Lights Out! The Chaos and Reflections on Last Week’s Power Outages


Image courtesy of Gari De Ramos

Gari De Ramos, Scarlet Staff

A student walking around Wright Hall banging a hydro flask shouts “David Angel needs you to repent for your sins.” Two students walking around campus with a banjo and guitar play songs. Halloween costumes coming out early and making an appearance in the Academic Commons. Spooky stories by the firepit. A cardboard cutout of former President George W. Bush paraded around campus because he needed some air. 

Two campus-wide power outages last week simultaneously wreaked havoc and created community. The first power outage on Wednesday Oct. 23 went shortly after 8 p.m. to around 10 p.m. The second on Thursday Oct. 24, just after 4 p.m. to shortly before midnight. Both impacted almost all of campus, some off-campus neighborhoods and Worcester residents as well.

No official statement has been released about the cause of last week’s power outages, but in a statement to the Clark community on Friday Oct. 25, President David Angel alluded to a power line failure. 

Although the cause of the power outages remain unknown, the reaction and response to the power outages highlighted exactly what makes the Clark community quirky. 

“I see a lot of people outside [playing] music and somebody on a roof,” said Luke Pound, ‘22. “I just want to point out how interesting it is that when there is any kind of shift in the status quo, how the entire structure of society slowly deteriorates before my own eyes.”

“The ‘Clark weird’ inside of everyone came out,” said Maazin Shefir, ‘22. 

Where were you when the power went out?

Clark students found themselves in a variety of odd situations on the first night’s power outage, but perhaps nothing stranger than the cast and crew of Clark Musical Theater’s production of “The Wedding Singer.” The musical features a scene in which a character asks “Can I get some mood lighting?” According to Mia Swartz, ’22, the moment the actor uttered that line, the power went off. 

“We thought someone had done it on purpose for the scene,” said Swartz, “but it was only when we used our phone flashlights to see what happened did we realize it was an amazing coincidence.”

Also in rehearsal, the roughly 80-person Variant Dance Troupe was on the stage in Atwood Hall practicing their core dance.

“Initially, I was cracking jokes because I assumed someone in Variant had turned off the lights as a joke,” said Henley Ballou, ‘22. With more than two thirds of the group backstage with limited windows, many quickly became scared and confused when an alarm went off. 

But alas, the show must go on. Variant Co-Director Olivia Falcone, ‘20 decided to have rehearsal outside in front of Atwood, using a dozen phone flashlights to light their mockup stage.

Student athletes like Sophia Poulin, ‘21, were at field hockey practice at larger outdoor spaces when Clark’s street lights went off. 

“I was frustrated,” she said. “My team had to collect all the balls and equipment in the dark.”

Not all Clarkies realized it was a power outage when it first happened. Jacob Bilsky, ’21, was using the bathroom in Jefferson and “assumed that it was just a faulty motion-controlled light that forgot [he] was there.” It was only when he returned to his Socialist Alternative Meeting did he realize what happened and proceeded to discuss the literature of Karl Marx. 

Another example of Clarkies continuing business as usual can be seen with a Geographic Information System class. Maria Balles, ‘21, was taking an exam for the class in Sackler 121 when the power went out.

“I was ridiculously hopeful that we would finish the exam on another day,” she said, “but a surprising number of people took out their phone flashlights to finish the exam.

Inconveniences and safety concerns

Not all students were happy with continuing business as usual, and it seems that professors are unclear about what protocol should be in the event the power goes out during class. Fifth-year student August Welles, ’20, was in class when the professor kept teaching. 

“Every time he would walk near the alarm control box to see if he could fix it, the alarm would stop, so he would turn around only to have it go off again,” she said.

Another fifth-year student, who asked for anonymity, was also in class when the power went out and an alarm started going off. According to the student, the professor continued to lecture for an additional half hour. 

“I was angry that the professor kept us in a potentially dangerous situation,” said the fifth-year student. 

Other students like Annie Sinert, ‘23, were inconvenienced by the power outage. Sinert was working on a 10-page essay in the library when the power and wifi went out. 

“I was very frustrated,” she said. “I understand it was an accident, but it was a massive inconvenience. I had planned to spend the afternoon finishing my essay and wasn’t able to.”

Similarly, Gabel Cramer, ‘22, had just started broadcasting the premiere of his radio show in the Radio of Clark University’s studio when the power went out. 

“I was pretty bummed because I was ready to jam,” he said.

On a more serious note, many students expressed a concern for their safety and were unsatisfied with how long it took for the administration to email the student body. 

“I thought some shit was about to go down,” said Eunice Dolette, ‘21. “I thought something violent was going to occur.”

“I’m confused as to why we haven’t gotten a Clark alert yet,” said Bella Hillebrand, ’21, a half-hour after the power went out. Student received an email from Jack Foley, Vice President of Government and Community Affairs, an hour and a half into the first power outage.

Outside of the norm

Despite the chaos alluded at the beginning of this article, not all students were surprised and forgot how to act during the power outage. 

“These things don’t really phase me after dealing with Central Maine Power for 15 years and surviving a week without electricity during the Great Ice Storm of ’08,” said Bilsky, who is an out-of-state student from Maine.

International students were also confused by the confusion of many Clarkies. 

“In my home country, it’s normal for the power to go out, so I didn’t react much until the people around me started getting restless,” said Esha Bharadwaj, ’23.

“Back home in Brazil, this is very common,” said Gabriele do Nascimento, ’21. “I have been through many of these situations in which my whole street would have no lights for like, a whole night and day.

“Once you move to a place where things always work and you get used to living an easy life. It’s funny how you forget how these situations used to be part of your life,” she said.

Power outage round two

When the power went out on Thursday, things were more stable. The sun was up, students were in class, and most of the administration was still around campus. Business carried on as usual, with my own capstone class of 12 students, taught by Professor Ora Szekely, moved to the ground outside of Atwood to carry on our discussion. 

The big problem, however, came around dinner time. With almost half of our undergraduate population on some kind of meal plan, people did not know what to do for food when the cafeteria and bistro closed. 

Cafeteria workers had to scrap their dinner meal prep plans and put together hundreds of boxed dinners for students in less than two hours. 

“The people in the caf deserve massive praise,” said Sammie Doxsey, ‘23.

Later into the evening, staff from Residence Life and Housing and the Dean of Students office ordered Domino’s pizza in bulk and threw a pizza party in the cafeteria when the University Center was up and running with a backup generator. 

Moving forward 

The two power outages last week highlighted some cause for concern. What exactly is the protocol for a power outage? Do professors keep teaching if they are in class? What if an alarm goes off? Were the Resident Advisors trained for a situation like this? Why did students not get a Clark ALERTS right away, and ONLY received notifications from a delayed email from vice president of government and community affair Jack Foley?

The longer power outage on Thursday highlighted the need for more generators and an overall upgrade of the current power system.

“I know that this ultimately isn’t Clark’s fault. All of Worcester has been shutting down these past couple of days,” said Welles. “I think we have learned, however, that we need more generators and safe spaces for students to congregate.”

These concerns aside, it is safe to say that last week’s power outages will be a moment to remember when looking back at the fall of 2019. 

“It was a really heartwarming community moment,” said Sinert.