February 21, 2021

BETTEZ | Please Clear the Walkways, Cornell

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In Cornell Police Chief David Honan’s latest email to the Cornell community on Feb. 19, he wrote: “A healthy mindset helps you stay safe and keep on top of your game. Exercise your brain, get outside or take a walk and enjoy some fresh air.” 

While this in itself is true, such advice is far, far easier said than done. Walking anywhere beyond East Avenue will let you see more ice than a trip to Lynah Rink. While I appreciate the relentless work it requires to constantly clear the snow and ice in the midst of relentless snow storms –– let alone in the midst of the coldest period of our pandemic so far — more needs to be done to allow the Cornell community to venture outdoors without fear of a perilous slip.

As a second semester senior with nothing but online courses left, the motivation to leave the warmth and quiet of my apartment is few and far between. The only group of friends I see regularly live in an apartment complex less than a five minute walk away, so the only times I venture to campus are on runs. But for the last week, I haven’t made it through a single run without having to pause and hobble through long, unshoveled stretches. 

A friend who went for a run Saturday morning slipped and fell in front of the Breazzano Center in the heart of Collegetown, she told me later that day. While she escaped with nothing but a few small cuts, anyone familiar with the dangers of a slippery sidewalk knows the consequences of a fall can be quick and dangerous. My older sister, living in Boston, slipped on ice three weeks ago and bruised her knee so badly she can still barely walk or leave her tiny apartment. 

The well-traversed bike path I run on that follows Cascadilla Creek is coated in a thin layer of snow which makes me lose half a step for every stride I take — it feels like running through sand. And although I haven’t been to the arboretum in a while, my running buddy reported that the trees are practically sinking in a sheet of solid ice, making even the idea of walking, much less running, impossible. 

As pandemic restrictions approach the one year mark and classes settle into the patterns they’ll follow for the rest of the semester, small apartments and dorms feel smaller than ever. 

Loneliness is closing in for a community full of students who get back to work behind a computer screen — a fate seemingly worse for the thousands of freshmen who have never known a campus unrestricted. While struggling to make friends and set roots down on a large, frigid campus, these students face increased pressure to reduce their in-person interactions and keep to themselves under the threat of the yellow campus alert level

The pandemic is certainly worsening student mental health outcomes, an issue that Cornell was no stranger to prior to the outbreak. While something like shoveling snow off of walkways may seem like a minor inconvenience, it helps remove both physical dangers and an already nearly insurmountable barrier students face in trying to improve their mental health. Slippery walkways make it both a dangerous and difficult venture outside for exercise or to see friends. Many students, myself included, use it to combat loneliness by meeting up with friends with masks outdoors to safely socialize. 

Despite vague urging by administrators for students to go outside and get fresh air for their sanity and health, the compounding bitter cold and treacherous conditions make it a Herculean effort. The least that Cornell could do to alleviate these barriers is expand its efforts to keep the walking areas in and around campus as clear and safe as possible. Sometimes the things that make the biggest difference aren’t massive initiatives or expense new programming — it can be as straightforward as some more shoveling.

Michaela Bettez is a senior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at mbettez@cornellsun.com. Bet on It runs every other Monday this semester.