Decision to keep university open in snowstorm results in commuter accident

The damage to UConn commuter student Alexandra Favret's car, which came after an accident during Favret's commute from Uncasville, Connecticut to Storrs, Connecticut on Monday, April 4, 2016. (Kyle Constable/The Daily Campus)

When Alexandra Favret woke up Monday morning, she did not expect her commute to the University of Connecticut to end with a totaled car and a trip to the doctor’s office for a concussion test.

But after university officials decided not to close any of its campuses during Monday’s snowstorm, that is exactly what happened to the eighth-semester psychology major who regularly commutes from Uncasville to Storrs.

During Monday’s rare April winter storm, inland Connecticut was hit with nearly eight inches of snow while the coast – where Favret lives – saw only rain showers and wind. She said she was not surprised when the university was still open Monday morning. From her vantage point, she said, the weather did not permit any closure at the time.

It was only while en route to campus on state Route 32 for her 9 a.m. class that she realized snow was falling farther north. Coming down a steep hill, she lost control of her vehicle and pumped the brakes. Her car swerved off the road and into a telephone pole, causing extensive damage to the passenger side of the vehicle.

I don’t think they’re aware of how many people travel to campus and actually commute, especially the distance that people come.
— UConn commuter student Alexandra Favret, on how she thinks the university approaches inclement weather

Favret spent the remainder of her morning taking care of the vehicle and her afternoon at a doctor’s office, where she was administered a concussion test. The doctor said while she was shaken up by the accident, she did not have a concussion.

Favret never made it to campus Monday.

At least one UConn student was involved in a motor vehicle accident and a half-dozen others were involved in close calls during Monday’s wintery conditions. A number of professors canceled classes despite the university’s decision not to do so, citing the weather conditions.

University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the decision not to close any campuses was made based on information about weather and road conditions available Monday morning. She said the university’s residential nature – more than three-quarters of students live on or near campus – was also taken into consideration in the final decision.

Reitz also said all students were notified at the start of the winter about the university’s policy that requires faculty to accommodate students who do not believe they can safely travel in bad weather.

“We recognize that employees and many students still drive to or between the campuses, and their safety is an important consideration for us,” Reitz said. “Even when the university remains opens for business, individuals may appropriately decide not to come to campus or to leave campus early.”

For Favret, however, the choice was more challenging because of the differing weather conditions on the coast and farther inland. She said the university does not give enough consideration to commuter students when making campus closure decisions.

“I don’t think they’re aware of how many people travel to campus and actually commute, especially the distance that people come,” Favret said.

The decision not to close any campuses Monday comes two weeks after the university canceled all morning classes on March 21 for a less powerful winter storm. Officials were able to make the decision the afternoon of March 20 and notified students of the delayed opening. Reitz has not responded as to why this case was different as of press time.

A number of other students also had close calls Monday morning. Samantha Lake, an eighth-semester music major, said she “almost slid and hit a car when (her) brakes locked up at a stoplight.” She also said the roads around her house remained unplowed Monday afternoon.

Margaux Ancel, an eighth-semester journalism major and staff writer at The Daily Campus, had a similar experience. In a tweet Monday afternoon, Ancel said she “almost rear ended someone trying to stop at a red light, ended up in the other lane to avoid impact.”

Other issues might have delayed students’ ability to get to campus as well. Christopher Kelly, an eighth-semester political science and economics double major, said his apartment complex in Willington was not plowed until after 9 a.m., causing him to miss half of his first class.

Some students did not even attempt to come to campus at all. Kevin Alvarez, an eighth-semester political science major, was planning on coming back to campus from his family’s home in Colchester Monday morning, but decided against it out of concern for his safety.


Kyle Constable is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kyle.constable@uconn.edu. He tweets @KyleConstable.