Lawrence community responds to Harvey and Irma

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as the figurative storm of news covering these catastrophic events, have largely blown over. However, those in the paths of the hurricanes will feel their effects for a long time to come. At the start of the school season, hurricane season reached a peak as Harvey and Irma wreaked havoc along the southern U.S. and devastated the Caribbean islands in their paths. Though Wisconsin is far removed from this situation, the Lawrence community is made up of students from a wide range of states and countries, including those inundated by the hurricanes. Many at Lawrence are working hard to help others both on campus and off who have been affected by the unprecedented disasters this past month has presented.

Understanding the impact of natural disasters that cause such stupefying damage can be hard to grasp. While Lawrentians are now back in the colloquial “Lawrence Bubble,” thousands of people continue to struggle in the aftermath of these hurricanes. According to CNN reporters Doug Criss and Martin Savidge, Harvey has led to the deaths of 75 people, while around 20,000 people still remain displaced from their homes in shelters or hotels. While residents of Houston were reeling from the aftermath of Harvey, Irma swept across the Caribbean islands and into Florida, only recently disbanding as it made its way through the southern states. Washington Post journalist Jason Samenow reported on Irma’s extreme levels of devastation: after generating winds with a peak speed of 142 mph over Florida, Irma left a potential 16 million people without power. Both areas have begun rebuilding in flooded areas that have added health risks of mold and mosquitos.

While these storms were making their way across the continent, the Lawrence University administration responded swiftly to ensure students’ safety in the affected areas. Dean of Students Curt Lauderdale explained the process of reaching out to students, both in the instance of these hurricanes and in any other troubling events that occur globally in areas where Lawrentians could be affected. This involved coordinating with Admissions to generate a list of students in the areas of impact and allowing callers to contact those in Texas and Louisiana areas to check in on their status after Harvey. Luckily, there were very few students who were prevented from early arrivals and “no new student was delayed by Harvey,” according to Lauderdale, “though we were prepared to help.”

In handling Irma, the team again looked up students, this time from Caribbean nations as well as Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Upon reviewing that list, it was found that many of these students were already at Lawrence for various reasons.

“That changed the nature of that outreach pretty dramatically because we knew they were accounted for, by and large,” Lauderdale said. This time, instead of making calls, the Dean sent emails to those already on campus. “[We were]reminding them that we’re here with and for them, and that it’s potentially very scary or anxiety filled or frustrating to not be home with family and friends or just to be so far away from a place that’s potentially really important to you.” Lauderdale assured students who may be troubled by these events, reminding them that “there are offices to support you here, whether it’s my office or in connection with Dean Morgan-Clement or Financial Aid.”

In terms of continued support of those affected by Harvey and Irma, Lauderdale plans to reach out again once things have had time to settle a bit. “It’s a note on my calendar to do a check-in with both groups in a week or two,” he said. The estimated number of students in impacted areas was in the low sixties, but Lauderdale added that this number does not account for the assumption that students were always at the home address they provided Lawrence with, nor for the number of students in surrounding areas that would have experienced remnants of the storm.

Though the school year is just starting, clubs and organizations are also already helping. People for Animal Welfare (PAW) used the Activities Fair on Friday as an opportunity to raise money for shelters in areas devastated by the storms. After selling small stuffed animals for $3 each, a little over $70 was raised. PAW plans on continuing the stuffed animal sale at Warch Campus Center during lunches in the next week to continue their efforts to help those in need.

Though Irma and Harvey have been foremost in the news for some time, Lauderdale also explained that Lawrence has and does respond in much the same way to other impactful events, such as the recent earthquake in Mexico or the bomb threat reported in London. “We have a similar format that we use” Lauderdale explained, in reference to the caller coordination. “We have check spots like this that, at least anecdotally, I feel like we’re needing to use more and more.” Lauderdale added that it is important that Lawrence has “the ability to work with individuals and their families as is needed to either provide emotional support or to provide practical support.”

Though Harvey and Irma are far from campus, it is evident that the community is ready and willing to help.