It’s no secret that this past week has been really fucking hot, especially for those of us living in dorms without A/C. But while most of us just complain, Barnard first-years have brought their concerns directly to the administration. Senior Staff Writer Lucy Danger describes why these students are so focused on the heat and what they’re doing about the problem.
On Tuesday, September 4, Barnard students received an email from Dean of Studies Natalie Friedman and Executive Director of Residential Life and Housing Alicia Lawrence with the subject line “Barnard Heat Advisory.” The email offered six recommendations for students living in dorms without air conditioning to stay cool as the temperature rose this week with highs of up to 90 degrees. The tips included resources such as water stations provided by Res Life in Diana and in Brooks Lounge this week, staying hydrated in general, eating foods “high in water content,” using cold washcloths and ice, and scheduling a sleepover with “a buddy who has air conditioning.”
This email follows one from last week sent to first-years last week titled “Think Cool Thoughts,” which reassured students that the lounges are cool and open to everyone and recommended that they “take a stroll to the Harlem waterfront” to take advantage of the cool breeze and stay hydrated. This email also noted that “You should never get to the point of being thirsty, that is already too late to be reaching for a drink.”
In spite of these tips, many students have struggled to deal with the heat this week. The heat has affected many students in different ways, from causing difficulty focusing to exacerbating students’ health issues. Many students housed in Brooks and Reid have expressed discomfort with spending extended amounts of time in their dorm room.
First-year Julia Coccaro explained that she spends “an hour a day in there in total.” Coccaro was the first of multiple students hospitalized due to the heat. On the first day of NSOP, she was in the hospital from 6 to 11 pm because of dehydration related to the heat, and has been sleeping in the Sulzberger lounge instead of in her room in Brooks since then – though this is against Residential Life policy. “It’s extremely frustrating to enter my first semester of college and having my primary concern be how much sleep I’m able to get because my room accommodations are so poor,” Coccaro continued.
Many incoming first-years in particular have taken various actions to address this problem with Res Life and the administration. Sarah Braner initially contacted Res Life through her RA with the idea to match up students in Sulz with those in Brooks/Reid to provide a respite from the heat. Braner later took it upon herself to make a spreadsheet to match students up; however, the spreadsheet has not seen much use. Braner admitted, “There aren’t a lot of short or long-term solutions that are actually realistic. The only long term solution is universal AC but these buildings are really old.”
Sophia Trzcinski, a first-year resident of Brooks, and her roommate Bella Watts, have developed a proposal, which they are planning on presenting to the administration. They have collected data on the effect the heat has had and developed potential solutions. Trzcinski and Watts are specifically concerned with how the heat is affecting low-income students: according to a survey conducted of 26 students, “on average, 30$ to 150$ have been spent between two people on fans that the students claimed did little but move hot air around the room, and most quads spend upwards of 100$ to 150$ between the four roommates, with the same effect. One student spent 400$ and another 700$ on fans. [sic]”
Part of their proposal involves possible solutions, including ideas such as lowering the cost of housing for students in Brooks and Reid “so that students can buy fans/evaporative air coolers as necessary with the extra money.” These students also suggest that Barnard “provide scholarships and ‘grants’ to low-income students and/or students on financial aid to allow them to buy fans,” provide students with fans and other cooling devices, or even provide AC units with a wattage maximum so as to work within the limits imposed by the age of the buildings.
Though it is well-known throughout Barnard that the first couple of weeks of school are often difficult due to the heat, this year is hotter than it has been in the past, and this is the first time that students have taken such direct action. Residents of Hewitt and other dorms without AC are also experiencing issues related to the heat. Junior Hagir Elzin described the heat as “a lot more suffocating” than in past years, and said that it’s been hard unpacking because of how difficult it is to be in her room. It is also worth nothing that students’ experiences with the heat differ based on the climates in which they have lived and and access to air-conditioning.
“With climate change, the heat will continue to get worse and summers will continue to extend,” Trzcinski noted. “We can’t predict that so if the argument is that the weather is going to get better, we’re not positive.”
Many parents of students living in Brooks and Reid have expressed frustration with Barnard for a lack of proactivity in dealing with the situation. Parent Leslee Trzcinski observed that “from a financial perspective, we are paying the tuition and the room and board, and from that perspective, [we are] EXTREMELY disappointed in how Barnard has handled this. [sic]”
There are limitations to what changes can be made structurally, due to not only cost but the age of the buildings in question. Brooks Hall was completed in 1907, Hewitt Hall was built in 1925, and Reid Hall was built in 1961. Sulzberger is the only dorm in the Quad with AC in every room. Because of the ages of these buildings, the wiring is not currently equipped to handle the amount of energy required to support AC units in every room.
In addition, there is the question of cost. However, according to Bwog’s calculations, buying an AC unit for every student in Barnard housing who currently doesn’t have one would cost 0.07% of the money raised by the Barnard Bold campaign, or an average of $170.85 per student in currently AC-less housing.
When Residential Life was contacted, Executive Director Alicia Lawrence noted that they had heard students’ concerns and are evaluating many options to best support students. Lawrence’s full response can be found below.
The health and safety of students is of the utmost importance to Barnard, and we have heard students’ concerns. Residential Life and Housing has been in communication with students about the best ways to ease heat concerns, and we want to reiterate that it’s important to stay hydrated. In addition, there will be water stations set up in the Diana Center Lobby and Brooks Library until 2 a.m.
We are always evaluating options for the future, like all campuses across the country coping with excessive temperatures. Heat waves are typical for this time of year, and this one is expected to break over the weekend. We encourage students to exercise best practices as outlined by Residential Life and Housing, and to visit Primary Care Health Services with any health issues or reach out to RAs after hours. Barnard welcomes input from students; please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Bwogstaff