Student leaders petition for campus closure
UC Davis cancelled classes on Tuesday, Nov. 13 after the air quality in Davis rose to unhealthy levels due to smoke from the devastating Camp Fire in Butte County, Calif. In a statement released on Tuesday night, the university announced that classes were initially scheduled to resume on Nov. 14 despite similar air quality concerns.
Campus community members were quick to respond to the university’s initial decision to resume classes. A Change.org petition to cancel classes gathered over 15,000 signatures in approximately 12 hours. The ASUCD Executive Office and the ASUCD Senate both released statements calling on the university to cancel classes on Nov. 14 in the best interest of students’ health. Backlash from students, staff and community members ultimately forced the university to reverse its decision, and the campus was closed on Wednesday and will remain closed on Thursday.
Students are not the only ones impacted by air quality decisions, though, and the Editorial Board supports the efforts of those who expressed their concerns for the health of the entire campus community.
A letter to the Chancellor, signed by over 200 students, activists and community members, was spearheaded by the ASUCD Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission Chair and co-authored by two ASUCD senators from the BASED slate, the chairs of the Environmental Policy and Planning, Gender and Sexuality, External Affairs and Academic Affairs commissions, members of ECAC and United Students Against Sweatshops. It commended the university for taking students’ health into account when cancelling classes on Nov. 13 but said “we are deeply troubled to see the neglect for UC Davis employees’ safety by requiring them to continue working in these conditions.” It called on the university to give employees paid time off in such unsafe situations and, furthermore, to cancel all campus activity until air quality returns to safe levels.
The Editorial Board applauds these student leaders for their successful efforts to advocate for the health of the campus community and supports their demands of the university administration.
But students shouldn’t have to spend their time fighting administrators to secure basic health and safety precautions. In its initial statement on Tuesday night, the university said it would offer free Unitrans bus rides throughout the day and provide a limited number of N95 masks. Though wearing a mask is better than not, prolonged use can exacerbate pre-existing health problems. Simply wearing a mask outside is not a solution to unhealthy air quality.
When university officials do take steps to protect students, as they did when cancelling classes on Nov. 13, they must include workers and the rest of the campus community in those protections. If the air quality is too dangerous for students to come to class, then it must also be considered too dangerous for employees to come to work. University officials must take everyone on campus, not just students, into consideration when making public health decisions.
The Editorial Board supports the university’s ultimate decision to listen to concerns and close the campus but joins students and community members in calling on the university to take the health and safety of the entire campus community into more careful consideration in the future. We all deserve a safe environment to work and learn in.
By: The Editorial Board