There are a few students at Swarthmore with a profound love for New Orleans. This week, they would like nothing more than to share that love with the rest of the college community.
“We have a love and a passion for New Orleans. It’s such a unique city. We want to share what made us fall in love with New Orleans the first time we went there,” Mara Phelan ’10 said.
Phelan sits on the NOLArize! Steering Committee, along with four other students. The committee has coordinated a variety of events and activities this week to expose the college community in the tastes, sounds, aromas and the overall vibe of New Orleans that Phelan so adores.
“This is going to be fun,” she said.
Phelan said the committee coordinated a NOLArize week last year dedicated to raising awareness and discussing the issues – the disaster and destruction caused, the tragedy and suffering endured, and the grander overtones of inequality and racism permeating the aftermath.
“Last year was heavy. The events were draining because they focused on the issues,” Phelan said.
This year, Phelan said the Steering Committee wants to take a more gradual approach towards the political, social and economic issues.
“First we want to build a connection between students and the city. Then, once people have that connection, and care about the city, we think they will be more inclined to do something about [the situation],” she said.
Sunday night, NOLArize! hosted a ‘Jeopardy!’ study break, disseminating information about the history of New Orleans via trivia games and offering snacks. NOLArize! week includes lectures on the history of Jazz in the Big Easy by Swarthmore faculty, dessert tasting, and a documentary showing. The week will culminate with a feast at the Black Cultural Center Friday night featuring some of the characteristic dishes of New Orleans Louisiana-Creole cuisine that blends French, Mediterranean, Caribbean, African, and American influences.
Phelan was adamant about encouraging the participation of non-African-American students as well.
“We don’t want this to be just a black issue. We want representation. Seeing the faces of the victims, there are a lot of different demographics affected. We want to see all students participate,” she said.
The five-member Steering Committee is composed of one senior, as well as three students going abroad next year. Accordingly, Phelan said the committee is looking to attract freshmen and sophomores they could mentor this year, and consequently, bestow them with leadership positions that will open up next year.
NOLArize! was founded by 2008 Swarthmore graduate, Marissa Davis, who was able to translate her passions and concerns for New Orleans, devastated in the wake of 2005 Hurricane Katrina, into social action with assistance from the Lang Center for Social Responsibility. Davis initiated NOLArize! during her sophomore year, which maintains a two-fold mission dedicated to raising awareness about conditions in New Orleans, and helping the city of New Orleans and the community of people affected.
“NOLArize! is now a national project. This week, we want to remind people of our presence on campus, the continuing problems plaguing New Orleans, establish ourselves as a networking service, and raise awareness from different angles,” Phelan said.