Nearly four months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, 62 students from the Universidad de Puerto Rico have come to Ithaca to continue their studies as Cornell joins Tulane University, New York University and Brown University in providing the UPR students with one semester of free tuition, room and board.
UPR student Angel Canales Arroyo, who arrived in Ithaca this Saturday, said that all the support and communication he received in the past weeks has been reassuring.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but I know it’s going to be an extraordinary semester,” he told The Sun. “I have a lot to offer to the university, and I know that being able to attend an Ivy League university will open many doors in the future.”
As of December, the storm had left an estimated 45 percent of the Puerto Rican population without power, according to The New York Times, making university life difficult for students at UPR.
“Professors had to set out plastic tables to lecture students in the hallways,” incoming student José De Jesús Szendrey told the University. “Admissions was often closed. The registrar was closed. Professors were absent. It was really a mess.”
The Cornell-UPR Interuniversity Relief Program exceeded its initial goal of $40,000 and has raised $57,675 so far to help incoming students purchase resources such as books, winter clothing and transportation. The money was raised from contributions by alumni, staff, faculty, students and friends of the university. The Student Assembly donated $10,000.
Joseph Lyons ’98, executive director of Donor Engagement, credits the success of the crowdfunding to the dedication and commitment of the Cornell community, with its members using social media and emails to spread the news.
“It was incredibly impressive to see the way the Cornell community – inclusive of staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents and friends – came together to exceed our goal for the initiative,” he said. “Clearly there was a shared desire… to help provide a warm welcome to these students and ensure they felt part of the Cornell family.”
The Puerto Rican Students’ Association has enlisted over 60 students to help the incoming students navigate life during their time at Cornell.
Christopher Arce ’19, President of the Puerto Rican Students Association, said that many professors, graduate students, health officials, and several department heads have reached out since the announcement that Cornell would be hosting the students.
Arce, who previously expressed some concern about a potential racist backlash against the incoming students, said he feels more comfortable than before.
“Now I’m more at peace and given how many organizations and professors have reached out, I’m confident that they’ll do well,” he said. “Seeing that kind of positive response makes me confident.”
Throughout the semester, the Puerto Rican Students’ Association will continue to raise funds for hurricane relief.
“While I really want Cornell to give a lot of attention to the needs of the UPR students, I don’t want Cornell and the student body to forget that Puerto Rico is still struggling,” Arce added. “This is only part of a bigger effort to help Puerto Rico.”
A local knitting group has been meeting consistently this winter to knit hats, scarves, and mittens for the UPR students.
“When you hear about events like a devastating hurricane, you want to help out,” said Stacie Mann, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s K-12 education resource coordinator, who spearheaded the knitting initiative. “This is a way to directly help individuals. This is something tangible that we can do.”