St. Aug's leader to students: Deal with it

Staff WriterApril 20, 2011 

— With two dorms lacking power and some students questioning the school's decision not to close, the president of St. Augustine's College, Dianne Boardley Suber, met with students Tuesday to give them a progress report and a stern talking-to.

Her message was simple: Thank you to those who have adjusted well to difficult conditions on campus after Saturday's tornado. To everyone else, grow up.

"You are not 5 years old. You are at least 18. You are at least in a position where you are getting ready to make life decisions as adults," Suber said. "What I am asking you to do is try to understand the limitations that we have."

Suber called the meeting after hearing via social networking websites that some students were growing disgruntled and increasingly vocal about the return to class Tuesday. More than 150 students gathered on the second floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. College Union to hear Suber's explanation.

The school was hit hard by the storm, with dozens of fallen trees turning the campus into a "jungle" Saturday evening, Suber said. No building escaped damage, and large sections of campus lost power. Crews of workers, including faculty, staff and students, pitched in while classes were canceled Monday to clear the area in time for school to re-start Tuesday morning.

That's in contrast to Shaw University a few miles away. Shaw administrators chose to cancel classes for the rest of the semester because of the severity of tornado damage that included the roof being ripped off the student union.

St. Augustine's decision not to follow Shaw's lead has outraged some students. Two St. Aug's dorms, Boyer Hall and Falkcrest Commons, were without power until 2 p.m. Tuesday. Students say the disruption has left them without adequate time to complete final projects and prepare for exams. Senior Fatima Kearney said her dorm smells of spoiled food from the rooms of absent students.

Other students, like sophomore Shakara Thomas, are worried about security. Three thefts have been reported around campus since the storm, including a 52-inch television taken from Boyer Hall on Sunday night.

"It's pitch black when I walk back to my dorm at night," Thomas said. "You don't feel safe."

A mocking retort

Suber's assertion that security has been out "in full force" was greeted with laughter from some students at Tuesday's meeting.

St. Aug's Chief of Police George Boykin said security officers have been working 12- to 16-hour shifts since Saturday, with 14 officers stationed around campus 24 hours a day, including at the two dorms that have lacked power. The school's escort service for pedestrians is always available but has been little used since Saturday, Boykin said.

Suber acknowledged students' frustration with the situation but said the school had provided necessities during the crisis and is bringing back conveniences as quickly as possible. She asked for patience.

"It's not realistic to think it will be like it is when we have full power," Suber said. "Think about it."

"You think," a male voice called from the crowd.

"What you have to understand and accept is that there are things you can't control, and a tornado is one of those things," Suber said calmly.

The cost of the storm

A financial assessment of damage to the campus will not be available until Friday. Senior grade deadlines have been extended a day to give faculty more time to work with students.

Some students booed when Suber finished speaking Tuesday.

"You can get mad, but we have told you all that we know," Suber said.

She urged students to maintain perspective.

"There are 1,000 students on this campus and no injuries," Suber said. "You are blessed."

chelsea.kellner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4802

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