Up close and from afar, AU students from Texas face effects of winter storm
“We didn’t know when we’d get heat back,” student says
Caroline Largoza spent four days wrapped in blankets and cooking her meals over a fireplace in a freezing house without power. Still, the spring semester droned on. With no Wi-Fi or heat, Largoza, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs from San Antonio, Texas, said she struggled to handle the effects of Texas’s February winter storm that left nearly 4.5 million people without power.
“Everybody was really nervous because we didn’t know when we’d get heat back,” Largoza said. “It was below freezing all week. It’s a very daunting feeling to not know when you’ll be able to heat your food up again or get warm.”
Largoza was just one of hundreds of American University students from Texas handling the aftermath of the storm and infrastructure failure, either in-person or from afar. With little support from the University, Largoza said she was unable to attend classes.
It took her two weeks to finish all of her overdue assignments.
“Only one professor reached out to check up on me,” Largoza said. “Other professors tried to set new deadlines, but on the day of the extended deadlines, I still needed more time because the power was still out. They weren’t as understanding as I thought they would be.”
AU spokesperson Stacie Burgess said the University provided support for families experiencing power outages by communicating with professors.
“Acting Provost Peter Starr has asked faculty to provide as much flexibility as possible for students who may be unable to attend classes, submit assignments or respond to emails promptly,” Burgess said. “Additionally, he advised faculty to reach out to students’ academic advisors or use the Care Network to notify the Office of the Dean of Students if additional support is required.”
Hannah Ames, a freshman from a suburb just outside Dallas, said that her power came back on the Tuesday following Sunday’s Feb. 14 storm, though it never went out for longer than a few hours at a time, and never on any particular schedule. The high school she attended flooded in some places and students in her school district are still off from in-person classes as the district handles the damages. Though she never missed a full online class, her sporadic Wi-Fi connection made it difficult to attend classes in full.
“I got really lucky,” Ames said. “We didn’t have a lot of the issues that we could have. If the power was going to get turned back on anywhere, it was here. This is the richer, whiter part of town. There were a lot of problems where it was pretty obvious where power was getting turned back on.”
Junior Fernanda Pérez said that since her hometown of El Paso is on a different power grid than most of the state, the power outages at her house were sporadic but short. Though she was able to attend classes, she instead chose to help distribute supplies to residents, including her family, across the Mexican border in El Paso’s sister city of Juárez, which faced several days without electricity following the storm.
“Seeing that contrast over and over again is really disheartening and not surprising,” Pérez said. “There are so many disparities in the way that we distribute resources, and it often comes down to mutual aid to decrease those disparities. At the end of the day, the people that are alleviating these communities are the people from these communities themselves.”
Though many AU students from Texas were not in their home state at the time of the storm, they still felt the effects of the disaster through their families. Caleb Farris, a freshman whose family lives in Austin, said that the pipes in his mother’s apartment froze and burst after the storm.
Since his family was preparing to move at the time of the storm, boxes were strewn across the floor. Flooding from the frozen pipes resulted in an estimated $8,000 to $10,000 in damage to their boxed belongings, Farris said. While the family will be able to recoup their losses through insurance claims, the loss of these books, clothes and personal items has taken a toll.
Junior Jasmine Singh said that she lost contact with her family for four days as they went without electricity and Wi-Fi, hearing about the storm and its effects only through social media and the news. Her sister, a student at the University of Houston, went without power and communication like her family, and her father drove down icy roads to deliver supplies that her university did not provide.
Singh, an environmental science major, said that this situation could have been avoided with better statewide infrastructure.
“The energy companies prioritize profit over public safety,” Singh said. “When given the chance to address this and create change, our leaders in Texas decided this would be a good time to bash green energy and blame renewable efforts for people not having energy. The wind turbines did freeze. But so did the coal and the natural gas pipelines. It’s an infrastructure problem our leaders should be addressing since we realize that Texas being on its own energy grid could cause problems in the future.”
Sophomore Robert Roseman, whose family has lived in Texas for four generations, said that they have never seen such issues arise because of a snowstorm. His family home in Dallas did not lose power, but homes along the opposite side of the street went several days with no electricity, which, he said, points to the sporadic and random power distribution in the area. The pipes in his grandparent’s house across the state burst, leaving them with the burden of building a new ceiling and replacing carpets.
“This isn’t a problem that is going to go away overnight. It’s going to be a problem for a really long time,” Roseman said. “The cost from this is going to be extraordinary. Not just on an individual level, but on a state level.”
Despite these challenges, Roseman said that he can still find positive takeaways from the disaster, noting the charity work that has kept residents afloat during this tumultuous time.
“The damage is horrible, but look at the good that’s coming from this,” Roseman said. “People are coming together and providing supplies and shelter. People are opening their doors to house other people when their houses are 30 degrees. That’s a beautiful thing. I prefer to dwell on the beauty of that more than the pain and suffering that other people are feeling.”