Swarthmore steps up to aid victims of Katrina

Additional reporting by Jon Peters

Last week, much of the nation watched helplessly as Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, displacing enormous populations and leaving thousands dead. The feeling on Swarthmore’s campus is that community members, who have the power to make a difference, must now do something to help ease the pain of this horrible tragedy. A meeting was called yesterday at the Lang Center to brainstorm ideas to alleviate some of the suffering.

When community members arrived at the meeting, they were ushered into a “resource room,” its walls covered with sheets of paper. These were thirty-nine pages of e-mails filled with ideas of what the community could do to help those affected by the crisis. These notes came from students, current or alumni, as well as faculty. The ideas varied markedly in scale and theme.

Many community members suggested that the college could host refugee college students from the Gulf. In fact, Swat has already agreed to host fifteen students; about three of whom have arrived on campus. Some suggested ideas for fund raisers and drives of all types, from a clothing collection to a Louisiana-style crawfish boil. One e-mail in particular summed up the mood of many who are concerned, “It’s difficult because everything seems insignificant against the scale of the problem, but what I find important to remember is that within each cognizant being there is an experience of consciousness, something that cannot be quantified. Thus, helping one person is helping the infinite.”

The meeting itself was attended by students and faculty, as well as residents of the Swarthmore community. The meeting room was packed, with people sitting on the floor and on staircases. Coordinators quickly dispatched those gathered into smaller groups in order to spread out. While thirty people RSVP’ed, almost sixty attended.

Many community members had the idea of involving the Swarthmore borough and the greater Philadelphia community in creating a coordinated relief effort. The audience also suggested organizing a relief mission either during fall or winter break. An immediate fund raising effort could be taken up by the college; it was unanimously supported by those in attendance. Also proposed was an online portal or website linking various support efforts.

Those in attendance were concerned that those children affected by the hurricane could not receive a sufficient education this semester; they are considering ways for Swarthmore students to provide tutoring or some form of outreach. A collection of stories from New Orleans about the events was also planned. Most agreed at the end of the event that these efforts must be planned, executed, and most importantly sustained in the coming weeks and months.

Responses from other campuses have been swift. The University of Maine at Augusta has already organized a clothing drive, the University of Evansville and many other institutions will host students already enrolled in a Gulf State college or university. Even the University of Tennessee’s Department of Animal Science has pledged a sizable shipment of horse feed. Oglethorpe University, in Atlanta, recently collected some $11,000 worth of goods for those affected by the hurricane, and plan to ship it out by plane immediately.

The meeting made clear that the devastation from this hurricane is attracting much concern from the Swarthmore community. Pat James, student coordinator of the Lang Center, encourages anyone interested in receiving further updates about the college’s relief efforts to contact her at pjames1@swarthmore.edu.


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