Students in a new first-year seminar recently took their studies out of the classroom by traveling to New Orleans to witness the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and lend a hand in the rebuilding effort.
The seminar, titled “The Politics of Disaster,” examines the myriad social, cultural and political issues surrounding the cleanup and the rebuilding of southern Louisiana. Assistant Professor of Political Science Cedric Johnson believes that a hands-on approach is critical to mustering student involvement, so he incorporated the trip as part of the course’s service learning component. “We have been reading about Hurricane Katrina and the history of New Orleans for weeks, but having the opportunity to see the aftermath for ourselves, talk to residents and engage people who are working on post-Katrina issues was incredible.”
Over fall break, the students flew to the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in order to tour the rebuilding efforts and work on a service learning project. They helped to clean and rebuild two ruined houses. “We were working in about six inches of mud and sewage,” said Shena Vagliano-Fielding ’10. “I thought I would be more prepared for what I saw – I’ve seen the images on TV but this was an overwhelming, life-changing experience.”
They found that while the parts of the city that rely on the tourist industry, including the French Quarter, are up and running, enormous swaths of the surrounding areas are still in ruins. “Five minutes out and you’re in a ghost town,” said Vagliano-Fielding. “It is infuriating how little has been accomplished.”
The seminar has placed a particular emphasis on the inequality in the rebuilding process and the socio-political issues surrounding it, helping students to come to terms with the problems and the potential solutions. “We’re looking at what went wrong and how it can be fixed,” said Alex Liscio ’10. “It’s a great class and I plan to go back to New Orleans when more trips are offered.”
Images courtesy of Alex Teague ’10 and John Howland ’10.