News and Events

After the Storm

UF opens its doors to students & faculty displaced by Katrina

This article was originally printed in the October 2005 issue of CLASnotes.

At a time when most US college students were returning to campus and gearing up for the start of the fall semester, those hailing from the Hurricane Katrina battered Gulf Coast found themselves without a university. Setting aside whatever intercollegiate rivalry may have existed, colleges and universities from across the country opened their doors and hearts to those displaced by the storm. At UF, 103 students—nearly all from New Orleans institutions—are calling UF home this semester, as well as a number of faculty looking for a safe place to continue their research. This is their story.

Cody Adams
Tulane political science student Cody Adams is taking a full course load at UF this semester while waiting for his university to reopen. (Photo by Jane Dominguez)

Staying on Track, When Your University Has Been Derailed

On August 28, as Hurricane Katrina was preparing to bear down on the Louisiana/Mississippi coastline, Tulane University junior Cody Adams and seven friends packed several days worth of clothing and headed to Nashville to ride out the storm.

“We hadn’t actually started to school yet, so we thought it was going to be a last minute vacation before the semester began,” Adams says. The group crammed into two cars and left most of their belongings behind. To date, they have been unable to return to the devastated area.

Adams is spending this semester at UF, and he and his girlfriend, Amanda Wittenberg, a Loyola communications major, are renting a room in a house off campus. Adams is a native of Keystone Heights, so spending the semester in Gainesville seemed like a logical choice. “Growing up 20 minutes away, I have been a Gator fan since the day I was born,” he says. “The only reason I didn’t go here was because it was too close to home.”

A political science major at Tulane, Adams is taking a full course load in CLAS this semester. While many displaced students from the Gulf Coast chose to take the semester off, Adams did not feel it was an option. He plans to apply to dentistry school next year and does not want to fall behind in his course work. “I didn’t want to graduate a semester late,” he says. “I like to stay on track. It’s hard, though, because one of the classes I needed this semester was organic chemistry, and there’s no way I could have started it this late at UF, so I had to put it off a semester. I’m supposed to take the dental aptitude test this year, and I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out.”

Tulane neuroscience senior Brooke Johnson found herself in a similar predicament when Hurricane Katrina forced her university to shut down during the fall semester. Slated to graduate in May, Johnson was gearing up to apply to medical school this fall. But with Tulane operating from Houston, Texas and its faculty scattered in temporary housing across the country, obtaining transcripts and letters of recommendation seems impossible. “This is probably going to set me back a year,” she says. “I’ll either take a break or get a master’s while waiting to apply for the following year.”

One might wonder why Johnson did not just take the semester off, since her life plan is already going to have to be altered. Her answer shatters the stereotype of the privileged private school student. “Tulane is a very expensive school, and I am on need-based financial aid and have a ton of student loans I have taken out every year,” says Johnson, who supports herself as a bartender at the Margaritaville restaurant in the French Quarter. “I really want to stay on track because I can’t afford not to finish on time.”

An Orlando native, Johnson and Tulane roommate Megha Pandit, a psychology major, have crammed into a small one-bedroom apartment this semester and are taking courses in CLAS. “Everybody has been really understanding. Our cognitive neuroscience teacher, Linda Hermer-Vazquez, was so great. She said ‘if you need a ride somewhere—anything—let me know’.”

Both Adams and Johnson plan to return to Tulane as soon as it reopens in the spring. In the meantime, UF is offering tuition at the reduced in-state rate, saving undergraduates $470 a credit hour and some graduate students as much as $630 per credit hour. The university is assisting displaced students with getting their financial aid moved to UF and has extended their payment deadline to November 18.

“We are doing everything we can to make this as a positive and productive experience for you as possible,” Dean of Students Gene Zdziarski told a group of displaced students in a special orientation session held for them in mid-September. A support group has been organized by the UF Counseling Center to help these students cope with the tragedy and meets on Tuesday nights, from 6 to 7 pm, in 301 Peabody Hall. Contact the Counseling Center at 392-1575 for more information.

Research Deadlines Loom, Despite Dislocation

When Loyola University English Professor Kate Adams evacuated from New Orleans with her son, Cole, at around 1 pm on August 28—right as Katrina strengthened briefly into a Category 5 hurricane—she only had time to grab a few changes of clothes, her laptop computer, and her beagle, Rudy.

“We left a little later than we should have,” she admits. “Last year we left during Hurricane Ivan, and it was so awful evacuating that we decided to try to stay—until it kept getting bigger and bigger.”

But Katrina did not spare New Orleans as Ivan and other storms have in the past. After staying a few days with friends in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Adams drove down to Gainesville to stay with her father, UF Emeritus Professor of English James Hodges. Unsure about the condition of her home and unable to return to work at Loyola, Adams did what any conscientious university professor would do—used the downtime to work on her research.

Thankful to have her laptop in tow, Adams has been busy completing two book projects due in October—one on American suffragist Alice Paul and the other on the representations of women in the New York Herald Tribune. The UF Smathers Library assigned her a library card, and she has poured herself into her work, eagerly attempting to meet both deadlines despite being dislocated. “I haven’t minded it,” she says. “It’s something that feels real, a connection to my former life.”

Her stay in Gainesville has been a return home for the 1972 graduate of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, who spent her first two years as an undergraduate at UF. She plans to return to New Orleans at the earliest possible occasion.

Timothy Cahill
Loyola Religion Professor Timothy Cahill lectures on “Love, Logic and the Twin Concepts of Positive and Negative Concordance” in Sanskrit poetry at the invitation of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions, allowing him to keep his research alive while he is displaced this semester. (Photo by Jane Dominguez)

Loyola Assistant Professor of Religion Timothy Cahill is also beginning to get homesick. A colleague of UF Religion Professor Vasudha Narayanan, Cahill spent a week on campus in late September, at the invitation of the UF Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra)—of which Narayanan is the director—to present a series of lectures.

“My area of research is Asian religion and Sanskrit literature, but right now I am basically not doing any research,” Cahill says. “I am hoping to be able to go back to New Orleans for a day or two and get some materials, or to take advantage of the hospitality offered here.” Cahill and his wife are currently living with his sister in St. Petersburg. When Narayanan found out he was in Florida, she offered him office space, access to her books and resources in addition to a library card at Smathers, and the opportunity to earn a small stipend while presenting a lecture series for CHiTra.

At this point in time, Cahill is more worried about the survival of his university than his own career. “Really, what I am concerned with is the future of the institution more so than my own research,” he says. “How are we going to make our university come back? We don’t have a lot of physical damage to facilities, but parents might be concerned about sending their kids to any university in New Orleans. This year we had the largest incoming freshman class ever, and a lot of us are concerned whether these students will return in the spring.”

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