Opinion: Trapped in an Elevator, CUNY’s Lack of Funding Was No Longer Funny to Me

The picture shows two students inside of a stuck elevator trying to pry the jammed doors open with their hands.
Two students attempt to pry elevator doors open.
Photo provided by Dana Kaldy.

Inside an elevator in the North building, Anthony Loza-Ayala decided to be what he calls a “Good Samaritan” as he pressed the open button for a student rushing to get inside. Instead of opening, the elevator doors jammed and stopped six inches short of closing. Light from the 3rd-floor lobby spilled in through the elevator. Then, a loud humming noise began.

Loza-Ayala and I, along with my friend Joie-Ting Jing Ng, were stuck in the elevator. We would remain stuck for the next 35 minutes. 

It has become a running gag on campus — being late to class because of a stalled elevator. But as this situation remains a joke between students, it has come to my attention the severity of our college’s lack of funding. What do you call a campus with infrastructure that isn’t reliable enough to get students to the classes they’re paying for? 

Back in the elevator, the doors closed and shot us up to the 10th floor. Except once we arrived, the doors would not open more than those mere six inches. 

My stomach churned as unsuspecting students continued to press the elevator buttons on their floors, causing us to ride up and down the North building, the doors still not opening fully. I feared that as we moved between floors, no one would be able to pinpoint exactly where we were and help us. 

We began pushing the emergency intercom buttons to no avail. The connection over the speaker kept breaking up. 

The image shows the inside of the stuck elevator. The doors only open about six inches and stop.
Inside the stuck elevator.
Photo provided by Dana Kaldy.

“We’re stuck in an elevator!” I said. 

“Hello?… Hello?” The man’s voice was muffled. Over the course of the next few minutes, we dialed for help several times only for the call to keep dropping. I felt the back of my neck grow hot — the campus security could not hear us. 

“We’re in the North building! North!” I said.

“What? West?” He asked. 

“No! North!” The three of us said in unison. But the call kept disconnecting as the elevator dropped all the way down to the C-level.

“Well, at least we’re in the basement,” Loza-Ayala recalled himself saying. “There’s no lower than this. We’re not gonna go any further than this.”

With the slightly open doors, we heard a group of students laughing at the stalled elevator. “Typical Hunter,” one of them said. We all yelled to get their attention. 

“Oh shit, theres people in there!” one of the students said. Immediately, they whipped out their phones to call for help and reassured us that someone was coming. 

Security guards showed up first. They began an attempt to pry open the doors with their bare hands. But nothing budged. “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Loza-Ayala said to us sarcastically.

The fire department was called and managed to finally get us out after 30 to 40 minutes. The whole ordeal was reported on the Citizens’ app. 

The image is a screenshot of the Citizen's app notification on someone's phone. The notification alerts to an "occupied stuck elevator," 400 feet away at 655 Park Ave.
Screenshot of Citizens’ app notification taken by Carley Nicoletti.

My friend Ng believed that if it weren’t for those students, we would have been stuck in the elevator that whole night. She missed her macroeconomics class that day and admits she had trouble catching up. After all, it was finals season. She had to schedule office hours with her professor to get back on track.

That day, in an attempt to calm us down, one of the security guards told us through the doors that this has happened many times. He wanted to make sure no one needed an ambulance because “we’ve had panic attacks in here.” 

But looking back, it doesn’t make me feel any better knowing that students routinely get stuck. In fact, I felt pitiful. 

Loza-Ayala, a senior, said this is frustrating. “You wouldn’t expect to get stuck in an elevator at school. Of all places, a campus,” he said. “An academic building should have somewhat decent infrastructure. But that’s lacking.” 

Since the incident, the art history major is hesitant to get on an elevator by himself. He said that hypothetically if he’s going to the 11th floor and everyone inside the elevator is getting off at the ninth, he will walk the remainder of the stairs so that he is not alone. 

Both Ng and Loza-Ayala feel entitled to compensation after the whole ordeal. The latter said he’s not asking for three years of tuition but, “at the end of the day I’m a student of your school and this situation could’ve been way worse.”

The two students said they feel physically fit enough to walk up eleven flights of stairs to their classes if they so choose. But this is not possible for everyone at Hunter. Many students have physical disabilities, ailments, or chronic illnesses that could make this exceedingly difficult. Personally, I could never make the trip because my asthma could flare up. And that’s not something I want happening on my way to class. 

When I was in freshman year, my English professor was 20 minutes late one day because she had gotten stuck in one of the North building elevators too. She walked with a cane and apologized once she arrived.

But she should not be apologizing. 

Is this the precedent we set for those unable to climb seven flights of stairs to get to class on time? As alumni from years back can attest, it’s safe to say that Hunter College prioritizes those who are able-bodied. The lack of funding is persistent, nagging at students’ and faculty’s right to a safe and fully-functioning campus.

As this incident occurred in my last few weeks as a student at Hunter College, I realized that though I am graduating, the broken-down facets of this school will remain. It will put bright-eyed incoming freshmen, transfer students and other members of the college community at risk. 

This is in addition to the asbestos-filled walls and the ceilings that fall onto students. Although these failures make for an amusing anti-school spirit meme page on Instagram, at some point, this all stops being funny. 

Hunter North 503 is a room often used for media classes that has a gaping hole in the wall with exposed asbestos. As journalism students, Ng and I were often in that room for three-hour-long classes. She wonders if students getting asbestos poisoning would finally garner change. 

“It makes me think, does someone have to get killed for you to care? Do I have to die in that room?” she said. “Do I have to kneel over and vomit blood right in front of Jennifer Raab?”

The hole has since been repaired, but Ng’s anger is a testament to how fed up some students are with the infrastructure issues at the school. 

“Stop sending me emails that the Princeton Review called Hunter the gem of CUNY,” she said, “when you can’t even fix your damn elevators.”

One month prior to the elevator incident, Ng was ironically working on an article for The Athenian about the #CrumblingCUNY movement online, where students documented the exhausted infrastructure around CUNY colleges.

Ng said that because of all the research she had been doing, getting stuck in an elevator at Hunter was not too far-fetched of an idea.

She insists that the lack of funding at our school stems from our constituents deprioritizing certain types of students. “No one cares about CUNY,” she said. “No one cares about the working class college kids.” 

The point of this piece is not so I can rag on my school. By attending Hunter, I was able to meet some of the most incredible, hard-working people. I’ve created friendships that I truly wouldn’t give up for almost anything. 

But if we want this campus to be a safe space for students to continue to get their education, connect with new people and extend the life of this institution, we need to assess the problem at hand. There is a severe lack of funding that is hindering the way students go about their lives on campus.

A fully functioning campus should be accessible to all types of students, not just the able-bodied. A school that doesn’t address the needs of every kind of student attending, has no business marketing itself as the “crowned jewel of CUNY.”

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