On days that Kae Hernandez takes ceramics classes at Cal State Long Beach, the 21-year-old carries a spare change of clothes. Hernandez packs an ice chest with water bottles in the car.
All this to contend with the stifling heat in Hernandez’s classroom, where temperatures can reach into the 90s on hot days.
It’s a phenomenon that’s become increasingly common, as Southern California struggles through bouts of extreme heat, including a record-breaking heat wave earlier this month.
“During the heat wave, each classroom was hotter than it was outside,” Hernandez said, adding they experience nausea and fatigue because of the heat. “I dread coming to class sometimes.”
Hernandez is not alone. Fine arts students at Cal State Long Beach say their classes are housed in outdated buildings with inadequate air conditioning and ventilation, forcing them to spend hours in uncomfortable and unsafe learning environments.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 participated in a walkout Wednesday to draw attention to the conditions, just weeks after holding a similar protest. Students also appealed for help from the Cal State University Board of Trustees at a recent meeting.
Despite their efforts — and with the prospect of more heat waves to come — 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 were encouraged to shift classes online when possible to cope with the heat. The university also distributed 35 portable air conditioners to classrooms without air conditioning.
The university is developing a “heat plan,” to provide guidance on where the university could relocate classes or open cooling centers. It has also hired an engineering firm to conduct a study of cooling options for the fine arts buildings, Woods said.
But those makeshift options are falling short, students say. Nico Martinez, a fourth-year student studying animation, said a portable air conditioning unit and box fan in their filmmaking class does nothing to keep the room cool.
On Wednesday afternoon, while the class was empty, the room temperature on the air conditioning unit read 79 degrees. In a classroom full of students, Martinez has watched the temperature rise into the 80s during their evening class, which takes place on the third floor.
Earlier in the month, some professors moved classes onto Zoom or chose not to penalize students for failing to show up to class because of the heat, according to students.
This week, administrators set up two “cooling rooms” where students can stop between classes to get a reprieve from the heat. Each has a portable air conditioner and a fridge or ice chests where students can help themselves to freezer pops and bottled water.
But one of Martinez’s classes was canceled this week to create space for one of the cooling rooms.
“It’s just disheartening because I come from a community where arts weren’t accessible,” they said. “Now that I’m finally able to access the arts — it’s like bare minimum. Even less than the bare minimum because we don’t even have AC.”
During Wednesday’s walkout, which disrupted a celebration marking the university’s 73rd birthday, one student led a chant: “What do we want?”
“A-C!” students answered back.
The relentless heat is especially hard to take because art students routinely spend several hours in studio classes.
At the protest, organizers read written testimonies from their peers about the effect that has on their health and their mind-set.
“Our broken buildings make me feel so sick,” one student said.
“I’m sweaty, my face is puffy … I’m being punished for being an art student,” another complained.
“Can’t focus in class when you can barely breathe during the lecture,” a third student said.
The four fine arts 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 fixes, noting that other buildings across campus are modernized and have central air conditioning.
On some days, Huizar spends six hours in class.
“I’m literally drenched in my own sweat,” she said. “I feel disgusted by even just being in a classroom.”