Saturday, April 21, 2007

Perceptions of some Post-KATRINA Tulane Undergraduates

Perceptions of some Post-KATRINA Tulane Undergraduates

New Orleans, La.
April 14, 2007

Family and Friends—

Snuck into a Tulane University Medical School Formal the other night.

A band played, top-shelf liquor served, we’re talking the works. I found the party’s coordinator, a Med Student named David.

“I take pictures at Tulane events for free,” I said.

“Great, grab a drink,” he said.

By 11:00 pm these masters of MCATs danced without self-consciousness. Some future-MD’s even crowd-surfed. Quite a sight.

After KATRINA, Tulane closed for an entire semester. The storm caused $200 million in damage and the university eliminated 580 faculty and staff positions to stay afloat.

All of the Tulane medical students I met spent the semester in Waco, Tex, home of Baylor University. Don Owens, a chaplain and professor at Tulane Med says, “Baylor Med opened their home and did everything for us.” The 2006 installment of the party I crashed happened in Texas.

The medical students, it seems, are glad to be back. LSU’s main medical hospital across the street from Tulane Medical Center has yet to reopen. It’s eerie given the size of the structure.

Tulane undergraduates and graduate students who stuck with their University deserve recognition. Leadership cut many academic, athletic and student programs and services. Returning was, in many respects, a leap of faith.

Some changed majors. Some lost professors who were influential in attending Tulane from the beginning. And the memories of “what it used to be” will always remain for them.

But there is a community knock on the some of the Tulane undergraduate population: “East-coast aristocrats who don’t care about New Orleans,” they say. According to Tulane’s Office of the Registrar, 23 percent of the undergraduate population comes from the Northeast. There are more northeastern undergraduates at Tulane than New Orleans’ natives.

Others say, “They come here for a four-year party.”

It’s understandable that there is apathy from some of the Tulane undergraduate population. The Tulane friends I’ve made from the East Coast don’t dispute this perception.

I must also add that it tends to be directed at New York state and New Jersey students. A little Texas too.

This is obviously a generalization. Many invested, passionate and determined out-of-state undergraduates, New Yorkers and New Jersey students included, aid the New Orleans recovery.

The apathy is a reflection of the average American college at the average American University. Many students studied at other places during the semester away.

Colleges like Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. to Pennsylvania University in Philadelphia, and everywhere between.

And at the end, they all had a decision to make.

Almost 90 percent returned.

Expecting any more of 18-21 year olds is excessive optimism. Yes, KATRINA devastated New Orleans. And many of the out-of-state students lost possessions in the storm. They didn’t, for the most-part, lose homes, lose heirlooms or lose family members.

They did, however, return without the guarantee of a fulfilling academic future in a slashed, cut and mended opening Tulane semester.

The community-apathetic students still spend money and proclaim to their friends scattered about the country and the world about New Orleans’ majesty.

Let’s face it. There are leaders and followers, shepherds and sheep. And not everyone can carry a cane. Or sport a really long beard.

What people forget is that they came back to Tulane.

However, there will be an evolution of the Tulane undergraduate student.

After KATRINA, Tulane President Scott Cowen and the school’s board dramatically changed undergraduate requirements for graduation. The changes apply to any Tulane student who enrolls after KATRINA.

A main component of the new requirements is each student must complete a service-learning course with a community component during there first two years. Another similarly-scoped service course must be completed during the student’s last two years.

What does this mean? Tulane leadership hopes it will attract more civic-minded students.

Nothing happens overnight, but Tulane—its students, faculty, staff and alumni will be a major part of New Orleans’ recovery. Tulane President Scott Cowen's new graduation requirements reflect the post-KATRINA academic and community environment.

But I hope some who came before will help before they go.



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