to the petition, including President Satish Tripathi.

“Hopefully I don’t get in trouble for flooding his inbox,” he said. “He would have received about 1,200 emails.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz described the storm as a knife that cut through Erie County in a press conference Tuesday – the juxtaposition between students on and off campus makes it clear why.

While Kozlowski was stuck housebound in Lancaster until Friday morning because her town got more than 80 inches of snow, students like Gillian Murphy, a freshman occupational therapy major, were in the dorms watching movies like Frozen.

Students on North Campus, which didn’t get enough snow to cause a weather advisory, got to have some fun on their days off. Murphy even got off campus to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Other students used the campus’ rental cars to go buy groceries.

Ashlee Foster, a senior graphic design major, said the second snow day was the “cherry on top” for the week. She wanted to take advantage of it. She created a Facebook event for a large snowball fight outside of the Student Union, which 30 people attended.

How UB makes its decisions

UB got negative attention on social media for not canceling classes earlier – students were quick to tweet their complaints. Popular blog site Thought Catalog posted an article Wednesday entitled, “You Won’t Believe What University At Buffalo Is Making Their Students Do Today.” It was written by UB alum Michael Koh, who was upset the university didn’t cancel classes right away. The piece went viral, accumulating about 57,500 shares and views.

Lauren Carrow, a senior nursing major who lives in Hamburg, said she was glad “in a weird way” that UB received so much negative attention.

“I’m glad they finally made the decision to cancel, but if this ever happens again they need to close if ever a state of emergency is declared,” she said.

Chief Schoenle said UB created an emergency response team Monday night that discussed weather conditions, forecasts, conditions of roads, travel bans and UB activities throughout the week. The decision to cancel classes is based on the current forecast and weather and road conditions on and off campus, as well as if the campus “can continue to function and offer services,” he said.

He described the situation as an “evolving and unusual situation, with drastically different weather conditions throughout the region.”

He said UB made the “right decision” when it canceled classes Wednesday night.

That doesn’t stop students like Kozlowski from thinking it should have happened sooner.