The city of nearly 60,000 souls that is the University of Washington responded quickly and compassionately to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf states. And that response continues to grow.
Across the UW’s campuses, many emergency and medical workers mobilized and moved out to the Gulf region to help; staffers sprang into unprecedented fund-raising action and researchers brainstormed ways to study the hurricane’s terrible effects and to improve communication and organization during such natural disasters.
The UW reaction to Katrina was swift and strong, its tone set early by an open letter to the campus community from UW President Mark A. Emmert. “Each of us, I know, has an impulse to want to help in some way,” Emmert wrote. “We have been told that the most immediate need is for resources, so that the organizations on the ground in those states can provide the basics of food, water, shelter, clothing, and medical care.”
In that same spirit, unbidden, groups of UW employees campuswide began planning fund-raising events, digging deep and contributing to the American Red Cross, Mercy Corps International, Salvation Army Disaster Relief and other charitable agencies.
Connie Kravas, vice president for development and alumni relations for the UW Foundation, said donations large and small have been coming in ever since word went out that the UW would help those affected by Katrina. Lawrence Patrick Hughes (a member of the UW Foundation Board) and his wife, Mary Ellen, both 1957 graduates of the UW, responded to President Emmert’s appeal for help with a stunningly large donation of $100,000.
“Talk about a gesture of compassion!” Kravas said. “The key message is that we need gifts of all sizes to help those who most need our help right now. Donors can be assured their gifts will be put to urgent use.”
Kerri Everly, campaign coordinator for the UW’s Combined Fund Drive, which starts on Oct. 5, says she, too, already has received calls from people wishing to help Katrina victims. The massive campaign, even before formally beginning, is holding a special statewide fund-raiser for the Katrina relief effort that allows UW faculty or staff to make a one-time donation through their payroll deduction until Sept. 30 (reminder: that’s tomorrow). After that, Everly said, donations to the combined drive can be earmarked for the Red Cross or other charities.
“People can do ongoing payroll deductions beginning January 1 and lasting all year round. They can give to Katrina that way, or to any charity of their choice.” (To find it on the Web, see the UW home page and select “Katrina Assistance” at the top.)
Everly said the drive already has taken in more than $3,000 in donations, including proceeds from a lunchtime spaghetti feed in the Plant Services Building quickly and effectively planned by Tony Mussio of Facilities Services, Maintenance and Alterations. Mussio said more than 200 people came to eat, and all showed great generosity. “We didn’t expect the amount of money coming in,” Mussio said. “Instead of the three dollars suggested, people were throwing in twenty-dollar bills left and right, which was really nice.” The lunch raised $1,716 in all, he said.
The UW Alumni Association sprang into fund-raising action quickly, too, raising about $1,700 in funds for hurricane relief at the warm-up tailgate party prior to the Huskies’ (losing, it turned out) football game against Air Force. The association also has planned a special fund-raising evening at the Mirabeau Room in Seattle on Oct. 2. Proceeds from the $6 entry price and half of drink proceeds will go to and UW Hurricane Relief Fund and to students displaced by the storm.
More offices and departments are creating Katrina-related fund-raisers and special events almost daily. The Office of Minority Affairs Welcome Daze 2005 and the Ethnic Cultural Center are teaming up to offer a “mocktail lounge” offering creative nonalcoholic drinks at the center. The event is from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight, and will feature a poker room, a bingo hall, a movie theater “and,” advance notes say, “hopefully, sumo wrestling.” Elsewhere on campus, the Henry Art Gallery will donate admissions proceeds from the week of Oct. 1 to Oct. 8 to Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit charitable group, and donation boxes will be out for both of two openings of the gallery’s coming show, 150 Works.
The generous reaction to the Katrina disaster was by no means from the Seattle campus alone. Karin Dalesky, an admissions specialist with UW Tacoma and frequent volunteer with Pasado Safe Haven, traveled with that animal-support group to the affected area to help pets displaced by Katrina. She said the work — saving dogs, cats, birds, turtles and even a rooster and a boa constrictor from the flood wreckage — left her with a mixture of pride and sadness. “It was like, ‘Yes! I got (an animal) out of that hellhole,’ and then I’d look down the street and see four or five more.” She added, “The hard part was the day I came back. I bawled and bawled — I hated to leave when I knew there was so much more to be done.”
Back home, in the Gateway Center in Mary Gates Hall, staff from First-Year Programs set up the Katrina Student Resource Center, to help the approximately 100 students taken in by the UW from universities damaged by the hurricane. All day Thursday, Grant Kollet and Terry Hill and their staff greeted students from Dillard, Tulane, Xavier, Loyola universities as well as the University of New Orleans and Southern Mississippi University. Friendly student workers gave each displaced student a tote bag and several UW items and helped them find information on attending the UW.
Kollet, director of First-Year Programs, said, “We’re trying to allow these students, both undergrad and graduates, to stay ‘on track’ in terms of their degree. We’ve heard some amazing stories and, at times, it’s been quite moving.”
The students are being taken in on an exchange basis, and their home schools will in time be billed for their tuition costs. About 140 community members have stepped forward to offer to host displaced students in their homes, and financial aid also is being made available to the students, based on their need. A special fund also has been set up to help these students. The UW’s Katrina Response Web page includes a link to the Hurricane Katrina Scholarship Fund. The money collected will pay for tuition, fees, books, supplies, transportation and living expenses for displaced students. The federal government has relaxed some of the application procedures for these students, whose needs are as varied as are they themselves.
Just as Gulf-area students have been helped, so have some faculty and staff members. A chemistry professor named Brent Koplitz from Tulane and his wife, Lynn, from Loyola, both are joining the UW Chemistry Department as visiting scholars. The School of Medicine reports that a Russian Fulbright Scholar named Yuri Boriskin, originally scheduled to visit Tulane University for several months, will come to the school’s Department of Laboratory Medicine instead. And the English Department has announced it is bringing in Mona Lisa Saloy, a highly respected scholar and poet from Dillard University. Saloy will be a visiting associate professor, and will teach classes for the department. A staff member from the University of New Orleans also has been hired by the UW Office of Sponsored Programs.
Hurricane Katrina also has sent the UW research community into action. Even before the storm’s landfall, UW scientists and others were flying into storm areas with Doppler radar to study dynamic changes inside the storm that can produce rapid changes in its intensity. Many researchers met in mid-September to brainstorm research projects related to Katrina and coordinate grant requests to the National Science Foundation, in a sort of speeded-up triage version of the usual process of developing research grants.
After many proposals were discussed, various faculty teams chose several to pursue. They include research on the use of public vehicles for emergency evacuations and organizational responses to the disaster; the study of low-cost hurricane-resistant public housing; increasing local capacity for emergency evacuations, decision-making under risk, privacy considerations in emergency information management and lessons learned from Katrina for improving communication and coordination in times of disaster.
The tsunami of late December 2004 and Hurricane Katrina provided a sort of baptism by fire for the still relatively new Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship, whose goal is to prepare students and citizens for an increasingly global society in an era of increasing need and crisis.
Sanjeev Khagram, director of the center, and co-organizer of its Interdisciplinary Program in Humanitarian Relief (along with Mark Haselkorn, professor of technical communications), said, “It is a bit of ambulance chasing, the business we are in, but there are challenges out there in the world. Disasters happen everywhere, whether at home or abroad, and we are not prepared in human capacity or systems for response.”
Khagram, a newcomer to the UW, said he was pleased by the faculty energy and breadth of collaboration even under a short deadline for proposals. “We always knew we’d be an interdisciplinary program but we never realized or could imagine how tremendously interdisciplinary it would be and how far across the campus it would stretch.” He said the response “revealed a tremendous capacity for interdisciplinary action research.”
Khagram said that though he and others at the Lindenberg Center had a sense that disaster relief was a truly global operation, Katrina’s devastation made the point dramatically clear. “Really, it brought it home to us that whether in the Gulf Coast or the State of Washington, we need to think of the United States as being part of the global mandate we have, as a center and as a university.”
As students return to campus and fall quarter picks up steam, more grassroots efforts to help victims of Katrina could happen.
Grant Kollet of First-Year Programs could well have been speaking for the entire UW community when he said, of helping those displaced by the hurricane’s wreckage, “It doesn’t take long to figure out that this response is the right thing to do.”
To learn more, or to give:
UW Katrina Response Web site: http://www.uwnews.org/uwnews/sites/katrina/.
UW Katrina Student Resource Center: Phone 206-221-6861; Web site: http://www.uwnews.org/uwnews/sites/katrina/index.asp?sm=189
UW Emergency Management Office Web site, for questions relating to displaced faculty, staff and post-doctoral students: http://www.washington.edu/admin/business/oem/.
UW Alumni association’s Katrina Web site: http://www.washington.edu/alumni/response.html.