Columns

Kenyon GS: Check the privilege, and grab a shovel

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I come from a region of the United States that is regularly referred to as the “snowbelt.” It’s an unofficial term for those states directly due east and those southeast of the Great Lakes that receive gargantuan quantities of lake-enhanced snowfall every winter. Buffalo, New York — part of the “snowbelt” — made national headlines in November for the almost seven feet of snow that fell shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday.

When I was younger, I learned the responsibilities and the necessities of shoveling snow. I didn’t only enjoy the sight of a cleared walkway to my door. I quickly learned to offer, volunteer and occasionally even market my snow-shoveling abilities to friends, neighbors and any adjacent sidewalk clearly impassable without snow pants. Perhaps because I grew up in a small community where events such as snow removal were communal in their completion, it makes sense that I found dismay in the snow removal efforts on College Hill — or rather, the lack thereof.

As Winter Storm Juno moved towards New England last Monday night, I watched as the snow fell and the wind howled, receiving text messages from friends in warmer places wishing that they were here to experience a sample of winter’s wrath. Sure, the snow was beautiful to look at, and I was one of those individuals who trekked out Tuesday morning, walking about College Hill and around campus, to capture pictures and find tranquility in the stillness of a neighborhood generally buzzing with energy. The silent morning was as magical as any snow day of my childhood.

However, this winter wonderland of a morning differed from those of my childhood in a critical way: I am now an adult. To my knowledge, no Brunonian can qualify as a child anymore. Sliding down the middle of George Street and walking back along Benefit Street to my front stoop, I could see the daunting task that literally laid between me and my front door: endless snow waiting to be shoveled. And shovel it I did.

I was thoroughly impressed by the feat completed by University employees, who worked harder and longer than usual to maintain clear and passable walkways across campus. Their efforts deserve gracious recognition, as, even in the worst of Juno’s wrath on Monday morning, I could have traversed the walkways around campus in loafers without the threat of wet socks.

Though my lease maintains no clause for keeping a clear sidewalk, for the sake of the others living in my building and passersby, I pitched in and helped out. Why not? This is a question that I asked myself again as the second storm rolled in this week and that I now ask others. Why aren’t you pitching in and helping out?

I have Facebook, I read YikYak, I am in tune with social media and I was aware of what many fellow Brunonians were up to on their first snow day of the semester: having a good time. Walking around College Hill in the days after Juno, this became evident, as many cars, walkways and some streets still appeared largely impassable, particularly in areas of College Hill dominated by fellow Brunonians. Walking back to campus and watching University employees still toil away at snow removal, I could see the stark contrast, and I kept wondering: Was I one of the only students to pick up a shovel?

In a Feb. 1 email addressing Winter Storm Linus, which hit Rhode Island a week after Juno, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 urged the campus community to “take an opportunity to thank the many staff members who will be working throughout the night and day to address the weather conditions.” I am grateful to the men and women that continue to serve our campus through sun and snow. But is it really necessary for them to work through the night, too, as they did during Juno, when hurricane force winds blew? Is their safety less important than ours?

I think Carey’s email might suggest an underlying call to action to all Brunonians to grab a shovel and help out. Clear your walkways, clear your neighbor’s walkways, and help out where help is needed. Many of us are able-bodied, and a little snow removal is as good as any trip to the Nelson Fitness Center. Why did the University maintain such a large maintenance crew on campus during hazardous winter conditions, when the thousands of Brunonians living on campus could have pitched in?

It is a common-sense question I ask. With thousands of students around campus and out of class, why not rally together a massive cleanup effort? Why not cancel classes on days when travel is obviously treacherous and ask the student population for an extra hand in cleaning our campus? Perhaps a massive shovel-out event, followed by an open dinner at the Ratty? I do not see a better way to make use of snow days — rare occurrences that offer an opportunity to unite our community in a healthy, productive manner.

The snow is going to fall, no matter who you are — Brunonian or not. Let’s check the privilege, and start the shoveling. The next storm will be here before you know it.


Ian Kenyon GS is a Master of Public Affairs candidate with the Taubman Center. Following graduation, he does not anticipate living in a cold climate.

  • Snowman

    Where the heck do you walk? I’m stunned at how poor Brown’s response was to both these storms.

    – Brown did a once-over with some bobcats and then threw in the towel.
    – All the sidewalks were covered in thick slush
    – The slush promptly turned to ice
    – Ice covered sidewalks and streets with rare exception. The SciLi steps turned into a ramp.
    – The roads were completely unclear last time. Two-way roads? Not anymore. Driving here was extremely hazardous.
    – Repeat process this time around!

    I’m from a snowy area, too, and this is an unequivocal failure.

  • omg

    “Was I one of the only students to pick up a shovel?”

    Why, you’re…you’re a hero. You’re the GREATEST HERO IN AMERICAN HISTORY

    (maybe help those of us who fight for better wages and benefits if you care so much about the staff. doesn’t look like you’ve gotten to writing about it. too busy shoveling?)

  • Please do not indulge The Weather Channel in their pretentious practice of “naming” snow events. TWC is not a the National Weather Service. Ever since they were purchased by NBC/Universal, they become less about weather, and more about personalities, sensationalism, & cheap reality shows.

    One Facebook user posted THIS criticism: “Naming winter storms is the dumbest idea ever. Why hasn’t NWS or any other reputable weather reporting source joined in the naming? Oh, maybe they still feel their role is serious reporting – instead of sensationalizing, dramatizing and commercializing.” It’s pretty much how I have always felt.

    TWC’s Tom Niziol attempted to deflect the criticism: “One reason we’re doing this, simply put, is we can. We cover weather on a national scale. By ascribing a name to a weather system that’s gonna create those types of impacts, we can follow it right across the country.”

    THAT’S their answer? “We do it because we CAN”?? And the only way the personalities at TWC can keep their eye on a weather system is to give it some kind of cute name? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.

    • ’09

      unless you’re also arguing that we shouldn’t name tropical storms either then there’s really no logical reason not to name winter storms too.

  • Reality Check

    With thousands of students around campus and out of class, why not rally together a massive cleanup effort? Why not cancel classes on days when travel is obviously treacherous and ask the student population for an extra hand in cleaning our campus?

    Three words: Facilities management union.

  • also

    “Their efforts deserve gracious recognition” — huh? Tell me again, is there something unfair about the jobs these folks have at Brown?
    Vapid, weepy empathy is so unbecoming, and transient.