Responding to Disaster
Katrina's waves reach all the way to Ithaca College.
When the extent of the devastation wrought by last December's Asian tsunami became evident, the Ithaca College community responded in a manner that exemplifies the portion of the College's mission statement that calls upon us "to share the responsibilities of citizenship and service in the global community"(ICQ 2005/1, Tsunami Hits Home").
Just as the new academic year was beginning this fall, a new disaster struck even closer to home as Hurricane Katrina swept across the U.S. Gulf Coast. And once again the first question asked by members of the IC community was, "What can we do to help?"
That question was soon answered as students, faculty, and staff pooled their creativity, energy, and experience to reach out to those affected by the tragedy. Students from the Gulf Coast area, some of whom lost their homes and feared for the well-being of their family members, found compassion and support from friends and strangers alike.
More than 100 people turned out for a meeting held under the auspices of the Center for Student Leadership and Involvement to coordinate fund-raising and other outreach efforts. Subsequently, events ranging from benefit concerts and theater performances to an "Auction for Action" were organized. Two student organizations -- the African-Latino Society and American Red Cross at Ithaca College -- launched the "Strive to Give $5" campaign. Seeking to have every member of the campus community donate at least $5, they set a goal of $35,000 to provide to the Red Cross's hurricane relief fund.
To help with this ambitious effort, the College committed to contribute institutionally to the campaign. Using funds from an external grant, we have pledged to match every donation on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to $35,000, providing the potential to double the goal. Staff members have also been invited to donate a day of accrued vacation time, which will be converted to the appropriate dollar amount and contributed to the "Strive to Give $5" campaign by the College on their behalf.
And to support those staff members interested in being directly involved in official relief service, the College has gratnted up to two weeks of paid leave for work with a relief organization. This will allow relief agencies the opportunity to tap into the interest and expertise that our employees can bring to this important task.
Ithaca College also joined with the rest of the higher education community in an unprecedented effort to grant opportunities for students from colleges and universities that were forced to shut down by Hurricane Katrina. We opened our doors to children of alumni and as well as any New York State resident who had enrolled at an affected institution. Two students who had been about to start their freshman year -- one at Tulane University and the other at the University of New Orleans -- were able to take us up on this offer and enrolled at IC for the fall semester. A number of campus offices and individuals went above and beyond the call of duty to help ease the transition for these students, working to place them in classes that will transfer to their home universities and providing appropriate financial assistance to meet their immediate needs.
The hurricane and its aftermath have also provided the opportunity for classroom discussion on topics ranging from media coverage to the long-term health effects on Gulf Coast residents. The Faculty Colloquium Series sponsored a presentation by ecologist Jason Hamilton of the biology department and environmental historian Michael Smith of the history department that considered the event from their respective disciplines, including such questions as whether it was caused by global warming and in what ways it was a manmade -- as opposed to a natural -- disaster.
The Center for Student Leadership and Involvement and the Peer Volunteer Corps, which already sponsor alternative spring break trips, are looking into the possibility of a coordinated trip to the affected area in March. To keep up-to-date on the response from the IC community to this still-unfolding tragedy in the weeks and months ahead, please visit the special website we have established at www.ithaca.edu/katrina. And please see the compelling story in this issue of ICQ about two 2005 IC graduates, Erin Schubmel and Cari Zebrowski, who were working with Teach for America in New Orleans when Katrina struck.
I am proud of the energy and dedication shown by Ithaca's faculty, staff, and students in responding to catastrophic events such as Katrina and Rita and the Indian Ocean tsunami of last winter, as well as crises closer to home. Responding with such an outpouring of compassion and commitment builds on a longstanding tradition of our community to help others.
Photo by Cascadilla Photography
Editor's note: As we were going to press, the news of the deadly earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir was coming in. The Ithaca College community will surely be mobilizing to help in relief efforts for the victims of this latest catastrophe.