For the third consecutive year, members of the HWS community have spent their Spring Break in New Orleans to aid in the efforts to revitalize the area so harshly struck by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. In addition to the Colleges’ annual volunteer efforts, this year Linda Robertson, professor of media and society, worked with two of her students – seniors Allison Dean and Jon Bachrach — to document the aftermath of the hurricane, both in New Orleans and in the news.
“The media has lost interest, which means the only way to hear what’s going on is to go there in person and then share what you found when you return,” Dean ’09 said.
To fill in the gaps left by the media, Robertson recruited Dean to run a camera and Bachrach to take stills as the crew set out to make their documentary. The stories that they followed up on in New Orleans were a list comprised of those that students in Robertson’s media and society senior seminar felt were the most important news stories that disappeared from the media. The stories ranged from the damage that remains in various areas of New Orleans to following up on Louisiana State University Hurricane Center Deputy Director Ivor van Heerden’s public condemnation of the government’s failure to respond properly.
“Our itinerary varied from a helicopter tour of the Gulf to interviews with Father Vien The Nguyen, head of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, which was integral to a massive revitalization effort in New Orleans, especially in its large Vietnamese community,” said Robertson.
Explaining the importance of the Colleges’ yearly trips to the area, Dean said that, “After almost four years since Katrina, the areas surrounding downtown New Orleans, and along most of the Gulf Coast, continues to be in desolate conditions.” With a lacking response in her view, Dean added that, “If college groups don’t continue aiding, even one family at a time, the area would be completely forgotten. And by bringing students to the area on a continuum, it forces them to engage in the duty of citizens of the United States to support one another.”
Reflecting on the value of returning to New Orleans, Dean said that, “The most important aspect of being involved on the trip is making sure that I do the city and the area justice. Meeting the people who we interviewed enabled me to see across the board as much as I could and to become a voice for what’s going on (or not going on) as most people have lost touch with the current state of the region.”
Part of their portrayal of post-Katrina New Orleans included footage of HWS students who teamed up with students from Nazareth College to form a group of 24 students that rebuilt three houses that desperately needed extra help.
After her first trip to volunteer and her second trip to document, Dean noted that, “There’s a certain responsibility with becoming informed on a situation, and I hope I can live up to it.”