The University of California, Davis closed down as a result of the poor air quality caused by the smoke coming from the Camp Fire, approximately 90 miles away. Due to the ever-changing conditions, the university closed the campus one day at a time which resulted in flurry of memes posted on the school’s meme Facebook page and sub-Reddit.
Before continuing, it should be acknowledged that the Camp Fire was an absolute tragedy resulting, at the moment of writing this article, in around 80 people losing their lives and over 700 people left unaccounted for. I highly encourage readers to donate in order to help victims.
Our story begins the morning of Tuesday, November 13. We were coming back from Veterans Day Weekend. At 6:29 am, everyone gets the following email.
UC Davis Classes in Davis and Sacramento are canceled on Tuesday, November 13, due to poor air quality as a result of the Butte County fires.
The campus is open. All employees should report to work; however, those who work outdoors should limit activity. Please be safe.
Some with midterms were happy to find out that they got an extra day or two to study (though most likely not come around to doing so until 9 pm). Some were happy to get a four-day weekend and be able to spend the day doing absolutely nothing (that’s where I was). Finally, there were those happy that they did not have to endure the around-150 AQI.
The memes were coming in slowly. It was only one day off, what’s the big fuss? It was until at 9:23 pm everyone got this email.
Classes resume Wednesday, Nov. 14 on the Davis and Sacramento campuses
After consulting with our UC Davis health and fire experts and monitoring updated guidance from other public health experts regarding air quality, UC Davis classes will resume on Wednesday, Nov. 14, however, all outdoor physical education classes are canceled. In order to encourage people to refrain from excessive outdoor physical activity, Unitrans (the university bus service) will offer free rides for students, faculty and staff throughout the day, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.[…]UC Davis will have a limited supply of N95 masks for students and employees, available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Masks will be available beginning Wednesday mid-day at the Memorial Union and the UC Davis Fire Department on the UC Davis Campus, and at Employee Health, UC Davis Health on the Sacramento campus. […] Our concern for the health and safety of our community is our priority. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as needed.
There were several problems with this.
- The Air Quality Index forecast expected the air quality on the 14th to be considerably worse than the 13th. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency marked Davis as one of the few cities in the nation to mark the 14th as an “Action Day” which recommends all outdoor activities should be limited especially for sensitive groups (eg. asthmatics).
- The email requests students to refrain from excessive outdoor physical activity but UC Davis is considered the largest out of the 10 UC schools by land mass. Therefore, majority of students rely on bicycles to get from one place to another on campus in a timely manner.
- Unitrans is already “free” for undergraduate students. (I put “free” in quotation because we pay for it through extra fees that go along with tuition whether we use it or not.) The transit system is already inefficient and overcrowded as is. The long wait times already forces you to stand out and be exposed to the air. You might as well bike.
- Sacramento State, a nearby university, closed due to the poor air quality. Yet, Davis still considered it to be okay to keep the Sacramento satellite campus open.
- Finally, the N95 masks. Stores have been in a constant low supply or sold out in the days leading up to this. I blame the people who buy the masks in bulk and sell them on Facebook at 300% markup; fuck those guys. Also, some people have to arrive to the university as early as 6 am. This means some people will have to endure the smoke at different levels for around six hours until they wait in line for an hour to hopefully get a mask. Note that this is not just any university where people sit around inside in desks all day. Davis is one of the top agricultural schools in the nation therefore some students are required to be outside most of the day.
The memes began to flood in. Please note from here on I will note the page UC Davis Memes for Egghead Teens as UCDMFET.
Some memes were about comparing UC Davis to Sacramento State. (Another one was used as the cover image for this article.)
The air didn’t kill me but this meme did.
Someone even made a Spotify playlist.
Some compared this to the pepper spray incident that occurred back in 2011 (nearly on the dot with the date) which the university paid a PR firm $175,000 to remove off the internet. I didn’t work.
Someone made a Change.org petition which nearly the equivalent of half the student body signed.
Facebook events were made with thousands stating they’re attending.
- Throw Rocks at the Smoke to Make it Go Away
- Gather Every Fan in Davis and Blow the Smoke Away
- Play Uno Reverse Cards to Make the Smoke Go Away
This all made local news. Finally, the university caved in. This email came in at 7:21 am.
November 14, 2018
Davis and Sacramento Closed Wednesday, Classes Cancelled
Chancellor May and other campus leaders have heard the community’s concerns. The Chancellor regrets any stress or inconvenience our previous update caused. We are all learning together. The Davis and Sacramento campuses will be closed today and classes cancelled. The UC Davis hospitals, primary care clinics, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and Student Health and Wellness will remain open. The N95 masks will be available at the Memorial Union and the UC Davis Fire Department later today. We will provide further updates later today at ucdavis.edu/news.
Good to know democracy still functions in some cases. And in UC Davis’s case, even better, they managed to save face.
Throughout this time, the university still required “essential personnel” to report to work. Student workers were asked to message their supervisors to determine whether or not they were deemed as essential. From my observations, student employee essential personnel included people who work for the dining commons and parking enforcement. Yes, they still enforced parking even though the campus looked like a still-frame from the Silent Hill games. The internet began to think about the essential personnel out there.
UC Davis remained closed the following day.
At this point, the student population began to get nervous. As mentioned before, students were in the middle of midterms and with the Fall quarter coming to a close in two weeks, people were worried about the following things.
- The quarter becomes extended in order to make up for the missing time. This was the case when UC Riverside closed for approximately one week due to the wildfire. This could interfere with the upcoming Winter quarter and ripple through the rest of the year. In an article released by the university, they confirmed that this would not be the case as it would require a lot of bureaucracy. It left the professors to decide on what to do with the missing time. This left students worried with this second possibility.
- Students will have to catch up on the material missed while on this prolonged break. There have been reports of students receiving materials from professors via Canvas. Students with pending midterms will have to keep themselves refreshed on the material until supposedly (and now) the week of the 26th. They will then have to study and take final exams two weeks after taking their midterms. Furthermore, any other projects (essays, films, computer applications, worksheets, etc.) will have to be turned in either before (on Canvas), or presented within the small time window sandwiched in the two weeks between midterms and final exams.
Luckily, there has been a saving grace for some students. My professor, for example and hopefully not the only, required us to do one essay and a final (which is another essay). We now have the choice to do the essay prompt for the either and consider it the final. The downside is that instead of having one essay worth 20% and the final worth 25%, we have one essay worth 45%. Oh, fuck. This brings me to fear number…
3. What I just mentioned above.
UC Davis continued to be closed on Friday and eventually the entire weekend. Meanwhile, UC Berkeley — around an hour away — continued classes throughout the week even though the air quality was worse than Davis’s on several days. They finally caved in on Friday and continued to close campus on the following Monday and Tuesday. As a caveat, students had half their Dead Week taken away to make up for the lost time. We made sure to pour one out for those homies.
At this point, students were starting to become annoyed. Thanksgiving break was approaching and students had to stay on campus because the university only notified people whether there was school or not on a day by day basis. Student whose hometowns are driving distances away with better air quality could have left but yet they were forced to stay. People were stuck indoors. They were bored. Really bored.
Finally, on Sunday November 18 at 9:15 am, everyone received this email.
Dear UC Davis Community,
While we had hoped to re-open our Davis and Sacramento campuses on Monday, the air quality forecasts are not showing enough improvement toward the healthy categories. In addition, the Academic Senate leadership has recommended that classes be cancelled Monday through Wednesday. Based on this and other input, we have decided to close both campuses through the Thanksgiving break. The campuses will re-open and classes will resume on Monday, November 26.
And thus ends our tale.