SGB urges Pitt to cancel classes


Hannah Heisler | Staff Photographer

SGB President Maggie Kennedy addresses concerns regarding the impending polar vortex at Tuesday night’s SGB meeting.

By Maureen Hartwell, For The Pitt News

As Pitt prepares to meet the arriving polar vortex, students at a Tuesday night Student Government Board meeting raised concerns about the University remaining open in the cold weather. In response, board members reached out to University officials in an email, urging them to cancel classes on Wednesday.

President Maggie Kennedy sent the email to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Provost Ann Cudd, Senior Vice Chancellor Kathy Humphrey and Dean Kenyon Bonner late Tuesday night, with the subject, “SGB Concern for Extreme Weather.”

“As far as we know, due to diesel freezing and road condition concerns, University Shuttles and Safe Riders may not be running, which will leave physically disabled students and students who live on upper campus and off campus in both North and South Oakland without safe transportation,” the email said. “There is also a significant portion of Pitt students who commute from other neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, or even from the suburbs — all of whom will be experiencing extreme difficulty in safely making it to class.”


During the meeting’s first open floor, Resident Student Association President Sam Smallwood urged the board to reach out to Gallagher regarding the inclement weather. He said the cold temperatures predicted pose a threat to student safety and that students shouldn’t be expected to attend classes.

“If the University is classifying this as extreme weather conditions and then says ‘Classes will only be cancelled due to extreme weather,’ you’ve already said right there that classes should be cancelled,” Smallwood said.

As president of RSA, Smallwood said he feels both RSA and SGB have the responsibility to advocate for the needs of students.

An email Bonner sent to students Tuesday afternoon didn’t include definitive criteria for cancelling classes, Smallwood noted. And while Bonner’s email said the choice of whether or not to attend class is left up to each student’s discretion, Smallwood said this is not the case.

“The professors will punish us if we don’t go to class,” Smallwood said. “It puts us in a really rough spot as students because we are here to get an education. But when our own health and well-being is at risk from just going outside, then it’s just not worth it and the University doesn’t seem to realize that.”

Since Bonner’s email notes that the University can stay open and still cancel classes, Smallwood said he isn’t sure why this option isn’t being used.

“I shouldn’t have to be told ‘You’re going to get frostbite in 15 minutes, but don’t get frostbite on your 16-minute walk to class,’” he said.

Kennedy said she understands concerns about the implications of the weather, and how it affects classes and other student responsibilities.

“To hear from a student during one of the open floors that this is something he and other students are concerned about affirmed to us that this is a widespread issue,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said she does not anticipate the email to affect the chancellor’s decision given the short time frame. But she said it’s the board’s responsibility to urge administrators to cancel Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

A petition to close class on Wednesday posted online by first-year student Taylor Tomlinson received more than 8,500 signatures within six hours of posting. The campus last cancelled classes due to inclement weather in 2010.

As of right now, Pitt has no definite policy for guidelines on weather-related cancellations, which are left to the discretion of the chancellor. Kennedy said the board would like to engage in a larger conversation about the school’s inclement weather policy.

“Given the late timing and the complicated nature of this issue, we would also like to continue a larger conversation with you all regarding the University policy (or the lack thereof) for this sort of inclement weather as we move forward throughout the semester,” Kennedy’s email to Pitt administrators said.

At this meeting, Kennedy also announced that SGB will host its third annual Women’s Empowerment Week March 18-27. In the past, the board has brought in prominent speakers like Justin Baldoni and Leslie Jones who can speak to women’s empowerment “on a large scale.”

Kennedy said SGB will work with Pitt Program Council to bring another speaker to the event this year, though she did not mention a specific name. The event is being planned by a committee made up of women from organizations like FEM, Asian Student Alliance, Rainbow Alliance and Pitt Girl Up.

“We are trying to plan a really inclusive and diverse week that helps people realize women’s empowerment involves everyone, regardless of how you identify,” Kennedy said. “It shouldn’t just be by women, for women — it should be about everybody.”

In another diversity initiative, Executive Vice President Jahari Mercer spoke about SGB’s plans to distribute a survey on Pitt’s counseling center. Mercer said the survey, created by the Black Senate, Asian Student Alliance and SGB’s Wellness Committee, aims to gauge how different student ethnic communities view the counseling center.

Mercer said he thinks representation is a concern for some students in the counseling center. He said students voiced concerns to him about this issue during his campaign and during his time spent serving on the board.

“We are hoping to promote diversity in the counseling center with more diverse counselors and resources so that students feel represented and use their resources,” Mercer said.


The American Marketing Association requested $4,488 for a competition. The board approved $4,034 and denied $454.

College Republicans requested $1,756.44 for a conference. The board approved in full.