This semester, one issue has unified students on campus unlike any other: the failure of UTSG to cancel classes and close campus sufficiently early in cases of severe weather conditions, as compared to UTM, UTSC, and other schools in the region. UTSG has uniquely and consistently made poor decisions across three dates in January and February.
Student backlash was very vocal: just take a look at the magnitude of replies to U of T’s tweet posted on the morning of February 12, which said that UTM and UTSC were closed as of 6:45 am, but that UTSG was to remain open. Among other frustrations and anxieties, they rightly criticized the university’s disregard for commuters, student safety, and accessibility.
Aside from students directly calling UTSG out, the media — whether Narcity or Daily Hive — also picked up the issue. The Varsity documented student concerns in its coverage and criticized the university in an editorial.
The attention and public outrage did not go to waste. At a Governing Council meeting held at UTM on February 28, the university acknowledged the recent criticism concerning its inclement weather policy. U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr expressed a commitment to take into account new considerations when assessing campus closure during severe weather. The university also committed to ensuring that staff clear streets and entrances. This is a sign of real progress in terms of the responsiveness and sensitivity of the administration with regard to student safety, but it most importantly shows what the student voice is capable of.
However, of curious note was Regehr’s emphasis that Robarts Library will be open 24 hours through severe weather, and that students are welcome to stay overnight. Student responses have rightly mocked this solution for commuters during inclement weather through humorous banter online, such as on Facebook group UofT memes for true 🅱️lue teens. There is even a Facebook event entitled “Campus wide sleepover at robarts zzz.”
The humour is rooted in serious criticism: Robarts being open is not a viable solution in response to severe weather conditions. Students should not have to come to campus and then find shelter overnight when there is a snowstorm. Rather, the university should be decisive and close campus entirely so that students are not forced to attend and deal with an uncomfortable situation in the first place. The logistics of having hundreds or thousands of students stay overnight also raises questions. Regehr’s Robarts solution therefore seems somewhat dismissive of the concerns raised by students over the last several weeks.
Nonetheless, while Governing Council’s response to inclement weather policy is certainly not perfect or comprehensive, an acknowledgement of the problem is a start. Students should recognize their power and continue to pressure the administration to take a look at their revision of the policy.
Regehr’s commitment to new considerations remains vague, but I particularly hope that the process leads to the council’s realization that UTSG has just as many — if not more — commuters as UTM and UTSC. The next time there is a winter storm warning issued by Environment Canada that is reported to persist for more than eight hours, UTSG should have the prudence to close early enough so as not to force commuters to make the choice to attend or not in dangerous conditions. Otherwise, commuters may be stuck spending the night ‘studying’ at Robarts.
Areej Rodrigo is a fourth-year English, Professional Writing and Communications, and Theatre and Performance student at St. Michael’s College.