Whether to Travel when Winter Weather Hits

Parking is just one issue commuters will face when weather turns. Photo Credit / Kelly Dildine
Parking is just one issue commuters will face when weather turns.
Photo Credit / Kelly Dildine

SC Staff Writer

On a campus where 65 percent of the student body is composed of commuting students and in a semester that began with winter weather on its very first day, attendance policies are a very real concern for students who need to drive to campus every day.

According to a Fall 2012 ESU survey, within a class of an average of 30 students, nearly 20 students commute. Of those 20 students, two travel less than a mile, while six travel more than 20 miles!  They fight traffic and battle with on-campus parking on a daily basis, let alone when the weather is bad.

The assumption is that if the weather is bad enough, classes will be cancelled.

And yet, on Friday, February 8, 2013, classes remained in session until 1 PM, right about the time that Winter Storm Nemo hit East Stroudsburg.

Since “Nemo” was a noreaster, snow had already been falling in the areas south of East Stroudsburg, like Easton, Bethlehem, and Allentown, by the time classes were cancelled.  Students who had 12 PM classes and live in the Lehigh Valley had to fight their way home in terrible conditions.

On Monday, February 11, 2013, classes were cancelled only until 10 AM, leaving commuter students to fight with road crews as they slowly made their way to campus.  The worst part of the storm?  The ice and freezing rain that dominated the morning hours.

It doesn’t matter how good your car is, or if you have four-wheel drive, when you start to slide on ice you can’t stop.

President Welsh’s advice to commuter students via twitter is to “be patient!”

Patience is something that the commuter student knows well.

We leave early to ensure that there is enough time for us to be stuck in traffic for construction on I-80.  We leave even earlier to ensure that there’s enough time to maneuver past a freak accident on our route.  We leave even earlier so that we can stalk other commuters leaving campus so that we can obtain a decent parking spot.

And when the weather is bad?  We leave even earlier to ensure that we have enough time to crawl up and down the mountain without spinning out or losing control.  We get it.  We signed up for this, after all.

What the commuter student has to do is weigh the risks of each storm and make a decision based solely on his or her own experience of whether it is safe to drive to class.  We ask ourselves, “Is my car good in the snow? Can I afford my deductible if I get into an accident?  Will there be a lot of other cars on my route that make it riskier for me?  How will my ride home be if I make it there okay?”

A lot goes into the decision to travel to class in bad weather.  What about when that answer to go is no?

The majority of professors at ESU have very specific attendance policies.  While some are more liberal, and others very strict, the average attendance policy indicates about a week’s worth of missed classes before an absence begins to negatively impact a student’s grade.  Most professors don’t delineate between an excused or unexcused absence, they just count if you’re there or not.

Well, we’ve had three snowy days in these first three weeks of classes.  A Monday, a Friday and another Monday.  If you have a MWF class that hasn’t been cancelled, and you’ve chosen not to take the risk to travel to campus, then you’ve already reached your allowed absences.

Another snow day, or any illness, before May 16, and your grade is going to suffer if you have a professor who is strict with attendance.

Some professors are more inclined to give the commuter student the benefit of the doubt when bad weather is involved, but it is not something that they would ever truly advertise.

In most cases there is always something that you can do with this professor in order to make-up for your weather related absences.  While options abound, the best thing to do is to go to a professor’s office hours prepared with questions from the material of the class that you missed.

But with those “strict with attendance” professors, there is little that you can do.

We really have no one to blame but ourselves, or, at least, the generations of students before us.  How often does “family emergency” mean that you wanted to stay home and catch up on some TV?  How frequently does “sick” translate into “I didn’t feel like doing the reading last night and just can’t handle the lecture today?”

And, unfortunately, classes without an attendance policy only see about half the enrolled students on a class-to-class basis without weather impacting travel.

So when the President and your professor want you to “tough it out” and get to your class despite the weather, there is only one thing you can do.  Get to class.

Good luck my fellow commuters, I’ll be travelling from Allentown right beside you.
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