Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Crisis/Pomona Responds

Katrina Hits Pomona

Though Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing chaos on the Gulf Coast struck more than 2,000 miles away from Claremont, Pomona College students felt the impact. “I’ve been really deeply psychologically and emotionally affected by the disaster and the subsequent reactions and inactions to it,” said Kaneisha Grayson ’06. “Being from Texas, and working class, and black, and a black studies major, I felt this very deep connection and obligation to do something.”

Grayson was not alone. Students across campus immediately began brainstorming plans for action, ranging from knocking on doors in the residence halls asking for spare change to planning large-scale social events with ticket sales donated to relief funds. Students collected more than $3,000 to donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and gave more than 100 pints of blood through a blood drive sponsored by the Claremont University Consortium’s Office of the Chaplains. One enterprising first-year student, Melissa Hanna ’09, organized a charity event called “Rock for Relief” that brought four bands to Edmunds Ballroom and raised more than $2,000.

“Every time I read the (Student) Digester, there was a different organization announcing their plans,” said Dean of Students Ann Quinley. “There were many students who were touched by these events.”

In a show of support, President David Oxtoby announced that the College would be accepting up to 16 visiting students from Tulane University and other schools that were affected by the hurricane. Although students and administrators alike were disappointed with the low number of students who ended up applying, the College eagerly welcomed Sara Silvestri and Neema Nazem from Tulane near the second week of the semester.

“Everyone has been so nice to me here,” said Nazem, although he admitted that catching up in Pomona classes meant reading nearly a book a day for the first couple of weeks. The Chicago native hadn’t even left for school yet when he heard that Tulane had closed down for the semester. His girlfriend of three years, Pomona sophomore Hai-Minh Nguyen ’08, informed him that Pomona was accepting applications, and a week later he was moving into his room in the basement of Mudd-Blaisdell.

Silvestri’s story was more heart-wrenching, as her entire family lives in New Orleans and waited until the last minute before deciding to pack up and head out of town to avoid the storm. Evacuation warnings are an annual event for New Orleans residents, she explained, and no one imagined how bad the devastation would be.

“I feel luckier than most that I got out OK, and I know where my family is,” said Silvestri.

While both Silvestri and Nazem said that adjusting to life at Pomona was an easy transition for them, the call to return home and help with rebuilding the city was equally strong.

“A large part of my days here are spent wondering why I’m here and not there,” said Nazem. “I’m getting educated 2,000 miles away from the problems in our country.” In mid-October, Silvestri decided to leave Pomona and return home.

“The thing I miss most is having people to talk to about Louisiana. People who get it,” she said. “We’re very attached to our culture. We’re all stubborn, and we’re all proud of being stubborn.”

While Silvestri’s Pomona friends were sad to see her leave, they realized the importance of her return. In the meantime, relief efforts—including the earthquake victims in Pakistan—continue across campus.

“We don’t want to keep asking for more money, we want to reach into our hearts,” said Jamie Johnson, advisor of the Volunteer Center. “Our goal is to bring everyone together to make the most of this situation.”
Lori DesRochers ’06
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by Pomona College
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