Amid heat wave, Cal State Long Beach art students plead for air conditioning

On days when Kae Hernandez takes pottery classes at Cal State Long Beach, the 21-year-old always carries spare clothes with her. Hernandez packs an ice chest with bottled water in the car.

All to deal with the sweltering heat of Hernandez’s classroom, where temperatures can reach 90 degrees on hot days.

It’s a phenomenon that’s becoming increasingly common as Southern California grapples with bouts of extreme heat, including a record-breaking heat wave earlier this month.

“During the heat wave, every classroom was hotter than the outside,” Hernandez said, adding that they suffer from nausea and fatigue due to the heat. “Sometimes I’m afraid to come to class.”

Hernandez is not alone. Art students at Cal State Long Beach say their classes are housed in outdated buildings with inadequate air conditioning and ventilation, forcing them to spend hours in uncomfortable and unsafe learning environments.

Several dozen fine arts students took part in a strike on Wednesday to draw attention to the conditions, just weeks after holding a similar protest. The students also asked the Cal State University Board of Trustees for help at a recent meeting.

Students hold protest signs at Cal State Long Beach.

Nico Martinez, left, a 22-year-old art student, protests with classmates in Cal State Long Beach on Wednesday.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Despite their efforts – and with the prospect of more heat waves – frustrated students say not enough has been done to make classrooms bearable.

In a statement, Gregory Woods, a spokesman for Cal State Long Beach, said faculty members have been urged to move classes online where possible to cope with the heat. The university also distributed 35 mobile air conditioners to classrooms without air conditioning.

The university is developing a “heating plan” to provide guidance on where the university could move classes or open cooling centers. It also hired an engineering firm to conduct a study into cooling options for the art buildings, Woods said.

But these makeshift options fall short, say students. Nico Martinez, a fourth-year student studying animation, said that in her filmmaking class, a portable air conditioner and box fan do nothing to keep the room cool.

On Wednesday afternoon, when the class was empty, the room temperature on the air conditioner read 79 degrees. In a classroom full of students, Martinez watched the temperature soar to 80 degrees during her evening class, which takes place on the third floor.

Earlier this month, some professors moved classes to Zoom or chose not to penalize students for not showing up to class because of the heat, according to students.

This week, administrators set up two “cold rooms” where students can stop between classes to recover from the heat. Each has a portable air conditioner and a fridge or ice chests for students to help themselves to with frozen drinks and bottled water.

But one of Martinez’s classes was canceled this week to make room for one of the cold rooms.

“It’s just disheartening because I come from a community where art wasn’t accessible,” they said. “Now that I finally have access to the arts, that’s the bare minimum. Even less than the bare minimum because we don’t even have air conditioning.”

During Wednesday’s strike, which disrupted a celebration of the university’s 73rd birthday, a student chanted, “What do we want?”

“AC!” Students replied back.

The relentless heat is particularly hard to endure because art students regularly spend several hours in studio classes.

At the protest, organizers read written testimonies from their colleagues about the impact it is having on their health and mindset.

“Our broken buildings make me so sick,” said one student.

“I’m sweaty, my face is puffy… I’m being punished for being an art student,” lamented another.

“Can’t concentrate in class if you can hardly breathe during the lecture,” said a third student.

A portable air conditioner is used in a classroom.

Cal State Long Beach has placed portable air conditioners in fine arts classrooms. But students say they offer little relief from the heat.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

The four art buildings at Cal State Long Beach were designed in the 1950s to support activities “without central air conditioning,” according to the university.

Student Kristen Huizar said the university needs to renovate the buildings or build new ones rather than offer temporary repairs, noting that other buildings across campus have been upgraded and have central air conditioning.

Some days Huizar spends six hours in class.

“I was literally drenched in my own sweat,” she said. “I feel disgusted just being in a classroom.” Amid heat wave, Cal State Long Beach art students plead for air conditioning

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