Lending a hand
Tulane University first-year Arthur Leslie hadn't quite been oriented to college before Hurricane Katrina forced him and all his new classmates to evacuate. How long had he been at Tulane? "Only three or four hours," Leslie explained as he squinted in the bright Pittsburgh sun last week. He is just one of approximately 25 displaced Tulane students who will be attending Carnegie Mellon this semester.
After Leslie moved into his new room at Tulane, all students were handed a strip of paper that told them they had to evacuate but could leave their belongings in the dorm. "I got my computer, three changes of clothes, and just left," he said.
That was the Saturday before the hurricane. Tulane president Scott Cowen originally told students that they would be returning by Wednesday, but when Katrina arrived, the destruction forced him to cancel classes for the fall semester.
"I'm still kind of in a daze," said Leslie, who arrived in Pittsburgh last Tuesday and began classes last Wednesday.
Leslie chose to start this fall at Carnegie Mellon, one of the schools he looked at as a high school senior, because out of all the institutions that he looked into after Hurricane Katrina, Carnegie Mellon was one of three that could guarantee him housing.
The Office of Student Affairs coordinated on-campus housing for the Tulane students in areas such as Doherty Apartments, Margaret Morrison Apartments, and graduate student residence James Manor. In the undergraduate residential areas, students volunteered to take in Tulane students for the semester.
"Our students have been phenomenal in that they really have offered housing," said Interim Dean of Student Affairs Jennifer Church, adding, "We've been very intentional by not picking any spaces that could be used by our first-years [in temporary housing]."
Coordinating classes and housing for displaced Tulane students is one of many ways members of the Carnegie Mellon community are reaching out to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The Office of Student Affairs also coordinated a dinner last Tuesday for approximately 33 Carnegie Mellon students who are from the affected areas. "We've been trying to figure out independently what the students need," Church said.
"It was hard at first. It was hard finding someone who could relate to you," said Gabriel Nehrbass, a senior in Social and Decision Sciences and History from New Orleans. "The info session really showed that CMU cares and had a strong support system for us."
Alexandra Stewart, a senior in psychology from New Orleans, was "shocked to hear how grave the situation was" for her family and friends. Her mother was airlifted from one hospital to another, the area around her high school is under eight feet of water, and some of her friends are taking time off from school to earn money "because they have nothing and need to buy new things."
Stewart echoes Nehrbass' sentiments. "There has been an enormous amount of support from the campus community. However, some people seem apathetic to the whole thing. It's so hard, but it helps to know that so many people have come together to help others in need."
Student Government and the Office of Student Development have been working to coordinate service efforts on campus, attempting to bring together volunteer initiatives from all campus organizations.
As part of the centralized effort, M. Shernell Smith, Coordinator of Student Development and New House housefellow, is organizing an ongoing tabling project in the University Center to collect money, health kits, and flood kits in conjunction with Brother's Brother Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based international charity who will take the donations directly to the affected area. Any individual or organization can volunteer to work at the table.
"As long as people want to table, they can table all semester if they'd like," said Smith. "It's a quick start to something that's going to be long-term."
According to Smith, among the projected long-term efforts, a "priority" is taking Alternative Break Experiences to the affected areas during the winter and spring breaks.
Members of the local African-American Greek organizations also tabled last week to collect money for specific families of Hurricane Katrina, including Carnegie Mellon alumni.
"We contacted some people we knew who just said, 'We don't have anything. We don't have soap — we only have the clothes off our backs,'" said senior drama major Khaliah Adams. Adams is a member of one of the contributing Greek organizations, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Other African-American organizations that led last week's tabling effort were Alpha Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, and Omega Psi Phi, which are all fraternities, incorporated. Alpha Phi Alpha, an African-American fraternity at the University of Pittsburgh, is also organizing efforts at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon to help flood victims.
On-campus Greek organizations are also pitching in by organizing a "Dollar Challenge" to be held on September 21. Their goal is to collect one dollar from every student, faculty, and staff member — a population that Interfraternity Council President Bruce Burnett says could provide over $14,000.
Student government's main objective for Katrina relief efforts is to organize all of the service activities into a collective unit, both to increase the University's contribution and to make it easy for organizations to get involved without competing with another organization for time and campus locations.
"What we think is most important is that we actually find out the needs [of the evacuees]," said Nicolette Louissaint, Student Body Vice-President. According to Louissaint, African-American hair products and school books are among these needs.
Louissaint also stresses the importance of collecting money, adding, "We think there's a lot of meaningful fundraising we can do because what these people need most is money."
The Executive Board of student government is planning a lecture series with several faculty members and are arranging a committee called Operation K.A.R.E., which stands for Katrina Aid and Relief Effort. The lecture series will tentatively start in October and cover Katrina-related issues, while the committee will network groups for collective service initiatives.
Student Body President Tom Sabram agrees with Smith that campus service activities will last well into upcoming months.
"Short-term goals are always strong and prevalent," Sabram said, "but a few months later people start forgetting about what's happened and forget that there's still an area that's still devastated and still needs help."
But New Orleans residents won't soon forget.
"I am a person of action. Part of me wants to be there in New Orleans trying to help the city pick itself up," Nehrbass said. "I can satisfy that by participating in events here."