By Marielle Echavez, Staff Writer—

On the night of  April 12, severe storms and a tornado swept through the Chattanooga area, greatly impacting the community and many UTC students. 

This devastation left many Chattanooga residents without electricity, cell-service, shelter, and some without their loved ones. 

Like many other UTC students, Leann King was near the path of the storms. 

“It’s bad in the East Brainerd area. My car has some damage, but that’s nothing compared to what some have lost in surrounding areas,” King said. 

Her apartment complex alone had debris everywhere and multiple trees that were knocked down, she said. 

“Luckily our building has power back, but I think it’s because we are right beside Walmart on Gunbarrel, and they had to get that power back up. But a majority of people around us are still without,” she said. 

Karley Dodson and Desiree Warner are both UTC students and roommates who were also directly affected by Sunday’s storms. 

Dodson and Warner’s house is located in East Ridge and was without power from around midnight on the night of the storm until the evening of April 15. It was reported on April 13 that it could have been seven to 10 days until their power was restored. 

According to Warner, she and her roommates got really lucky and are extremely grateful. They got word that the tornado touched down near the airport that is near their house, so they took precautions to stay safe.

“The storm passed but we knew another round was expected to hit again around like 2-3 a.m. So we all went to our rooms to try and ‘nap’ before the second round came through,” Warner said. “I don’t like storms so I stayed up, but when 3:30 came around and nothing was happening, I went to sleep. When I woke up my phone was dead, and we still did not have power.”

The roommates went out to get breakfast together because of the power outage, which was when they saw the damage surrounding their home.

“I could not believe what I saw. One of our neighbors almost had a tree fall onto their house,” Warner described. “It barely missed it. Trash was everywhere, and big tree limbs were down in multiple places.”

Because of the power outage, there was a large number of people on the roads grabbing food, the traffic lights were not working and multiple roads were closed, she said. 

“I had to charge my phone in my car so I could let my family and friends know that I was okay. During all this, I also can’t forget how I have things due for my classes today and in the upcoming days. I also attend Chattanooga State Community College, and they had sent out an alert that class was suspended for the day due to power outages,” Warner said. 

Warner and Dodson assumed that they would receive similar updates from UTC, they said, but instead there was silence. 

“UTC didn’t reach out and say anything until way past midday [on Monday], which doesn’t surprise me but just upsets me. Chatt State was way more responsive to their students,” Dodson said. 

“Only one of my professors emailed her students with extensions for Monday assignments and how she hoped everyone was okay and that we should be sure to check on each other,” Warner said.

When UTC sent out the first email in response to the storms, it was a video entitled Chattanooga Standing Strong, “with no remarks about how professors, students, and other workers were possibly impacted by the storms,” Warner said. 

Warner responded to the campus-wide email with “I don’t have power and can’t even view this video due to bad cell service. ‘Tiger Alert: Due to power outages, all Chattanooga State classes are suspended today, Monday, April 13, 2020. Please be safe.’ Why did you not follow Chattanooga states lead and suspend classes? I can’t believe I pay thousands of dollars to not be cared about when people lost their lives early this morning. Some of my professors don’t even have power yet we are all still expected to meet deadlines. This University should be ashamed of themselves.”

Warner received many responses to her email, she said. 

Many of the responses included, “I don’t pay to be cared for, I pay for an education. I should be glad I’m getting a degree,” and that people don’t want to hear about Warner’s “personal grievances,” she said.

 Others applauded her for speaking up and expressing the thoughts of many. Some even reached out and told her how their situation was even worse than hers, and that UTC was adding on to their already stressful situation by not suspending classes.

“Seeing how their neighbors at the community college responded quicker and more professional than UTC just made me realize they got some serious prioritizing to do,” Warner said. “I feel like I mean nothing but a dollar sign to the University and that the students and workers are not valued as humans.”

Department Head of Psychology and Professor Dr. Brian O’Leary was part of the group of administrators, faculty, and staff representatives that met with UTC’s Provost to discuss the school’s response to the severe weather on April 12.

The meeting was held on Tuesday morning, April 14, and lasted 2 and a half hours, O’Leary said.

After the meeting, a campus-wide email was sent informing students that classes would be canceled from April 15 through April 17, and that any assignments that were due on April 13 or 14 would have extended due dates.

“The extent of the impact on students and faculty was not readily apparent at the outset given that we were already physically dispersed due to COVID-19,” he said. “There were lots of ideas floated and we ultimately decided that extending classes and finals was the most reasonable response. There is always plenty of room for second-guessing, but I think UTC responded as well as it could under the circumstances.” 

Elle Scarbrough, a senior psychology student, sees many stressors on UTC students during this situation, she said.

According to Scarbrough, it would be beneficial to cancel the rest of the semester and allow students to keep their current grades.

“The extreme and sudden stress that all students have experienced in this past month has put such a toll on our mental and physical health that it is very difficult to focus on our school work,” she said.

Dr. O’Leary made sure to highlight staying positive during the current situation. 

“You can’t change the past, so you move forward from where you are and use the lessons learned to improve in the future—and there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “Isn’t that what education is all about?”

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