In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, UR students are mobilizing to provide support to the devastated areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, while the Admissions Office is preparing to accommodate students from schools in that area, which cannot resume session until next semester.

“As the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina become more apparent with each day, many at [UR] have focused on how we can help the storm’s survivors and academic institutions along the Gulf Coast,” President Joel Seligman said in an e-mail to the student body. “This tragedy continues to unfold, but I am heartened by the warm and caring response from so many in our campus community.”

Students and faculty gathered on Friday to discuss the steps that can be taken in support of those survivors in need. Six groups were formed in order to thoroughly support the relief effort.

“I am organizing the fundraising committee,” Director of Wilson Commons Student Activities Anne-Marie Algier said. “We have lots of interested students. We have divided into three subcommittees, each co-chaired by a staff member and a student. Our efforts will go to the Red Cross.” The major fundraising effort, JAMBalaya, will be held on Sept. 23, is currently in the planning stages. It will likely feature performances from student groups and a New Orleans style dinner.

The other committees decided on are education, physical relief, prayer service, ongoing support and college refugees.

“Most of our schools and other divisions have taken concrete steps to determine how they can support university students whose families have felt the brunt of Hurricane Katrina,” Seligman wrote. “Several are accommodating students from Gulf Coast colleges whose plans have been entirely disrupted this fall.”

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jonathan Burdick has been helping students from Tulane University and Xavier University to attend UR for the semester.

“We’ve been contacted more or less spontaneously by 35 students and we are working with every one of them to figure out what they want to do and give them every option we can,” Burdick said. “Similar to

other universities, we are going to have these students as guests for the semester, then we are open to the option that they can stay, so we are looking at their transcripts and everything. Unlike other universities we have been able to find housing for these students.”

Many of the students were admitted to UR as freshmen, and in total about 10 or 11 students are expected to attend UR for the semester.

This is unlike anything UR has experienced in Burdick’s history. “I worked at [the University of Southern California] before this, and this situation reminds me a lot of what we had prepared in case there was a bad earthquake in California.”

Those in the committee for college refugees will help connect any students accepted to UR in a mini-orientation or mentoring.

“As the university welcomes students from Gulf Coast area colleges, like Tulane and Xavier University, we want to make sure those students have a smooth adjustment to life at UR,” Associate Director of Residential Life Dan Watts said. “The D’Lions have volunteered to take a lead in buddying up with them, possibly scheduling some dinners and trips out to local stores to get some cold weather gear.”

Rachel Brotman, Laura Desmond and Mike Alper are among three of the freshman students who have already moved into UR, transferring from Tulane.

“All of our stuff is still at Tulane,” Desmond said. “We got there and six hours later they said to drop everything and leave.”

The three are living in Susan B. Anthony Residence Hall.

According to Brotman, she came here because it was the only school that was giving her the option of staying for four years. “Some schools would only take kids from their own states, some schools would make you pay their tuition [and] some schools wouldn’t let you stay at the end of the semester,” she said. “Tulane made an agreement with almost every school that they would kick the kids out after one semester or whenever Tulane opens, but Rochester will let us stay. Rochester has been very accommodating but a little disorganized. I still need my passwords and IDs and stuff.”

Alper shared a similar experience. “My RA told me we had to evacuate. We could only take what we could carry and left. I met my roommate and he asked if I wanted to leave with him. I went to Mobile, Ala. We were in his shore house the day before it hit and now it’s literally off the map. I’m just glad I got out of there.”

According to an e-mail from Seligman, along with the 30 displaced students who have inquired about attending the College for the semester, Eastman School of Music has taken three students, the Margaret E. Warner School of Education and Human Development is taking as many as 30 students and The William E. Simon School is considering taking up to 20 Freeman students. In addition, Strong Memorial Hospital has offered medical and surgical beds as needed for patients who are being transferred out of the disaster area.

UR is also helping students on campus who have direct ties to the disaster.

“We are trying to identify UR students who have been directly affected – whether they call the Gulf Coast home, or they have friends, family members or other connections there – so that we can make sure those students are receiving whatever support they need,” Watts said. “We are working primarily through RA’s with this.”

Class of 2005 graduate Tom Hayes was living in New Orleans working for Teach For America when word got to him that the hurricane was coming.

“It was all over the news and there was a mandatory evacuation on Sunday,” Hayes said. “I left on Saturday with a small duffel bag of clothes. Compared to so many people there I am in the best condition.”

Continuing, he said, “This is a complete tragedy.” Hayes described an environment where many people were too poor to evacuate the area. He was able to travel to Houston, out of the path of the storm, but saw many people coming into hospitals injured, some with gunshot wounds from the chaotic atmosphere, as well as people suffering from lack of food and sun exposure.”

Alper experienced the center of the storm and affirms the same chaotic, fearful environment.

“I didn’t know if I was going to die,” Alper said. “We were in [my roommate’s] house. It was totally dark. We opened the door at one point and it was really hard to close. There were trees literally in the air. It was like we were in a movie. When it ended we were driving in his Bronco and just running over trees. There wasn’t food or anything anywhere and some of the houses around his were totally gone.”

Continuing, he said, “I’m just glad to have gotten out of Tulane for now, to let them rebuild.”

Everyone agrees that although rebuilding and recovering will be a long process, it will happen.

“There is a lot of good coming out of this, though,” Hayes said. “Many people are coming together to donate money and help. More than ever, these poor people need our help. New Orleans will rebound.”

Paret can be reached at

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