‘Spirit of Southwestern’ displayed through seminary’s response to winter weather

Alex Sibley
| Feb 23, 2021

The week of Feb. 15, severe winter storms brought snow, freezing temperatures, icy roads, power outages, and a shortage of clean water in Texas and across the southern United States. Many families from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were affected, and the campus was closed for a full week. 

But in the midst of these difficulties, the seminary’s faculty, staff, and students banded together in order to support and provide for one another, demonstrating what President Adam W. Greenway characterized as “the spirit of Southwestern.”

“I could not be more proud of our faculty, staff, and students, all of whom have stepped up in a moment of need,” said Greenway in a campus-wide email, Feb. 19. “I could tell you numerous stories of students serving one another, staff working around the clock to serve the seminary community, and faculty caring for student families. After witnessing our seminary family come together this week, I can attest to you that the spirit of Southwestern remains alive and well.”

The winter weather began the night of Sunday, Feb. 14, and by the following morning, the Southwestern campus had roughly four inches of snow, and temperatures had dropped to the single digits, with feel-like temperatures below zero degrees. Campus was closed, and all classes were moved to a virtual format. That night, the campus and surrounding community began experiencing power outages, impacting all campus housing south of West Spurgeon Street. Classes were canceled until Friday, at which point it returned to online-only format until the following Monday. 

Amidst such circumstances, multiple departments of seminary staff quickly mobilized in order to care for the dozens of affected families. 

The facilities, housing, and Riley Center teams relocated more than 40 families to the Riley Center, the seminary’s conference center, which contains 55 guest rooms and suites. Food services provided three warm meals each day for students and families who did not have access to food, free of charge. And the Recreation and Aerobics Center (the RAC) offered a family hour for students’ children who did not have a warm place to play. 

In addition, the facilities teams mobilized 100 staff members to respond to emergency needs around the campus, typically heat- and water-related, especially as water pipes froze and then burst. These staffers also cleaned buildings and cleared walkways across campus, including a path from the Riley Center to the Student Center. As always, Campus Police was on call 24/7, helping take care of any needs that arose. 

Shannon Haggerty, director of the Office of Events Management, says these various departments “teamed up as one big Southwestern family to provide for the families who were suffering from power outages and water loss.”

“Many people from many different departments within the Southwestern family showed up every single day, Monday-Friday, and spent countless, selfless hours providing people food, safety, warmth, and comfort,” Haggerty continues. “Their work ethic and character shined brightly in these trying hours. They all served without hesitation and with smiles that created a comforting atmosphere for those going through traumatic times.”

Duane Danis, associate vice president for facilities planning and management, adds, “Given the circumstances, it was encouraging to see how quickly decisions were made in the best interest of our families during this very challenging time.”

Among the families affected by power outage was that of Chris Barrick, associate director of operations and security for campus technology. They lost power on Monday morning, and the temperature inside their home dropped to the low 40s. As two of their daughters sat on the couch in their winter clothes, one of them said, “Mom, something is wrong—my mouth is smoking.” Their mother, Chelsea, explained, “No, kids, it’s just so cold you see your breath.”

When the Barricks learned that the Riley Center was available as a warm place to stay, they quickly availed themselves of the opportunity. They ultimately stayed through Wednesday, when power returned to their house. 

Chelsea recalls of sitting in their room at the Riley Center, “It’s easy to look at being displaced and everything going wrong, but we were so overwhelmed with gratitude that we grabbed our kids’ hands and we just uttered a word of thanks to God, and I got super emotional. It reminded me why we chose Southwestern—the family, Dr. Greenway, and everyone, they went above and beyond to serve. 

“I always told my husband that it’s easy to be a leader, but it’s hard to be a leader and love your people. And the school loved their people.”

Russell Smiley’s family of eight was similarly impacted by the power outage south of campus, and they also took advantage of the seminary’s offer of food and shelter. Smiley, donor services coordinator in the Office of Institutional Advancement, says that when the announcement was made of the Riley Center’s availability, many fellow students from the neighborhood joined together to ensure that as many of them as possible were aware of the offer. 

“Anytime someone thought of someone missing, messages were sent out to find that individual/family to make sure that if they needed a room, they would be put on the list,” Smiley says. “We will be forever grateful for how our neighborhood worked together.”

In addition to aiding current students and staff, Southwestern also aided members of the wider community. For example, Dwight and Vera McKissic, both 2020 Master of Theological Studies graduates, were also able to stay in the Riley Center due to weather-induced water damage at their house. 

Dwight McKissic, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, wrote on Twitter, “Bad news: Major water damage, house/guest house, uninhabitable. Good news: Was given keys to incredible accommodations at the Riley Center/SWBTS for as long as I need to stay, no charge! I love it when the church acts like the church & we behave as a family. Joy unspeakable! Thx.”

Responding to McKissic’s post, Greenway wrote, “While the Dome is always your home as an alumnus of SWBTS, I’m glad we are able to provide a temporary home for you and [Vera] during this season of displacement from your earthly dwelling place!”

Terri Stovall, dean of women, notes that the seminary community’s service went beyond these specific offerings. She says, for example, that there were many postings on the “Mothers and Maidens of Southwestern” (M&M) Facebook group “offering shelter, helping each other learn where they might find food/milk, which grocery stores were open, etc.” The group is a private page set up specifically for the wives and female students at Southwestern for help, support, advice, and encouragement. 

Megan Kuykendall, a Master of Arts in Christian Education student and president of the Facebook group, says M&M volunteers from each section of the seminary’s student housing set out to meet the needs of those in the community. A volunteer in Carroll Park, for example, brought groceries and meals to students and families in need. 

“All throughout the community, you saw families offering a warm place to stay, a shower, food, medicine—whatever was needed to help one another,” Kuykendall says. “There were posts on Facebook round the clock asking what needs were for families and then meeting those needs.”

Writing on Twitter, Greenway reflected on these numerous acts of service within the Southwestern community, “When the weather is at its worst, the faculty and staff … are at their best. Thankful for the way our team comes together to take care of students and their families, and works hard to get the campus and all operations up running safely and smoothly.”