Marquette experienced four deaths in Lake Superior this summer, and many people have questioned whether enough is being done to alert the community of the dangers that come with swimming in Superior.
The city employs lifeguards in the summer months, has the flag system out until Oct. 1, and will keep signs visible throughout the year. The city created a committee to assess what more can be done, and the university has stated that it will wait to see what that committee decides before considering any changes in university practice. We feel that waiting around is not enough.
The only time that the university actively educates students on the dangers of Lake Superior is in the very beginning, during orientation, along with all of the other information new students inevitably receive upon entering a university. Warnings include a couple of slides in a PowerPoint about strong riptides and not going out on the breakwall when it’s windy, and then they talk about other matters of personal safety. Understandably, some students say they don’t remember being taught anything at all.
The university should try to reach students throughout their years at NMU so that learning about the danger isn’t a distant memory from orientation but something that even older students routinely expect. There is no reason why students shouldn’t be told about the dangers every year and every semester. That is what comes with living near the water.
Administration could send out a mass e-mail at the beginning and end of the academic year with information on the danger. It could promote the swimmer safety classes or Skill Builders! on how students should handle the cold waters of Lake Superior. Just because the city is still reviewing options doesn’t mean the university can’t be proactive.
We understand, however, that NMU faculty and administration can’t stand on the beach and tell students not to swim. When freshman DeVante Billups drowned, media publicized the tragedy heavily on TV and in the Mining Journal; yet, people were still out swimming in the same place the very next day. They continue to do so.
Students have a responsibility to heed the warnings and use common sense when they make decisions to swim. If the weather is inclement, try tomorrow. If you aren’t confident in your swimming ability, take a lesson. If you know that swimming near Picnic Rocks is sometimes unsafe, find a different beach. It is possible, and easy, to enjoy the beauty of Lake Superior without taking the risk that often comes with swimming.