Administration’s Response to Hurricanes Harvey, Maria Unequal

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25. Three days later, Assistant Vice President for Community Suzanne Onorato sent an email to an all-Emory-students listserv detailing Emory’s counseling services in response to the storm. However, Hurricane Maria’s Sept. 20 landfall in Puerto Rico did not yield a similar administrative email — only College Council (CC) responded, and not until Oct. 16, 26 days after it made landfall. The University’s administrative inconsistency in addressing disasters should not be ignored. Administrators appear to have not followed any protocol for supporting students affected by natural disasters, and apparently did not consider the effects of Hurricane Maria as important as those of Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Maria was a large-scale natural disaster that continues to affect the lives of some Emory students, faculty, staff and their families. Not only do thousands of Puerto Rican residents continue to live without power, but they also must cope with limited access to both potable water and cellular service caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. And other Caribbean islands are still struggling to recover from the storms. But despite the veritable tragedy, students received no universal communication about Hurricane Maria from Emory administrators.

Emory’s inattention to Puerto Rican and Caribbean victims and their families mirrors the national response to Hurricane Maria. During his recent visit to Puerto Rico, President Donald J. Trump called Hurricane Maria not a “real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina.” Contrary to Trump’s statement, Hurricane Maria was and continues to be a real catastrophe, and many people on our campus are still dealing with its repercussions. The lack of a formal statement from the University administration mimics Trump’s negligent response to the Caribbean’s trials and ignores those impacted. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, President of the Puerto Rican Student Association (PRSA) Josue Rodriguez (20C) expressed disappointment in Emory’s lack of communication to students, many of whom feared for the lives of their families and safety of their homes.

While Campus Life’s Office of Student Success Services and Programs (OSSPS) and the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life (OSRL) extended their donation drive, originally intended for victims of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, to help Hurricane Maria victims, some student organizations on campus have taken a more proactive approach. The Catholic Student Union and Puerto Rican Student Association jointly organized a variety of events, including an Oct. 4 vigil, multiple canned food drives and faculty-sponsored shipments of supplies to Puerto Rico.

To resolve inconsistencies in communications, the University should establish a standardized response strategy to natural disasters that directly impact the student body. Whatever its reasoning, the University administration’s responses to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria shows an unequal handling of student experiences. A standard communication would not only ensure that responses are consistent, timely and appropriate but would also ensure that, in the wake of disaster, students receive the support they need.

The above Editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.

The editorial board is composed of Nora Elmubarak, Jennifer Katz, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Isabeth Mendoza, Boris Niyonzima, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois and Mathew Sperling. 

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