When disaster strikes: connecting college campuses to the rest of the world
A common refrain on many college campuses is that they become a sort of “bubble” around their students, whether it’s a 1500-person liberal arts college or a university with 20,000 undergraduate students. Here at BetterGrads, we spend a lot of time discussing college communities and the importance of getting involved on campus and exploring different classes, research opportunities, activities, and events. A college campus can also feel a bit stifling at times, especially when compared with significant real world events that put things into perspective.
Hurricane Katrina struck right around the week that I started college. My first weeks at Oxy were marked by op-ed articles in the campus newspaper by upperclassmen discussing (okay, criticizing) our student body’s involvement in relief efforts on the Gulf coast. I got involved in a sort of ad hoc effort to raise initial funds to contribute to local relief organizations and, with a bit more time, existing college clubs developed tools to educate on the relevant issues, raise funds, and ultimately send students as relief volunteers. By the following year, Professor Caroline Heldman had established a Disaster Politics course that takes students to New Orleans to do relief work over winter break. This was a considerable lesson in “bursting the bubble” in the sense that students and faculty took the reins in staying abreast of the situation and, more importantly, facilitating students’ ability to get involved in as many different ways as possible.
I completely understand why many college students—particularly in times of national and/or international crisis—feel that their coursework and other obligations pale in comparison to the needs presented by the situation at hand. Rather than feeling ineffective or unhelpful, I would urge these students to find (or start) the relevant efforts on their campuses and surrounding communities.
I know that this has already started to take place in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Haiti. Classroom discussions, teach-ins, speakers, fundraisers, supply collections, and many further endeavors are all extremely valuable ways for universities to both contribute to aiding Haiti as well as preparing their students to be informed citizens—and volunteers and/or professionals in relevant fields if they so choose.
Students, educators—what’s going on in your college communities to help Haiti? What would you like to see universities do in the wake of a devastating event like a natural disaster?