On Jan. 30th, Blackburn experienced extreme temperature outside. Due to the cold, classes were cancelled, but every other aspect of campus stayed open. Many people used their sick days and called off work. Classes were only canceled for that day when it was -26 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The news reported that frostbite could set in as little as four minutes after exposure.
The night before, two emails were sent out, one from Blackburn Announcements, and one from President Julie Murray-Jensen, saying that classes would continue as normal. If commuters felt unsafe making it to campus, they didn’t have to come, and it would be up to the professor’s discretion if they wanted to mark them with an excused absence or not. This decision caused concern among students and their families.
There was a petition that went around online for students and family of students to sign, calling for classes to be cancelled. This petition got 236 signatures from students, parents, alumni and supporters alike.
The morning of Jan. 30th, Murray-Jensen sent out an email at 6:09 a.m. saying classes will be cancelled. This was due to a growing concern of parents and even grandparents about their children and grandchildren in the extreme weather. Murray-Jensen got a lot of feedback from students, faculty and family of students because they were scared of the extreme temperatures. She saw the way the news was covering the polar vortex and the scary language they were using about frostbite. She did admit that frostbite was certainly possible if people were outside for a long period of time, but for most of the campus population, she didn’t believe it was unsafe. “There were just several things that made it appear that it was reasonable, you know school is important and making sure that we deliver the instructional time that you are paying for,” Murray-Jensen said in regards to the initial decision to keep campus open. When she made the decision to close campus, she said “When I woke up the next morning, I checked the forecast, I again consulted our various staff in those areas, and it was a 50/50 thing, but because people were so frightened… we made the call in the name of safety.” She acknowledged that some students probably did just want to get out of class, but most people were fearful. “We can’t always bend to student or faculty or staff activism, but when we can, and when we can choose something that people feel is more safe, we absolutely want to do that,” she said.
There was turmoil on Facebook over the initial decision not to cancel classes the night before. Sophomore Josh Sumrow made memes mocking the decision, some of those memes specifically naming Murray-Jensen. The memes caused backlash themselves among students through Facebook and Snapchat, calling the memes disrespectful and attacking Sumrow personally. “I feel that it was blown way out of proportion, and no one wanted to hear my side,” he said in response to the backlash. He said he didn’t make the memes to offend anyone, but he just wanted to turn something that made people upset into something they could laugh about.
Murray-Jensen said she did not see the memes until much later the next day. In the morning, she walked around campus thanking the staff and students that were out doing work, because even though classes were cancelled, the campus still had to be up and running. When she finally saw the memes later that day, she said she didn’t feel one way or another about them. “I think student activism is great,” she said, “But I ask all of our faculty and staff and students never to be intentionally hurtful with anyone, mocking anyone, but I also understand that’s kind of culture we’re in with social media… It is what it is, and people need to find ways to express themselves, but when you do that, hurting others, whoever it is, not just me, it’s not a good human practice.” While she wasn’t the biggest fan of the memes, she clarified that they in no way influenced her decision to cancel classes because she hadn’t seen them by the time she made her decision.
In regards to cancelling classes, Murray-Jensen said it’s going to be extremely rare in the future. She thinks it’s very important that students get the amount of contact and class hours that they are paying for, so the chances of classes being cancelled again in the near future, or distant future, are rare.