Colleges Respond to Sweltering Weather

Claremont’s Mediterranean climate offers such mild temperatures for the majority of the year that it can be easy to discount the rare extremes. Nobody, however, will soon forget the scorching weeks that began this semester. 

A heat wave hit Claremont starting the weekend of Sept. 12, bringing temperatures of up to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. In response, college administrators across the 5Cs offered short-term solutions to help students escape the heat.  

“What was unusual was the temperatures,” said Pomona College Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes. “Those kind of temperatures usually happen in July.” 

The heat was especially problematic for students living in residence halls without air conditioning. While all the residence halls at Harvey Mudd College and Pitzer College are air-conditioned, only some residence halls are air-conditioned at the other three colleges. Nine of 13 residence halls are air-conditioned at Claremont McKenna College, eight of 15 at Pomona, and two of nine at Scripps College. 

Many students across the colleges, including Ki’Amber Thompson PO ’18, found it difficult to sleep in residence hall rooms without air conditioning.

“I woke up feeling like I was dying, like I was suffocating,” said Thompson, who lives in Wig Hall.

Beginning the night of Sept. 16, Pomona’s Office of Campus Life (OCL) offered students the opportunity to sleep in air-conditioned spaces on campus such as Blaisdell Lounge, Walker Lounge and Edmunds Ballroom. 

Earlier in the week, Pomona also opened up additional rooms in the Smith Campus Center for students to study. On Sept. 17, the Sagehen Café in the Smith Campus Center (SCC) extended its hours until midnight and offered a discount on iced drinks, and Pomona students were kept updated through email about open air-conditioned spaces.

Many students chose to brave the hot nights in their residence hall. 

“The trick is to sleep on the floor, turn all the fans on and open your windows,” Erinna Woo PO ’18 said.

Townes said that students contacted OCL with suggestions ranging from water stations to ice cream trucks.

“People were appreciative of the college trying to respond but also had really good suggestions about things we could do,” Townes said.

Similar measures were taken at Scripps. Associate Dean of Students Samuel Haynes, the interim director of residential life, wrote in an email to TSL that the administration allowed students to sleep in the Sallie Tiernan Field House, and cots were provided so students could sleep in air-conditioned lounges. Industrial-size fans were also placed in communal spaces without air conditioning.

At Pitzer, the air conditioning in North Sanborn residence hall stopped working during the heat wave, so students from the hall were permitted to sleep in the multipurpose room of the Gold Student Center, said Pitzer Dean of Students Moya Carter. Pitzer also placed additional water stations at locations around campus, like the McConnell lobby and Mead Hall.

“Recognizing that we were about to have a four-day heat wave, I sent out an excessive heat warning: tips for staying cool, staying inside, staying hydrated,” Carter said.

Although no spaces at CMC were opened specifically for sleeping, the college distributed sleeping pads to students living in North Quad residence halls, which only have air conditioning in lounges. 

“We communicated to North Quad residents several steps they could take to mitigate the effects of the heat, such as airing out their room during the day, using fans, hydrating, and finding an air-conditioned space with a friend or in a lounge if they were unable to sleep comfortably in their room,” wrote Eric Vos, CMC assistant dean of students and director of residential life, in an email to TSL.

Looking to the future, many college administrators still view extreme heat as an anomaly that does not warrant air conditioning in all residence halls. 

Haynes wrote in an email to TSL that adding air conditioning to residence halls is costly and time-consuming. 

“Converting a residence hall to one with air conditioning cost[s] upwards of 1.5 million dollars, so there are fiscal responsibilities tied to this option,” Haynes wrote.

Rather than install air conditioning, Townes said that Pomona plans to add ceiling fans to residence hall rooms whenever they are renovated. In addition, the newest residence halls at Pomona all feature the option of air-conditioning, although the buildings are designed to regulate temperature regardless. 

Townes said that Pomona will work to develop a clear plan of action in case Claremont experiences similar temperatures next year.

“The way we talked about this is, ‘Is this like a new normal? Should we anticipate this each fall?’” Townes said.

Pomona’s Ellie Ash-Balá, associate director at the SCC, said that the college wants to “be more proactive” by responding to forecasts of high temperatures in advance.

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