Students in the dark

Snowtober power failure
Photo illustration by William Soo

By Sammi Gorman
While many central Massachusetts residents are still cleaning up storm debris, the aftermath of last month’s “Snowtober” storm has caused few problems for students at Fitchburg State. On-campus residents had a fairly easy time with the storm, as well – the school’s back-up generators kicked in hours after power was lost.
However, a few FSU buildings, one residential with about 30 students living in it, were not connected to the school’s generator and remained without power for almost a full day. While the lack of power was inconvenient, students said it was a lack of communication that was most troubling.
On Oct. 30, the Sunday after the storm, seniors Kristen Dooley and Amanda Burns were told by officials at the college they were not allowed to remain in their North Street apartments without power and heat that still had not come back on.
“I was immediately frustrated,” Dooley said. “We had not had contact from anyone for 18 hours. [We had] no heat, no power, no nothing. They said, ‘By law, we can’t let you stay there, you need to find someone to stay with or we will provide you with an empty room.”
“We had three hours to pack everything and leave,” Burns said.
The frustration felt by the students of North Street can be credited to a lack of communication between the housing staff and students until much later in the day. The situation was finally addressed, but instead of working together to try to find a solution, students said, the housing staff pretty much just told the students they had to be out within hours; the students could either go to the empty room provided or they were on their own.
Kristin Murphy, director of Housing and Residential Services, presented a statement about the situation. “Each time there is a situation where the residence halls are impacted (storms, power outages, etc), the nature of the situation and the factors involved (i.e. specific residence location, etc.) are assessed,” Murphy said. “A critical factor in this response is always student safety and security as it is a priority for the institution.”
“In situations where there is an electricity outage, we work with local utility companies to best understand what the estimates are for restoring power,” Murphy said. “In the most recent case of the snowstorm, to minimize inconvenience students were offered the option to stay with someone they knew (either on or off campus) or to be provided with a temporary space elsewhere in university housing.”
Dooley and Burns gathered their things and prepared to leave for their temporary home: an empty room with a bed, no sheets or pillows. Then, as if in a scene from a movie, power was restored to the building just as they were about to leave, sometime around 9 p.m.
“We saw [the light over the sink] come on and said, ‘Let there be light!’” Burns said.
“I totally understand how hard the school worked to get the power,” Dooley said. “I feel we should have been acknowledged, made to feel like we were involved in the process. We were literally and figuratively left in the dark.”