James is a senior double majoring in Communications and Political Science. He lives in McKinney, Texas, and has been taking online classes from home since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Of the southern states, Texas has made headlines due to the dire situation that many Texans found themselves in during the freezing weather and subsequent water crisis. James, too, was affected:
“The freezing weather affected me really badly because our power went out throughout the day. We only ever had it for about an hour or so, no more than like 30 minutes, and then it went out again for a few hours, came back on for about 30 minutes, went out again, and it happened [like that] for about a week.”
Water supply was also unstable, so James had to adapt to the brief moments where utilities would return: “we kind of had a schedule where, whenever the power came back on, we just did whatever we needed to do […] refill or get some water, or get something to eat, or do what we can while the power is on to sort of keep ourselves active”, at least until the power went out again.
In a campus-wide email on February 18th, the College encouraged students to return home or off-campus, “only if they may safely do so”. Such options, such as moving to a hotel, were not available to James.
“We couldn’t leave or anything. We were basically trapped in our house because the snow came up to like the sidewalk. You could see one whole line of snow, and you couldn’t see the road or the sidewalk. They were all just sort of the same height, it was bad.”
Of course, this significantly disrupted James’ studies, as online distanced learning made him especially reliant on a stable internet connection.
“It kept me from really getting any school-work done because I couldn’t access the Internet to do any of my assignments or attend some of my classes.” For one class’ online meeting, “I was in there [the call] and I got kicked out at the last second because the power went out. It left me behind on a lot of work and I am still catching up on some of that.” Thankfully, professors seemed understanding: “I feel like they did what they could. I let them know in advance that my power was going to go out frequently and that I may not be able to get some of these assignments done, I may not be able to stay in class that long, but they seemed pretty understanding of that, because from what I heard, this situation was fairly similar in Mississippi anyway.”
Indeed, students on campus also struggled with completing class work, particularly as midterms approached in March. Though individual professors responded differently to the crisis, the College as a whole continued to hold classes throughout the freezing weather and ensuing lack of water pressure. At the beginning of the crisis, when winter storms and hard freeze advisories were still in effect in Jackson, Millsaps changed February 16th to an academic Rest Day (though this came at the expense of changing the original Rest Day on February 25th to a regular class day), in which classes were cancelled and no assignments or exams could be due on the Rest Day or the day after. February 17th marked the beginning of remote (online) classes for all students, and when the College encouraged students to move off-campus on February 18th, Millsaps was hopeful that classes would resume in-person on February 24th. However, Jackson continued to struggle with restoring its water pressure, and Millsaps eventually extended remote classes to February 26th, then later to March 1st, after which in-person classes resumed. Problems with water pressure also led the College to cancel classes for the morning of March 4th. But aside from these brief breaks, students were expected to keep up with class. For most students, the Rest Day on March 16th and the “rest week” from March 15th-19th, in which all out-of-class assignments and tests were suspended (though students were still required to prepare for, attend, and participate in class), came as a welcome break to catch their breath.
Students, like James, also wonder whether the College will provide any other breaks:
“I understand why [Millsaps] decided, ‘Hey, during this week you don’t have any assignments that are due’, but I felt like they could have made that a little bit longer to give people more time to actually catch up, [since] I’m still catching up on some assignments and I’m still trying to get back on track. I don’t know the situation for other people, but I imagine if they had their power go out every 30 minutes and they couldn’t really do anything, then the school should be a little more understanding of that and give them a little extra time. A week was helpful, but maybe another just another one [would be good].”
It’s impossible to forget that this weather crisis comes in the midst of a pandemic, with the lack of utilities presenting a unique health risk. For James, the risk of COVID-19 was a deciding factor in taking the semester remotely: “I heard that Hinds County was one of the hot spots in the entire state and I was like, no, I’m not [returning to campus]. Negatory, I’m gone.” Even without frequent power cuts, online classes have been an adjustment for James, who says, “I’m still not used to it. I had gotten used to my schedule at Millsaps of walking to all my classes and getting work done in my in my dorm and then going out. I kind of miss it because I’m a pretty schedule-oriented person, so when my schedule gets thrown out the water I’m like, darn it.”
Still, he approaches this semester with a positive outlook: “I’ve adjusted pretty well. I know when all my classes start, and I balance out my assignments and readings around that. [The weather crisis] was pretty stressful, but we got we got through [it] and I hope that other students will be able to stay on track.”