When Tulane junior Kaitlin Willham evacuated her dorm room in September, she never believed she might be gone for months. “I thought I was leaving for the weekend,” she said, “so I packed two t-shirts and a pair of jeans.”
When Tulane finally announced they would be closing for the semester, she went shopping for another school – and some new clothes.
“Cornell had the most welcoming policy,” she said. “They told us, ‘Just show up, and we’ll take care of you.’ I got on a bus and took it from Corpus Christie, Texas, all the way up to Ithaca – I still don’t have a lot of stuff up here; most of it’s down there; let’s just say I’ve been repeating outfits a lot.”
Willham is one of about 200 Tulanians who have been at Cornell this semester as “extramural students.” After finals, she will go home to Seattle for a much-needed winter break. Willham plans to resume classes at Tulane when they begin on January 17, though she admits the thought of transferring to Cornell crossed her mind.
“I feel like I owe it to Tulane to go back,” she said. “And the city, too; I know the city needs people to go back to get things rolling.”
Not all Tulane refugees are eager to get back, however.
“I’ve submitted my application to be a spring transfer,” said sophomore Matthew Checki, currently living at the Alpha Delta Phi house. “The brothers have been great at integrating me into the life of the fraternity, and I’m hoping to be a full brother in the spring.”
Checki’s not alone. Though 80 percent of Tulane students have registered for spring classes, many who have spent fall semester elsewhere are planning on submitting transfer applications to their host schools for Fall 2006.
Since Hurricane Katrina wiped away Tulane’s fall semester, the university’s officials have feared they might “foot the bill” for the hospitality of schools like Cornell in the currency of students. “Professors have been making accommodations left and right,” Checki said. “There was a prelim in my film class a week after I got here, for example, and Professor Frederickson said, ‘Don’t worry about it; you don’t have to take it.’ And the students have been just as amazing. The brothers at my fraternity said, ‘Here’s a room; you don’t have to pay.’ I couldn’t believe how gracious everybody was.’
In Checki’s case, at least, the pull of Cornell is not the only thing that caused him to apply for a transfer. Tulane, Checki contends, is not as prepared as the school would like its students to believe.
“A couple of weeks ago, some Tulane representatives came up to visit the Tulane students at Cornell,” he said, “and we asked if they were going to do anything to help those of us who had off-campus housing [in areas that are still flooded.] They said, ‘We have a plan: We have purchased two cruise ships, and we are going to let you and professors and displaced Tulane staff live on the cruise ships.” Cruise ships?
“Yeah, cruise ships! I thought it was a joke. And the amazing thing is that students in the room actually started getting excited. I was thinking, ‘These people actually think that these cruise ships are going to be running like cruise ships. But there aren’t going to be any stores, any bars, any restaurants. Maybe a cafeteria, and that’s probably about it.'”
The university also sent its dispersed students a video showing the current state of New Orleans. Checki and others likened it to propaganda.
“It was the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“I was just down in New Orleans, and it’s nothing like they portrayed in that video,” said Tulane sophomore Andrew Basu, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “At the end, they show people playing golf, and say, ‘Look, everything’s back to normal.’ Well, yeah, people are playing golf, but what you don’t see is that around the golf course, there are trees down everywhere. They also showed certain bars packed with people; they must have packed them themselves because when I checked them out, there was nobody there but migrant workers. The bottom of every single building is gutted, and the water smells absolutely horrible.”
Basu is preparing a Cornell transfer application for next fall, “just in case.”
“Sure, the bars close [early], and people only go out on the weekends, if they go out at all. But then again, this isn’t Tulane – no one comes to Cornell just to party, and you can see that in the students here … I have no complaints.”
Archived article by Ben Birnbaum
Sun Staff Writer