For the seven Bowdoin students from New Orleans and a dozen others from surrounding areas, the effects of Hurricane Katrina may last a lifetime. Many members of the Bowdoin community, however, are finding themselves feeling helpless and ineffective in the wake of the natural disaster that left New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast in sheer ruin last week.
"With death tolls over 1,000, at this point, you know that someone you know has been affected," Suni Vaz '09 said. Vaz, a native of Uptown New Orleans, spent her first week and a half of college wondering whether or not her 20-year-old brother ever evacuated the city.
With landlines destroyed and cell phone reception out, it took almost two weeks for Vaz to learn that her brother had reached Houston safely, leaving the family pets behind with as much food and water as he could find.
Sophomore J. Patrick Brown went through a similar period without contact with his family, who refused to evacuate New Orleans from the start. After talking to his parents on the first night and learning that power was out, Brown went 24 hours without contact. When his parents managed to call again, they were able to tell him that the city was in "serious turmoil" before the connection cut out.
"When my uncle came to pick my parents up from the city, they wouldn't let him in without a firearm," he said. Brown's family eventually evacuated to Baton Rouge and then to Michigan, spending $4,000 a piece on airfare.
The city they left behind is devastated, both physically and psychologically.
"Piecing the culture back together will be just as difficult as piecing back the structures and buildings," said Dean of Academic Advancement and New Orleans native Kassie Freeman.
"It's absolutely tragic," said President Barry Mills. "We have tried to reach out to our community members to let them know that we are here to support them."
Despite the immense scale of the disaster, many are trying to remain optimistic and consider possibilities for advancement in the Gulf Coast.
"It's very hard to see this as an opportunity," said Bowdoin Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies and former Director of City Planning in New Orleans Kristina Ford in an interview with the Orient.
"You have to clench your fist, because so much suffering has gone on. Nature has created a situation that maybe we can use to rebuild with nature, not against it. This is an opportunity to make the city a little more rational."
New Orleans officials have announced that they will implement forced evacuations of the 10,000 people left living in the city, according to the New York Times. Once the city has been completely abandoned, officials may be able to implement a plan of action that will prevent future storms from leaving such lasting effects.
Ford suggested that "we move everyone into temporary housing, fill in all the land as high as the French Quarter, and then rebuild. It would have been impossible to suggest this when I was planning director, but here's the opportunity."
Likewise, the hurricane brought media attention to pre-existing internal problems in New Orleans that had been repeatedly overlooked before.
With organizations nationwide providing relief, New Orleans citizens hope to see an improvement in the standard of life during reconstruction and beyond.
"The public school system in New Orleans is nothing to be envious about," first year Aliya Sabharwal said. "This could be an opportunity to make real change."
Bowdoin announced last Friday that it will be donating $30,000 to three historically black colleges located in the Gulf Coast area that were affected by the storm. Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans's own Dillard University and Xavier University will use the cash contributions to rebuild their facilities and programs.
President Mills also announced that faculty members from the three colleges may apply for visiting professorships for Bowdoin's spring semester, during which time they will receive housing for themselves and their families.
In addition to Bowdoin College's official plan of action, student groups on campus have collaborated in an effort to raise money for the Red Cross and other organizations that provide immediate relief to hurricane refugees.
In conjunction with the CSRC, members of Habitat for Humanity, Circle K, Residential Life, and the African American Society have joined forces to create a project entitled "12 Days of Attention: 12 Months of Impact."
The 12 Days of Attention includes a clothing drive for the families of Bowdoin students, silent reflection in the chapel, and faculty discussions on the social and physical implications of Katrina. Although the 12 days conclude with Common Good Day, Bowdoin community members hope to see this level of awareness and action lasting for months to come.
With an extensive seven-year history in New Orleans city planning, Ford is anxious to join the rebuilding effort.
"They don't need me now. What I'm hoping is that when someone realizes there needs to be a new plan, they will think of me. I would then be on the next plane."
Until then, Ford strongly encourages students to contribute to agencies that can provide immediate relief. "Right now, that's what people need. Some people showed up in Houston without shoes. [The Red Cross] is an organization used to dealing with distress."
Other Maine schools have responded in different ways, with the University of Maine System offering in-state tuition and a waved-application process for displaced students, and Bates College offering free tuition for the fall semester. Although Bowdoin will not match such offers, the College urges its faculty and students to remember the members of the Bowdoin community who have been most personally affected.
"One of the reasons I came to Bowdoin is that I know I'll be spending the rest of my life in New Orleans," sophomore Will Hales said. "I'll do anything for that city."
James Baumberger and Evan Kohn contributed to this report.