New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Opinion: NYU needs to update its severe weather policy

When emergency alerts are going out to all of New York City, NYU should not be holding classes.
A+street+of+New+York+City+covered+in+rain+and+fog.+Two+people+are+walking+on+the+sidewalk+holding+umbrellas.
Jin Li
The severe downpour on Sept. 29 could have been better addressed by NYU. (Jin Li for WSN)

Whether you were in class, working on campus or just looking out your residence hall or apartment window on Friday, your phone likely lit up with an alert reading: “National Weather Service: A FLASH FLOOD WARNING is in effect for this area until 12:30 PM EDT. This is a dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.” But what did NYU do? Not enough.

The university’s severe weather policy, last updated in January 2022, states that in the case of weather that disrupts university operations, the NYU community will be informed through advisories and updates on NYU’s Info Alert page and website. The policy also says that instead of canceling classes, the university is more likely to shift to online instruction. NYU’s guidelines need to be updated to provide a better alert system and require canceling class when weather endangers students and faculty.

“When we have received weather alerts [from the National Weather Service], NYU should cancel classes for the safety of everyone,” said Avery Appling, a sophomore at the Silver School of Social Work. “If it’s a once-a-week class, it makes sense for Zoom, but if the class meets twice per week, it makes no sense.” 

For one, the NYU Alert page is not reliable. Students don’t receive notifications for any updates on this site unless they sign up for text alerts of their own volition. While the Campus Safety department sent out two email alerts on Friday, they were inconsistent and mostly unhelpful. 

The first message told students to try to attend classes at the same times and locations as usual. A little more than an hour later, the university sent another email changing its guidelines, encouraging commuter students and employees to work remotely. Both messages informed faculty that they could hold remote classes if they needed to, but only if guidance from their school allowed them to. 

Although the revised message provided some relief for commuters, it came too late for those who had already traveled to campus. The message also left a lot unspecified, like what classes would move online and whether they would move at all. Canceling all classes would have helped avoid confusion for both students and faculty trying to navigate a potentially dangerous situation. 

“Be safe,” the first email from Campus Safety head Fountain Walker reads. “Hope for sunshine.”

The university plans to “review Friday’s lessons, and to learn from them,” according to a statement from Walker

While the timing of the two messages was unfortunate — we very much regret that some NYUers, in response to the first message, were already on campus by the time they got the second message, and now faced a more difficult journey home — the university was reacting to a fast-moving, unfolding situation,” Walker wrote to WSN.

With severe weather comes severe consequences. You never know when a power outage might occur, which could make it difficult to access Zoom, Brightspace or even your NYU email. The university claims that moving classes online is necessary to make sure students meet credit-hour requirements, but having faculty record their lessons for students to access later instead is a better approach in the face of unpredictable inclement weather.

Not only is power an issue — so is the rain itself. With a heavy downpour like Friday’s, students’ study materials and other belongings are bound to get ruined. Whether it’s sheet music for Steinhardt students or any student’s laptop, damage is unfortunately inevitable, especially if students are forced to attend class. Canceling in-person class sessions would help students avoid damaging their things and have to pay for new ones, which they might not be able to afford considering the often high cost of class materials. 

“I walked to work this morning and now there is water in my computer. It’s so bad I’m probably going to have to get a new one,” said Katie Brown, a Tisch junior.

For commuter students, travel is unavoidable, but this is also the case for students living in residence halls like Broome Street and Lafayette Hall. Unlike first-year dorms that are typically within 15 minutes of Washington Square Park, students in these residence halls may need to walk up to half an hour in the rain because MTA buses, the subway or the NYU shuttle are delayed or even canceled because of the weather. The university shouldn’t expect students to be able to make their way to campus in the middle of a storm, much less when almost all methods of transportation have been ruled out.

Friday’s inclement weather incident revealed that NYU’s current emergency communications systems leave something to be desired. Students, faculty and other employees would all be safer if the university canceled classes and implemented a more effective alert system during weather emergencies.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Molly Koch at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Molly Koch, Opinion Editor
Molly Koch is a junior in Gallatin concentrating in journalism as an art form. They’re fascinated by classical literature and its influence on the power of the written word. When they are not writing, you can find them reading their way through their endless TBR, running along the Hudson or Facetiming their dog.

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