University calls on students to get involved as Gustav hammers coast
Hurricanes strike land in the continental United States, but many at Washington University feel that Hurricane Gustav warrants extra attention.
The hurricane hit a region devastated in Aug. 2005 when Hurricane Katrina left the New Orleans, La. area and swaths of the Gulf Coast in ruins.
Now, University leaders like Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office (CSO), and junior Jeff Nelson, vice president of administration, are encouraging Washington University students to come together to aid Gustav recovery efforts much like they did after Katrina’s destructive impact.
“As students at elite institutions, we take much for granted,” Nelson said. “I hope all of us, no matter what groups we are involved in, can take even just a few moments to think of how we can contribute. Whether it is by sending money, by sending food or by going to help out, I think we all have a responsibility.”
Gustav peaked at Category 4 status on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, packing maximum sustained winds of 150 mph with higher gusts. It made landfall about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans, La. on Sept. 1 as a Category 2 storm, with winds of 110 mph.
Though not as destructive as Katrina, Gustav is blamed for at least 110 deaths in the United States and Caribbean nations, cutting off power for more than one million U.S. residents and causing as much as $10 billion in damages—damages potentially making the hurricane one of the 10 costliest Atlantic hurricanes in history.
Kurtzman believes that Gustav will likely not receive as much attention in the University community as Katrina because Gustav was not as damaging, but she hopes that members of the University community remember many people victimized by Katrina are still suffering, and many more were made worse off by Gustav.
“The sad thing is Katrina is still devastating a lot of people, but it’s not a popular topic anymore,” she said. “It’s not just about while the crisis is happening, it’s about the long-term rebuild and response. Those needs will continue even after it leaves the headlines.”
According to Kurtzman, students can get involved in several ways. Students who know of Gustav-related events can share them with the CSO, which then publishes event listings in its semiweekly newsletter.
She is also confident that many social action groups on campus will start their own relief initiatives. Additionally, the CSO sponsors several service trips each year.
Student Union (SU) has not yet decided how it will approach the Gustav relief efforts. According to junior Jeff Nelson, vice president of administration, the SU Executive Committee will be meeting today to discuss the situation.
But Nelson emphasized that students understand the seriousness of disasters like Gustav.
“During these times it is important for us to not think of what a student group is going to do, what Student Union is going to do or what the administration is going to do,” he said. “We have to place ourselves in the shoes of individuals who are affected by these types of events…events that they can’t control.”
At the same time, Kurtzman emphasized that while there are numerous worthy causes in the world in need of aid, it is often very difficult to contribute aid to all of them.
“I think we always have to draw a careful line in how we respond to need in the community because there is constant need everywhere, and every community’s story is pressing to somebody,” Kurtzman said.
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, response from the University was widespread. In addition to an all-school meeting to coordinate University-based relief efforts, a group known as Project SOS (Students of the South) was formed to coordinate additional relief efforts, including money collection, fundraising events, and trip to the affected areas, and the CSO also shared information with the University on numerous relief events and initiatives.
Students believe that student involvement in Gustav recovery efforts is a worthy cause, and many are mindful of Katrina’s continued impact.
“I think it’s a good idea, especially after Hurricane Katrina, I feel like lot of us didn’t do as much as we could especially since I was still in high school, so now that I’m more aware of how terrible it was I don’t want that to happen again,” sophomore Laura Steefel-Moore said. “I feel like they never have fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina yet, there’s still a lot of work to be done down there.”
However, senior Andrew Pazendak feels that while Gustav is a worthy cause, many other worthy causes exist, and it is not possible to aid them all.
“There’s so many things I feel like we all should get involved in, but if we got involved in all of them I feel like we’d be overwhelmed,” he said.