During the Portland Snowpocalypse of 2017, my family and I were housebound for a solid week. Although the hilly landscape is one of my favorite things about Portland, it does mean that half an inch of snow will shut down the city. In the case of the Snowpocalypse, it was more like 11 inches. Since I live on the greatest sledding hill in the neighborhood, that meant going anywhere was laughable. I stayed inside, watching the local kids zip down the hill at 30 mph, hoping my grades wouldn’t drop too much while I was stuck here. Although the neighborhood children were enjoying their five snow days in a row, Portland State University was singing a different song, with the lyrics “Commuter students? What commuter students?”
I’ve lived in Portland for seven years, but I’m originally from Michigan. In the Midwest, we know how to deal with snow. When there are seven inches of snow outside, you put on your snow pants, coat, boots, and grimly trudge into the neverending war against winter. Michigan enjoys a solid five months of sub-30-degree weather every year, so it’s unrealistic to wait inside until the weather resets. What Portland called the Snowpocalypse, Michigan would have called Tuesday.
When I moved here, it was baffling to see my neighbors fly into a frenzy at the first dusting of snow. But I was forgetting the one major difference between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest: hills. In my hometown, the biggest hill we had was a landfill called Mount Brighton. In Portland, you practically need high-altitude gear to go to the grocery store.
If you live on campus, snow is merely an inconvenience. When you only have to walk a few minutes to get to class, you can grit your teeth and shuffle through the slush. But when you have a thirty-minute bus ride (or bike, or run, or however you get to campus), things don’t just get more time-consuming, they get more dangerous. I learned this the hard way during the Snowpocalypse. Three days into our forced family bonding time, we started getting low on groceries. My dad and I ventured out, bundled in snow gear, to take the bus to Fred Meyer. The bus stop is only two blocks away, but it’s down a massive hill. At the bottom of the hill, my feet caught a sheet of ice, flew out from under me, and I landed so hard on my tailbone it brought tears to my eyes. My dad, who was three feet ahead, had to help me stand up. It took a few moments for the pain to subside enough for me to walk. All this and we hadn’t even made it to the bus stop.
We quickly got our things at the store and returned to await the bus home. But all the buses were delayed by at least 30 minutes. By the time we made it onto the 12, I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. At least the milk was refrigerated. I firmly believe that TriMet will still be running during the actual apocalypse. But buses have enough difficulty arriving on time during rush hour. It’s unreasonable to expect public transportation to run flawlessly in extreme conditions, whether that be a heat wave, torrential downpour, or blizzard.
PSU prides itself on being accessible for commuter students. It’s one of the main reasons I chose this school. According to Transportation and Parking Services, the college “emphasize[s] service and assistance while maintaining safe, convenient and sustainable commute options for the PSU community.” Their closure protocol, however, tells a different story. In cases of extreme snow, it’s impossible for the majority of commuter students—making up 50% of the student body—to make it to campus. I could have easily broken a bone on that patch of ice, all in the name of making it to class so my grades didn’t drop.
PSU often doesn’t cancel classes, thinking only of their on-campus students. Although they claim that “the most important consideration is the safety of students,” their practices do not reflect this policy. PSU’s inclement weather policies state they must make the decision by 8:00 AM, but in reality, the cancellations are so close to start time that commuter students are already on their way. I can’t just roll out of bed and shuffle over to Cramer: I have to plan ahead when it comes to getting to class on time. On behalf of all commuter students, I urge PSU to do what they claim to do and consider the needs of their entire student body, not just students who live in the dorms. We don’t deserve to be penalized for the weather. And we shouldn’t have to snowshoe to class.