Most small talk conversations during winter in Maryville and at Northwest follow the same basic structure: an introductory greeting followed by multiple comments on how cold it is followed by a polite goodbye. But the last few weeks were different.
Temperatures were so low they would have made Jack Frost shudder. No longer were people remarking on how chilly their walk to campus was but how long they had until they could get frostbite or whether their home's pipes were going to freeze as they did in Garrett-Strong.
Of course, the first thought on most students’ minds was whether or not classes would continue as normal — that’s pretty much always our first thought. However, instead of following the same complaint format via social media that was outlined by this editorial board before, Northwest Student Senate Off-Campus Representative Grace McDonnell took a different and more effective approach.
Student Senate has the same purpose as all legislating bodies: to represent the interests of its constituents and make their lives better. It tries to fulfill this purpose through allocating funds and, perhaps most importantly, acting as the voice of the students to the administration. This task is not always easy, especially with constituents that are not often involved even in Student Senate elections — last year fewer than 6% of the student body voted in the virtual elections, which featured an unopposed executive board — much less what is going on with their normal operations.
It’s become clear that the complaining on Twitter strategy was not a very fruitful way for students’ voices to be heard. McDonnell recognized this and the role that Student Senate could play and decided to do something. She implemented a survey that asked students various questions about their situations in terms of extreme cold weather and how they would like to see Northwest act during these situations.
After the survey was conducted, she took the results and presented them to University Police Chief Clarence Green to see what could be done about addressing students’ concerns. This is exactly what students want and need Student Senate to do.
A member of the body saw a common concern among students, collected data to give statistical backing that the concern was widespread and presented the data to administrators in order to find a solution.
The result of McDonnell’s survey will be a changing of University snow-day policy in order to adapt to students’ concerns. The survey found that students are outside longer on average on inclement weather days than the University had been anticipating. This simple fact changes how officials will evaluate the chart used to determine when to cancel or delay in-person classes. It will also change the basement temperature for which, if reached, will result in a cancellation of in-person classes, which Green called a “big change.”
McDonnell’s survey also found that students do not have the proper attire to deal with not even just extreme but normal cold weather in Maryville. McDonnell then spoke to the campus Career Closet to see what the proper attire would be and what they needed. Student Senate then sponsored a coat drive Feb. 17-23. Senate also allocated an additional $1,500 to buy coats and other winter attire.
In a time when many legislative bodies around the country have been widely criticized for sitting on the sidelines — everything is bigger in Texas, including the passivity of lawmakers — and doing nothing about the extreme temperatures, Student Senate subbed themselves in. McDonnell and the Senate took actions that will improve students’ education and protect their health.
Maybe now students’ small talk conversations about how cold it is will take place via Zoom from the comfort of their own homes more often than outside while trying to scrape off their cars.