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Opinion: When the snow starts falling, so do we

Is the University doing enough to protect its students from the ice in the winter?
Image by Noah Liebl
With snow and ice often covering walkways, campus in the wintertime can be a difficult place to navigate.

As soon as we get the first snowfall on campus, I can count on taking a tumble. Or several. 

It happens every year when November rolls around. We start getting snow, it freezes over and I start slipping. 

On the University of Minnesota campus, winter is not for the weak. The cold weather and rampant snow often cause sidewalks and paths around campus to become covered in ice, which creates treacherous conditions walking to and from class and makes it easy to slip and fall. Admittedly, I can be quite clumsy and may wipe out more than most, but from what I have seen, I know there are others. 

Although he has only spent one winter at the University, Nate Galush, a first-year student, said quite a few wipeouts still happen. 

“I’ve definitely seen a couple people have pretty bad falls,” Galush said. “A lot on Pleasant Street and around the Nicholson Hall area in particular.” 

So, it isn’t just me. And it seems like this isn’t a new issue either.  

In December 2013, Josephine Hohlt, a painter employed by the University, was injured by slipping and falling on ice on campus. She later sued the University. 

Hohlt was walking on Delaware Street toward the Oak Street Parking Ramp when she slipped and sustained a right hip fracture. After a lengthy medical process, Hohlt returned to work about a year later in December 2014. The University initially denied liability for the incident, but Hohlt appealed and eventually won her case in the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2017. 

Since the settlement, the University has continued to be called upon to do more about its winter campus conditions. 

In 2023, the Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution advocating for the City of Minneapolis to fund a larger sidewalk snow removal project. The resolution was later approved by the Minneapolis City Council and passed along to the Public Works Department.

With all of this, has anything really changed? 

Taava Johnson, a third-year student, said the campus walkways can be hit or miss. 

“It’s extremely variable,” Johnson said. “There are days where it’s completely clear, and then there’s other days where it’s straight up, like four inches of snow.” 

Johnson also rides a bike on campus and shared some concerns about how bike lanes are cleared.

“Where I really feel nervous is biking on the bridge,” Johnson said. “During the winter, they usually move it down to around one (bike) lane. And that kind of can be a little freaky because the lane is the one that’s closest to the water. And when it’s windy, you kind of feel like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna fall off this icy bridge into the river.’”

Despite this, Johnson said there is only so much that can be done to solve the snow and ice problem. 

“They do salt, but salt can only go so far in the winter,” Johnson said. “When it’s super cold out, like, in the negatives, it doesn’t really do much on the metal areas, compared to the concrete areas.”

For Isabel Newhouse, a third-year civil engineering student, the biggest issues with snow and ice on campus are the light rail stations.

“It gets really bad by the light rail, that area is so slippery,” Newhouse said. “I just feel like it’s so dangerous over there, it gets really slushy, and especially with the metal on the ground.” 

These campus concerns bring about an accessibility issue as well. Is our campus truly safe and accessible for everybody in all seasons? 

Although an able-bodied person, Newhouse shared this concern. 

“I’m just thinking about the traction that the wheels of a wheelchair have,” Newhouse said. “I feel like if I struggle to walk up slight inclines in the winter with the ice, I can only imagine how much harder it is in a wheelchair.” 

Despite student concerns, I would be remiss to say that the University is not doing anything at all to address the walkway issue. It may be summer now, but winter in Minnesota is never going away. It is not enough to have safe sidewalks some days and not others. 

Ice on campus is an issue that needs to be taken more seriously, not only as a safety issue but also as an accessibility and equity gap.

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