A Hurricane of Relief

Mark Fuller

Between airy classrooms, noisy bars and sunny afternoons on the quad, it’s easy to forget about the unbridled devastation wreaked upon the Gulf Coast last week by Hurricane Katrina. Our happy “Colgate bubble” seems a world away from the chaos that pollutes the watery hole that was once New Orleans.

The disaster displaced roughly 1,000,000 people. Mayor Ray Nagin estimates that as many as 10,000 bodies will be recovered in the following days and months as the city is drained. The affected areas, which quickly became infested with looters and thieves, are now being pumped and supervised. In response, the Colgate community is mobilizing to help.

On Monday, a meeting was held in Memorial Chapel to discuss the crisis and the various ways in which Colgate can respond. The meeting was the latest event in the ongoing efforts of students, residents and faculty members to contribute to hurricane relief. University President Rebecca Chopp kicked things off with a speech affirming Colgate’s determination to help and praising what has already been accomplished.

“We responded on 9/11. We responded when the tsunamis happened. We will work hard to respond to this,” Chopp said. “I’m already overwhelmed by the response.”

The president had reason to be surprised, for the reaction has been rapid and powerful, even in these early stages.

“The community has already collected, we think, over $7,000,” said Assistant Director of the COVE Betsy Busche.

Collections have taken place all around campus. At the football team’s first game of the season on Saturday, $2,450 was donated. The bookstore also chipped in by donating $1,400 for Katrina Relief. In addition, the softball team and the Theta Chi fraternity – which hosted a party last Friday – have both gathered sizable collections. Possibly the biggest donation, however, was amassed at on off-campus party over the weekend.

Four residents of 96 College Street, also known as Gate 96, threw a party to benefit the victims of Katrina. Seniors Tristan Kessler, Jay Armstrong, Mark McVeety and DJ McLaughlin recruited a band and funded the party so that all proceeds from the night could go towards aid.

“We had obviously been hearing about the hurricane all week, but what really got to us during the newscast was the enormity of the problem,” Kessler said. “We felt compelled to help.

“It was an easy thing to do- invite some friends over, listen to some music and have a good time – all while helping a good cause. I think Hurricane Katrina was the right cause because people knew a lot about it and were really concerned.

“There was also an element of personal concern. Over the night, I met several people who were from the area or who had family there. [They] told me their stories, and thanked us for doing something.”

With high attendance and a $5 cover charge, the group raised just under $2,500. They will donate the money either indirectly via the COVE or directly to the Red Cross.

The administration has also stepped up to the plate by accepting two transfer students from Tulane University. The New Orleans university has been forced to spread its student body all across the country as it waits to see when the school will get back on its feet.

Despite early successes, relief efforts at Colgate are only getting started. After the opening comments by Chopp, Director of Community Outreach Marnie Terhune asked for discussion and creative brainstorming. Terhune specified about the need for immediate as well as long-term issues and responses. The crowd, which approached 80 people, then broke off into different groups to devise numerous relief possibilities, which were later presented to the entire assembly.

The fundraising and relief project ideas were divided into three categories; immediate, mid-range and long-term. Some of the short-term ideas included donation buckets, raffles and a charity concert. Mid- and long-term goals ranged from student cleanup trips and support groups to themed meals at Frank and other cultural events. COVE members are currently working with interested students and groups to determine the best avenues of relief.

Beyond fundraising, one of the chief proposals was a projected student trip to the affected areas. “We will do our best to send students down over winter or spring break,” Terhune said.

Many students have expressed interest in providing hands-on assistance, and the COVE is already working hard to set up a trip. Such an endeavor would likely be a joint effort with Habitat for Humanity, local churches or other organizations.

The COVE, which is currently sending out two checks a week, encourages students and others to become involved. The office will act as a sort of umbrella group to anyone with an idea or a desire to help.

“If people want to get involved, contact the COVE and we’ll plug them in where their interests are,” Busche said. “We are connecting people to people and people to resources.

“We want to take it to the next level, too, with political discussions. For instance, a group formed last night that agreed to draft and send letters to government officials.”

This socio-political aspect of the disaster will obviously be a much-discussed issue at Colgate, and the COVE sees this as an important question to be addressed.

“I think we can all agree that this hurricane has pulled back America’s ugly little secret,” said Terhune, referring to the freshly exposed racial inequality and poverty in cities like New Orleans, where 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Ultimately, everyone agrees that the first step in the relief process is getting informed about the situation.

“People have been discussing the lack of awareness,” Busche said, pointing to the isolation of the Colgate community. “Get yourselves updated.”

As Colgate rolls up its sleeves in an effort to help, the community must educate itself about who and what it is helping. In the words of President Chopp,

“We need to understand this situation, as well as respond to it.”