SDCCD says it emailed students about campus closure. Some didn’t get the memo.

Tropical Storm Hilary puts new student email system to the test
City College student Sana Ullah walks down the stairs outside the AH Building
Student Sana Ullah walks down the stairs outside the AH Building, August 21, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media
Marco Guajardo

On the first day of the 2023-24 school year, the San Diego City College campus was a wet ghost town.

That was the intention of the San Diego Community College District, which announced its four campuses would be closed on Monday, Aug. 21 due to the potential effects of tropical storm Hilary.

District officials said they emailed students. They said they texted. They sent out automated phone messages. They posted messages on social media. They posted others on their website and the schedule and enrollment portal.

But roaming City’s campus early on Monday and looking closer, the occasional student could be found wandering the walkways.

And in most cases, they said they didn’t receive any of those messages.

A City Times Media reporter visited the campus to see how effectively students were informed of the closure on the heels of a new required student email communication strategy by the San Diego Community College District.

The SDCCD announced in the spring semester that all communications from the District would be sent to students’ .edu emails but the full implementation was postponed to the summer semester due to insufficient registration and some technical issues.

A City campus closure sign inside a window of the AH Building entrance
A City campus closure sign hangs on the AH Building entrance, August 21, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

From 9-10 a.m. on August 21, a CTM reporter located ten students on campus who to some degree were uncertain or unaware that classes would not be held on that day. 

The conversations with those students shed light on the logistical hurdles that can exist with the implementation of a new communication platform on an institutional scale. 

The District’s Department of Student Services shared with CTM a summary of its outreach efforts leading up to the closure.

“On Friday, August 18th, an email was sent to the student’s preferred email address,” it began. “For enrolled students, this would be their email address.”

Two days later, the decision was made to close.

“On Sunday, August 20th … students were notified via voice, text, email, and posting on mySDCCD (portal), college websites, and social media.”

In some instances, the students interviewed on campus on Monday said they were actively checking their student emails, but claimed they did not receive a message that clearly indicated the campus closure.

Owen Chavira, a second-year electrical engineering student, was quick to pull out his phone to an email he received on Saturday.

“… The messaging wasn’t that there wouldn’t be classes, just that there would be a storm and maybe the classes would be canceled,” he said, summarizing the email.

When by Monday morning the storm had passed, Chavira assumed classes would be held. He claimed he did not receive the Sunday email confirming the closure.

“I just felt that we were going to have classes because it did not say specifically that there were no classes,”  Chavira said. “Just the warning that maybe.”

City students Steven Garcia,left, and Sean Murphy, right, search through their phones
City students Steven Garcia,left, and Sean Murphy, right, search through their phones for communications verifying the campus closure caused by tropical storm Hillary, August 21, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

Second-semester computer engineering student Sean Murphy who later overheard another interview, walked up and indicated the same as Chavira, sharing his email inbox.

“I did get one for financial aid stuff (on Saturday),” said Murphy, who forwards his student email to his personal account. “(On Sunday) I didn’t get anything.”

Murphy later admitted he saw an update about the closure on local news, but still came to campus to verify.

Third-semester biology student Matthew Bolton, and later Steven Garcia, a third-year biology student, both still expect to receive messages from their professors through their personal emails, which had traditionally been linked to their City student accounts through Canvas.

Garcia commented on the redundancy in adding another email to his routine. 

“I believe I did set (his student email) up, but I don’t think I have it as my main thing,” he said. “So yeah, I don’t really check that one, to be honest. I actually do not know how to log in.”

Jesus Savedra Jr., a first-semester biochemical student, also confirmed he was aware campus would be closed Monday.

“(I wanted to) make sure I do everything fine, because this is my first year,” he said. “I’m new, and I’m excited, nervous and I want to verify it (the school closure).”

When the additional communication measures used by the District to communicate with students are considered, a larger engagement dilemma emerged.

None of the ten students interviewed followed City College or SDCCD on their social media accounts.

“I didn’t really know they actually had a page,” Garcia said. “That’s awesome.”

 Jack Beresford, SDCCD director of communications and public relations, said it’s important for students to ensure the information the district has for them is current. 

“They should also follow the District and college social media channels,” he wrote in an email to CTM. “We are all fortunate to live in California, but our state does experience fire, floods, earthquakes and other situations which may require us to close a campus or cancel classes.”

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