At area colleges, officials working to keep students safe and fed

Posted: October 30, 2012

Shuttered colleges across the region urged students over the weekend to leave campus and go home, but many have decided to remain, and university officials are working to make sure they stay fed and safe.

Some schools allowed students to pick up several meals from the cafeterias in advance so that they would have supplies and wouldn't have to venture out in the severe weather. Through emails, Twitter feeds and campus alerts, university officials are urging students to stay indoors, arming them with public safety numbers and keeping essential personnel on campus to help in case of emergencies.

"We asked everybody who could go home to go home," said Andrea Boyle, a spokeswoman for the University of Delaware.

About 2,900 of the school's 7,000 residential students decided to stay, Boyle said. The university closed its cafeterias, but allowed students to pick up six meals on Sunday to take to their dorms, she said.

At Rowan University in New Jersey, about 1,300 of the school's 4,000 residential students stayed on campus, said spokesman Joe Cardona.

"We had a whole reporting system where they had to tell us if they were going to stay or go," Cardona said, noting that the university knows room by room who is still on campus.

The school's student center will remain open and be used as an evacuation center if students must vacate their dorm, he said. The university is powered by a co-generation plant and therefore doesn't expect to lose power.

At Swarthmore College, which draws its student body from around the country, most of the 1,450 students are remaining on campus.

College President Rebecca Chopp served lunch to students Monday afternoon in the cafeteria. She stood at the front of the line, handed a take-home carton to students and reminded them to fill up, go home and stay in their dorm. She remembers when her son, now 38, was college age and knows that students sometimes feel invincible and might be tempted to venture out.

"I do worry about that, but I think our students are pretty good about watching out for each other," Chopp said in a telephone interview.

The college also has asked residential advisers to make sure students do not leave the dorms, she said. It's especially a concern on Swarthmore's campus, which is home to a beautiful arboretum that in a storm could lose tree branches to high winds, posing danger.

Chopp's decision to help serve lunch also was meant as a "comforting presence," she said, and as a thank you to the dining hall staff, 100 percent of whom reported to work.

"Some of our students are more nervous than others," Chopp said. One student from California said he had been through an earthquake, but not a hurricane, and was uneasy, she said. Another from Miami wasn't worried at all, she said.

To help students weather the storm, the dorms will offer board games, lounge movies and "ghost story telling once it gets dark in the spirit of Halloween," a college spokeswoman said.

At St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, about 700 of the 2,900 residential students remained on campus. They include mostly international students, U.S. students who live a great distance away and students from the shore who figured they would be better off in Philadelphia, said spokeswoman Harriet Goodheart.

But in some cases, parents still were arriving on campus Monday morning to pick up their children, Goodheart said. The university planned to keep its dining hall open until 7 p.m. and would send students back to their room with extra food, she said.

At Temple University - like on most campuses, only the residence halls and dining halls were kept open. Other buildings are shut, and that was by design.

"We don't want students walking back and forth and getting caught with flying debris," said spokesman Ray Betzner.

Sixty to 70 percent of the university's 5,000 residential students decided to stay on campus, he said. The university has made provisions for adequate food, water and other supplies for students, he said.

Villanova also warned students to take shelter.

"It is imperative that all students remain inside during this storm and do not travel across campus or even between buildings unless advised that it is safe to do so," the university said in a message to students and staff.

Faculty members at Ursinus College in Collegeville opened up their homes to students who wanted to leave campus, said spokeswoman Wendy Greenberg.

Students remaining on campus were relocated to a building with back-up lighting, rest rooms and water, she said.

About 50 students remained on campus at Chestnut Hill College. The school's food vendor was on stand by with gas powered grills to prepare meals if the power goes out, said spokeswoman Lisa Mixon.

Most of the students at Cabrini College in Radnor went home. Resident life supervisors remained on campus to look after the 138 students, or 17 percent of the student body who remained.

"Walkie-talkies and radios have been distributed to staff members and supervisors, and a point person has been assigned to each building where students are staying," said spokesman Daniel DiPrinzio said.

Universities also spent the weekend trying to prepare their physical campuses for a sustained onslaught from the storm. Rowan used sandbags to protect buildings in low lying areas that flooded last year. Given its proximity to the flood-prone Wissahickon, Chestnut Hill College closed off its lower parking lots and relocated college vehicles to higher ground.

And La Salle University's security force removed any flags, signs or other items that could turn into dangerous projectiles in high winds, said spokesman Jon Caroulis. About 75 percent of La Salle's residential students went home, while about 600 remain on campus, he said.


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq

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