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Community-Campus Readiness: Approaches to Disaster Preparedness 2 0 13 N Y M A P S S Y M P O S I U M


About Issues in Engaged Scholarship The Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service launched its Working Paper series, Issues in Engaged Scholarship, in 2010 to provide a platform for disseminating knowledge about community-campus partnerships and to add to the rigor of discourse in this field. Through this series, the Center strives to build a network of community-engaged scholars and increase understanding of the processes and outcomes associated with service-learning, community-based research, and community-campus collaborations.

About the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership The Colin Powell School is a leading center for education and social research with a particular emphasis on preparing students to succeed as leaders in society and their fields of endeavor. The school enables students to energetically address the challenges of the 21st century, including economic growth and national wealth creation, community stability and health, expanding rights and democracy, and promoting education and the general betterment of those in need, and it focuses its research and teaching activities on fostering solutions that further diversity, prosperity, stability and peace locally and across the world.

About The NYMAPS Collaborative The NYMAPS Collaborative, formerly known as the New York Metro Area Partnership for Service-Learning (NYMAPS) is a network of colleges, universities and community-based organizations dedicated to realizing the civic mission of higher education and to advancing service-learning, community-based participatory research and public scholarship, with the ultimate goal of social change. This initiative is led and supported by the Office of Engaged Scholarship at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. For more information, please visit our website,

GenĂŠa Stewart Director, Office of Engaged Scholarship Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership 160 Convent Avenue NAC 4/146C New York, NY 10031

Phone 212-650-6335

Website Email

Community-Campus Readiness: Approaches to Disaster Preparedness 2 0 13 N Y M A P S S Y M P O S I U M

S Y M P O S I U M W A S H E L D O N A P R I L 12 , 2 0 13 AT B A R N A R D C O L L E G E


Editors GenĂŠa Stewart, Editor Susanna Schaller, Associate Editor Amanda Krupman, Production Editor

Design Amelia Costigan, Vladimir Golosiy, Grzegorz Lewkowicz, Michael Dueker

TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S 4-5

Introduction Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster


An Integration of Planning and Process for a Common Purpose


Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP) How a Small Voluntary Association Uses CommunityBased Participatory Research (CBPR) to Enhance Community Resilience

Civic Engagement in the City that Care Forgot

The Challenges of Designing a Successful Service-Learning Course about the Roots, Ruin, and Rebirth of New Orleans





Three Models to Engage Students in Disaster Response





Learning from Disaster










Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response Exploring Campus Response to Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont





We have a clearer sense of our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to disaster preparedness.

Genéa Stewart, Director of the Office of Engaged Scholarship, Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership When Superstorm Sandy struck New York City in late October 2012, it pushed disaster-relief efforts to the forefront of the civic engagement agenda. Any previous ongoing dialogues on community-campus partnerships within the metropolitan area were essentially stalled or sidetracked by this event, as institutions and organizations alike found themselves impacted and questioning their ability to maintain commitments or begin new ones in light of the recognized need for self-preservation. The inquiry then began to focus on how colleges and organizations could work together to come up with more proactive, long-term, mutually beneficial solutions. By the following spring, recovery efforts still carried on, along with warnings of future disasters. So, it only made sense to build our 5th Annual Symposium on the questions surrounding the theme Community-Campus Readiness: Approaches to Disaster Preparedness. On April 12, 2013, over fifty participants convened at Barnard College to examine how we could best empower community partners to be a strong voice in the planning process, mobilize campus resources, identify discipline-specific strategies for engaging students through service-learning courses, and support and supervise general student involvement. We were fortunate to have had that opportunity for interregional collaboration to learn from the best practices gathered through years of experience, testing, and refinement through previous disasters. We left the event with a sense of urgency and more questions, but also a clearer sense of our strengths and weaknesses as a region when it comes to disaster preparedness, mitigation, and recovery.

The Collection

As a follow-up to the aforementioned 2013 Symposium, I am pleased to share with you five selections that document campus responses to disaster throughout the eastern region of the United States, down to New Orleans, and as far as New Zealand. The collection begins with a framing piece, “Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster,” by symposium presenter Allison Alden and her colleague Christie Zwahlen of SUNY Binghamton. They present a study of fifteen colleges and universities responding to disaster and share lessons learned in increasing campus responsiveness and streamlining bureaucracies. Sociologist Katherine Chen of the City College of New York and her communitybased participatory research partner, Carolyn English, of the Cooperators’ Advocacy Project, take us on a tour inside of a volunteer-run organization impacted by Super-


storm Sandy that works with residents who are aging in place. In “Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project,” Chen and English share with us policy recommendations for promoting the sustainability of such organizations. In “The City that Care Forgot,” Ted Henken of Baruch College and Macaulay Honors College students Kwame Ocran (Hunter College, ‘15) and Vanessa Rene (Brooklyn College, ‘14) provide a comprehensive nuts-and-bolts course overview for a post-Katrina study abroad service-learning experience in New Orleans. The course draws on multiple disciplines—though primarily sociology and anthropology—and it provides a great framework for using a city and its rich history as a key component of the curriculum. The article provides a generous assortment of references and resources for those seeking content to build similar courses. Lane Perry of Western Carolina University, Carrie Williams Howe of Vermont Campus Compact, Kelly Hamshaw of the University of Vermont, Jonathan Hilsher of Alfred State College, Billy O’Steen of the University of Canterbury, Greg Sammons of Alfred State College, and Allison Alden of SUNY Binghamton came together to offer “Learning from Disaster,” which showcases three models on engaging students in disaster response: through service-learning, alternative breaks, and internships. This article is rich in foundational literature and theory that might help other campuses frame comparable engagement efforts. The collection concludes with a reflection of case studies and lessons learned in “Higher Education as a Partner in Disaster Response,” by Carrie Williams Howe of Vermont Campus Compact. Through qualitative interviews, document analysis, and focus groups, Howe compiled a collection of themes and strategies that will assist campus administrations in developing successful campus response systems.

Looking Forward

The focus of our upcoming volume will align with the 2014 NYMAPS symposium theme, “Advocacy in Practice: Engaged Teaching and Research for Social Change.” This will serve as an opportunity to delve into issues that arise when linking academic expertise and resources to community empowerment efforts. We look forward to showcasing engaged scholarship that addresses issue areas of pressing concern in New York City: arts and culture, community revitalization, crime and policing, education reform, environmental sustainability, health, and immigration. Please check the back of this volume for submission guidelines.


Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

An Integration of Planning and Process for a Common Purpose ALLISON ALDEN CHRISTIE ZWAHLEN

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster



ore now than ever, colleges and universities are being asked to contribute to and collaborate with their local, national, and global communities in significant ways. Additionally, because of a recent increase in the frequency and scale of natural disasters, institutions of higher education have been engaged in efforts to respond to these crises. This study of fifteen colleges and universities—including several from the New York Metro Area Partnership for Service-Learning (NYMAPS), investigates the specific ways in which institutions across the nation have participated in these efforts and provides insight into how higher education’s responsiveness to natural disasters can be improved. The specific means by which these institutions responded and the challenges they faced are outlined, followed by findings from the data and recommendations based on lessons learned.

Key words natural disaster, response and recovery, civic engagement, servicelearning, campus-community collaborations, partnerships

Introduction On matters of public concern—ranging from the economic recession to the effects of climate change—institutions of higher education are engaging with and being called upon by government and community leaders to help meet the pressing challenges that affect us all.1 While these types of partnerships have existed for a long time, higher education is now being asked to do more, including partnering with governments and organizations on natural disaster response and recovery efforts far beyond the boundaries of campus. Comprised of community members themselves, institutions of higher education often work in conjunction with international, national, and local entities to see these pressing needs met. Furthermore, the responsibility of educating students about their civic obligations as knowledgeable, contributing community members compels colleges and universities to engage students in responding to community needs. The manner in which a college or university does or does not respond after a natural disaster and what is asked of students at this important juncture serves as a powerful teaching moment, one which demonstrates the relevance of their

educational experience and either reinforces or betrays the institutional commitment to partnering with communities for the public good. Expanding the traditional role of engaging in community-campus partnerships focused on more long-term community issues, such as access to education, healthcare, and housing, many institutions of higher education have chosen to respond to natural-disaster-related needs. In many cases, colleges and universities have served as temporary shelters for displaced residents, collected much needed resources, recruited and transported volunteers to “muck out” homes, clean away storm debris, and even provided emergency health services to residents when appropriate. While some US higher education institutions offer courses, certificates, and degree programs in emergency management,2 others do not have access to the in-house knowledge or experience offered by faculty members or students with formal, field-specific training. Instead, when a disaster strikes, many college and university personnel and students rely on instincts, community connections, and creative problem-solving 7

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

strategies to meet the challenges at hand. With the frequency and severity of natural disasters continuing to escalate, continued and increased higher education involvement of this nature seems inevitable. As practitioners of community engagement are well aware, copious research has been published about the dynamics of communitycampus collaborations, broadly speaking; however, national studies specifically examining the type of partnerships that develop between communities and campuses when natural disasters strike are currently missing from the literature. Regarding higher education’s responsiveness to disasters generally, Carrie Williams Howe of Vermont Campus Compact has noted that existing literature is concerned almost exclusively with an institution’s internal efforts (i.e., how to manage the crisis on campus), as opposed to how it can be responsive to needs outside its own confines.3 According to Howe, very few published works deviate from this focus, aside from the Ready Campus Manual, developed in 2005–2006 by a number of government and higher education collaborators, including the US Department of Homeland Security, College Misericordia, Pennsylvania Campus Compact, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Red Cross, and the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.4 The manual, intended as “a flexible, adaptable planning guide to prepare. . . campuses for emergencies and. . . to become valuable resources to serve the communities which have given so much to them,”5 provides an overview of emergency management best practices, brief case studies, important liability and financial considerations, a section on forming community partnerships, and a useful curriculum which “focuses on the integration of academic courses with emergency preparation and response activities using the service-learning teaching method.”6 Showcasing excellent examples of community-campus partnerships for crisis management, the included case studies range in focus from immediate response efforts to the development of courses and projects for disaster recovery and mitigation. A thoughtful and prescient guide to how colleges and universities should prepare for and respond to disasters, the study discussed here asked “What really happened?” even in cases where communities and campuses underperformed in meeting the needs at hand. The research described here seeks to illuminate the ways in which higher education institutions have responded solely to natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, floods, tropical storms, wildfires, etc.) in their own communities and beyond over the 8

past ten years. It should be noted that within the emergency management lexicon, “response” is defined as a short-term phase immediately after a disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released a National Response Framework that defines response as “actions to save lives, protect property and the environment, stabilize communities, and meet basic human needs following an incident” and “the execution of emergency plans and actions to support short-term recovery.” 7 What is referred to as “response” throughout this paper applies more generally to the ways in which an institution supported community efforts to handle a disaster’s aftermath, including,

but not limited to, the timeframe immediately after the event. Much of the information solicited from institutions for this study asked questions about their response, recovery, and mitigation efforts, all of which were considered “response” in the more commonly used sense of the word. Institutions were asked: how they responded to natural disasters; what types of community supports were offered; what barriers they confronted in attempting to respond; how they changed as a result; and most importantly, what was learned from these experiences. Based on the findings from a survey of fifteen colleges and universities that were responsive after a natural disaster (including several from NYMAPS), this article outlines:

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

(1) the structural issues and other challenges confronted; (2) the actions taken (grouped into categories) and examples of each; (3) the units, offices, and divisions responsible; (4) the findings drawn from the data; and (5) the recommendations based on lessons learned. While higher education’s response to natural disasters has often been significant, the outcomes cited here dictate a need for more strenuous preparation, for which it is hoped this study proves useful.

Table 1: Natural Disasters Reported on by Participating Institutions

Description of Institutions Data was collected from fifteen colleges and universities that varied greatly along a number of institutional characteristics. The electronic and paper survey responses indicate that seven of the surveyed institutions are located in metropolitan areas of at least 200,000 people, while the remaining eight are in communities of fewer than 50,000. Six institutions are private, while nine are public. According to the Carnegie Classification system,8 one is considered an Associate’s college, one is a Baccalaureate/Associate’s college, six are Master’s colleges or universities, and five are considered research universities. Regarding student enrollment, seven can be considered small (2,000–8,500 students), five are medium sized (8,501–15,500 students), and three are large (15,501–30,000 students). Although most institutions are concentrated in the Northeast, several are located in other areas across the country. These institutions differ greatly in size and focus, yet each attempted to address community needs after a major natural disaster.

Graph 1

Findings The main selection criterion for inclusion in this study was some level of institutional response to a natural disaster occurring within the last ten years. According to the returned surveys, most of the colleges/universities (80%) responded to hurricanes and/or tropical storms and related flooding (see Table 1). One responded to wildfires, while two (13%) supported a variety of ongoing international crises caused by natural disasters. Six of the institutions (40%) offered a degree, certificate, minor or certification in emergency management or a closely related field at the time of the disaster to which their institution responded.

Findings— Response Efforts The fifteen participating institutions were asked to provide information about how they

responded to the particular disaster that they identified. Most (11, or 73%) indicated that they recruited volunteers (see Graph 1) who conducted resource drives and fundraisers; delivered items to those impacted; cleaned out and rebuilt houses; cleaned up debris and grounds; prepared and served meals; distributed resources; consoled, entertained, and served residents living in shelters; and conducted many of their own projects designed to assist disaster victims. Eleven of the institutions (73%) reported that they collected and/or provided resources to support these efforts. The resources included: tools and equipment; trucks; transportation; supplies (e.g., clothing, cleaning supplies, baby supplies, toys, housewares, water, and lighting materials); funds (including money from the institution, donations, grants, and student service trip fees); printed counseling information; printed contact information for relief and 9

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

supply centers; the time of faculty and other employees; and student guidance, supervision and education. In terms of academic integration, some institutions were able to provide support through credit-bearing courses. Seven (47%) reported that they incorporated disaster-related service into at least one existing academic course (although six of these were rather vague and did not identify any specific courses when asked). Three (20%) indicated that they developed a new academic course that provided support for communities affected by the disaster. Aside from its human resources, one of a college’s greatest assets is its (sometimes expansive) infrastructure. Five colleges or universities (33%) reported that their campuses served as temporary emergency shelters for those impacted by the disaster; obviously, all of these were in close proximity to the impacted areas. Four (27%) indicated that their campuses served as emergency response posts or headquarters during the disaster, and an equal number reported that their campuses functioned as centers or supports for communications during and immediately after the event. Finally, five of the institutions (33%) reported that they conducted studies that

in emergency management or a closely related field and those without such programs. Â Institutions offering academic programs in emergency response and management more often reported that they collected and/or provided resources, conducted studies, and served as emergency posts. Schools without related academic programs were more likely to report that they recruited volunteers, supported their response within academic courses (naming the specific classes), and supported emergency communications. One third of both sets of institutions reported that they served as temporary emergency shelters during the crisis. As one might expect, closer proximity to the catastrophic events increased the likelihood that institutions of higher education became involved as well as the extent of their involvement. All seven institutions in close proximity to the disasters (within 50 miles) responded in at least two ways (except one that was itself severely damaged during the disaster), while only 50% of those more distant responded at that level. On average those in closer proximity responded through 3.5 means, while those further away only responded through 1.8 means. The units and divisions within the institutions that were involved in the responses

Obstacles included lack of communications, limitations posed by the academic calendar, slow decision-making processes, and a lack of process for dispersing funds and supplies to appropriate organizations.

were useful in understanding and/or addressing current needs or preparing for/mitigating the impact of future events. All of those who responded in this way were classified as either Master’s colleges/universities or research universities. Interestingly, there were significant differences in the types of efforts reported between schools with academic programs (i.e., degrees, certificates, minors, or certifications) 10

varied considerably. When asked which divisions were engaged, out of all fifteen institutions, thirteen (87%) reported that their Division of Student Affairs participated; nine (60%) named Academic Affairs; seven (47%) indicated Administrative Affairs; three (20%) reported that External Affairs was involved; and only one named their Division of Research. Those institutions that do not offer academic programs in emergency response or

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

management reported much more often that a center or institute charged with increasing volunteerism, service-learning, or community engagement was involved in the disaster response effort (67%), compared with those that do offer this type of academic program (17%). Also, as one would expect, all seven of the colleges and universities that indicated a community center was involved, reported that they recruited and engaged volunteers in response to the disaster.

Findings— Obstacles Thirteen of the fifteen survey participants (87%) indicated that they faced challenges while attempting to respond to the disaster. Many described obstacles that resulted from the bureaucratic nature of their institutions, which made it difficult to respond immediately on a large scale. These obstacles included: the lack of communication and cooperation across campus (“disconnection” and “silos”);9 limitations imposed by the academic calendar; slow university action review and decisionmaking processes; and the lack of a process for dispersing funds and supplies to the appropriate organizations. These and other limitations hampered the ability of campuses to act quickly to address a number of logistical problems, such as: the lack of transportation to affected areas (and prohibitive cost in time and money), the lack of financial support, the lack of needed supplies and equipment, the difficulty in recruiting enough staff to supervise evacuees around the clock; and difficulty in locating alternative facilities and housing on and off campus (somewhat due to the extensive damage across the region), among other problems. A number of the institutions also indicated that their work was hindered by the lack of effective university relationships with other organizations and agencies. More specifically, it was difficult to stay informed of community needs and collaborate when few individuals on campus knew how to contact or work with response and service agencies. Also, some found it difficult to coordinate efforts with FEMA and the American Red Cross, which did not seem to welcome or work well with college volunteers; others had more positive experiences. Finally, some were unable to rely on community infrastructure, either because it never existed or because it was greatly damaged by the disaster. Managing student volunteers when their skills and interests did not match well with community needs created a problem for some institutions. Also, a few of those colleges that were not in close proximity found that it was challenging to maintain student enthusiasm to

participate as time passed. The obstacles were greatest for those institutions (at least three) that were directly impacted by the disasters. While addressing their own needs and those of their own students, the affected institutions found it challenging to also respond to community needs in the short-term. In addition to sustaining physical damage to facilities and buildings, one institution was forced to close for an extended period. This university, which was impacted most severely, provided limited support as they lacked the necessary facilities, students, faculty, and staff to respond. Finally, one institution reported that it faced so many obstacles that it was unable to directly participate, aside from providing limited resources and engaging in a study afterwards. Almost all other institutions reported that they were fairly to very successful in addressing the obstacles.

Findings— Institutional Change When asked if steps were taken to modify their institution in any way due to their involvement in disaster response, six colleges and universities (40%) reported that they did not change. The other nine indicated that their direct involvement did, indeed, result in modifications to their campuses. These modifications included: • an increased number of connections to community-based organizations, groups, and other partners at the national and local levels; • taking a more active role in community issues related to public education; • streamlining the process for disbursing funds and other resources to outside organizations; • increasing directed donations toward disaster response; • purchasing additional campus vehicles; • assessing and revising their own emergency response plan; • expanding disaster response efforts to other parts of the world; • increasing long-term recovery work; • hosting alternative breaks for visiting teams of students from other colleges; • establishing a student action group to help organize relief and rebuilding efforts; • establishing a student component of the local Community Emergency Response Team; and • collaboration between academic affairs and student affairs to teach volunteering skills to students. Finally, the university that was itself severely impacted by the disaster experienced a signifi11

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

cant reduction of student enrollment, due to population loss. The only pattern found here among participating institutions was that a slightly higher percentage of private schools, as compared to public ones, answered in the affirmative that they had undergone some type of institutional change as a result of their involvement in the disaster.

Recommendations Based on the study findings and our own experiences responding to natural disasters, we have identified a number of ways for universities and colleges to prepare to assist in advance of an emergency of this nature. First, they can thoroughly read the Ready Campus Manual10 and review and revise relevant practices and policies at their own institutions. The manual provides a good general understanding of emergency management, the risks involved, service-learning course syllabi, and many examples of how to effectively engage campuses to address some of the more immediate and longer-term needs. Those institutions with past experience responding to disasters (e.g., those located in communities that have faced multiple events) have already worked out many of the challenges and tend to be more able and adept in responding quickly. Even if they have not previously responded to a natural disaster, however, colleges and universities may still prepare to act immediately, should the need arise. One vital first step is to reduce the potential bureaucratic obstacles before a natural catastrophe. As suggested in the Ready Campus Manual, it is important to identify a number of knowledgeable and skilled people from different divisions across campus who will work as a team to lead efforts to respond.11 Included on this team should be those from the top decision-making level (who also handle resource allocations), as well as those who will carry out critical functions (such as recruiting and supervising voluntary service). There must be agreement across campus that, should a community crisis arise, this group’s authority will supersede the usual slow-acting college/university review and decision-making processes. This team must work together in advance to avert the potential obstacles identified by colleges and universities above. Initial steps should be taken to: (1) identify/establish a funding source that is readily available for the purchase of protective equipment (e.g., masks, gloves, and hazmat suits) and other necessary resources; (2) develop a plan for transporting volunteers, equipment, and supplies to impacted areas; (3) create an academic service-learning course rubric for disaster response (either department-specific or campus-wide) that allows for rapid utiliza12

tion within weeks if the need arises; and (4) establish a strategy for maintaining effective communication among all campus members and community partners. It is also very helpful to develop an informational website, updated hourly, that contains details on community needs (for resources and direct assistance), directions specifying how students and campus employees can help, available transportation, and important contacts and electronic links. All campuses already maintain an emergency response plan that outlines specific actions for when a natural or man-made crisis occurs on campus. The response team discussed here will also need to develop a plan to address the courses of action and responsible parties should a disaster occur in areas away from campus, keeping it current as specifics and people change over time. A list of key community people and organizations relevant to and knowledgeable regarding response efforts, as well as their contact information, should be gathered. Often, communities already have a network of agencies and organizations that are prepared to respond and support impacted communities; the challenge is to identify and connect with them. These could include the local Red Cross, Salvation Army, faith-based organizations active during disasters, United Way, and municipal and nonprofit committees and groups. Meetings with those already poised for just such an occurrence is helpful in establishing working relationships and developing strategies to effectively utilize college/ university students, personnel and resources. Some topics and challenges that could be discussed with these groups include: types of activities in which students are able to participate, as well as those in which they absolutely cannot (due to the risk or their lack of expertise); training and supervision of volunteers in community settings; addressing the physical and emotional needs of students and others who witness tragedies first-hand; and the possible use of campus facilities to serve as a temporary shelter and its supervision. It is critical that a mutually-respectful, collaborative approach between campus and community be used in planning for natural disaster response and recovery. The community likely includes experienced experts who can help guide the development of the campus response plan and advise how to best apply the college’s human, physical, intellectual, and financial resources. Establishing effective strategies with knowledgeable community partners before the crisis will improve the efficiency and reduce redundancy in the chaotic environment always present after a natural disaster. The integration of planning efforts, practices, and processes will help achieve the mission that everyone shares—the rapid recovery of the community and its residents.

Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

Conclusion In 2005, we had the 100-year flood. And in 2006, we had the 500year flood. What-year flood is this? —Binghamton resident Stacy Gould, New York Times 201112 In 2006, Broome County, New York (the location of Binghamton University—the institution where this study was based), experienced what was termed a “500-year flood.” In 2011, the region flooded again, this time on a scale never before recorded. As Binghamton resident Stacey Gould’s quote elucidates, one should never dismiss the possibility that a natural disaster could strike—even if its repeated occurrence within a short timeframe seems unlikely. Having dealt with disastrous flooding in the recent past, Broome County was fortunate to have already established an infrastructure made up of nonprofit organizations, government agencies, church networks, educational institutions, and concerned citizens who immediately convened when the most recent flooding struck in September 2011. Without this organizing response and recovery group, which is known as a Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), coordinating volunteers, allocating resources, and communicating needs across sectors would have been significantly more challenging.13 The scale and speed at which Binghamton University responded was in large measure due to information and resources shared through this COAD. It should be noted that many

communities lack COADs and not all higher education institutions have an emergency management professional on staff to coordinate their school’s internal response when disasters strike. To be eligible for federally sponsored disaster mitigation and relief resources, state and local governments are required to have plans for coordinating emergencies14; however, the same is obviously not required of individual citizens, or for that matter, individual higher education institutions. Furthermore, research shows that publicity campaigns aimed at moving citizens to action regarding disaster preparedness have not been particularly effective or well promoted.15 In fact, “public surveys show that most Americans recognize the importance of preparedness—but there is a great disconnect between thoughts and actions, as very few people actually take effective steps to prepare for potential disasters.”16 As evidenced by recent catastrophes on the Gulf Coast, government agencies cannot always respond as quickly as necessary to people in very dire need, “hence, disaster preparedness is not only wise, but also a vital civic responsibility,”17 and one which, as institutions with missions that espouse the importance of civic engagement, colleges and universities are compelled to act upon. There is no doubt that when natural disasters engulf communities, response plans can become difficult to execute without fault. Unexpected complications may arise which have the potential to momentarily slow progress but, on the whole, higher education institutions can be very effective at curbing the long-term negative impacts of natural

It is critical that a mutually-respectful, collaborative approach between campus and community be used in planning for natural disaster response and recovery.


Campuses as Community Partners During Disaster

disasters on their communities. If colleges and universities are able to reduce their internal bureaucratic obstacles and act in conjunction with their community partners by integrating response and recovery plans, decision-making, and action, their role as valuable partners in the aftermath of catastrophic natural disasters will be greatly advanced.



1. David F. Shaffer and David J. Wright, A New Paradigm for Economic Development (Albany: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, 2010) 2. A list of these programs can be found at the website for FEMA’s Higher Education Emergency Management Institute: 3. Carrie Williams Howe, “Higher Education as a Partner in Disaster Response: Exploring Campus Response to Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont,” (this publication). 4. College Misericordia, Pennsylvania Campus Compact, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Red Cross, and the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security, Ready Campus Manual ( pdf) 5. Ibid.,2 6. Ibid., 46 7. US Department of Homeland Security, National Response Framework (2013), 1: media-­library-­data/20130726-­1914-­25045-­1246/final_national_response_framework_20130501.pdf 8. 9. There is probably a lack of information sharing across campuses so that different divisions, offices, and other units have little information about what others are doing. Respondents have likely reported what they have more direct knowledge of and did not answer or were vague in response to questions regarding actions taken by other entities across their campuses. 10. 11. This team does not duplicate or replace the function of the Emergency Response Manager and others charge with maintaining a safe campus. The team is charged with leading the institution’s response to the needs of others off-­campus. 12. Cory Kilgannon, “Flooding Persists in Southern Tier of New York,” New York Times, September 9, 2011, accessed January 29, 2014. 13. If your community is without an active COAD, it is possible to connect with your state or territory’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) at National VOADs, to which local and state VOADs belong, is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership-­‐based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities” ( 14. Disaster Mitigation Act 2000, US Congress. 15. I.M.D. Redlener and D.A. Berman. “National Preparedness Planning: The Historical Context and Current State of the U.S. Public’s Readiness, 1940–2005,” Journal of International Affairs 59.2 (2006): 87–103. 16. Claude H. Miller, Bradley J. Adame and Scott D. Moore, “Vested Interest Theory and Disaster Preparedness,” Disasters 37.1 (2013): 2. 17. Ibid., 11

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP) How a Small Voluntary Association Uses Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) to Enhance Community Resilience KATHERINE K. CHEN CAROLYN ENGLISH

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)



rior studies have argued that social ties cultivated via organizations can enhance community resilience (i.e., a community’s ability to weather crises and support individuals). Understanding what organizations can do to cultivate and strengthen such ties before, during, and after disasters requires more research. Learning how to sustain such organizations is also important. This paper discusses one group’s efforts to enhance community resilience and set up a sustainable organization called the Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP), a small, community-based voluntary association located in a low-tomoderate-income housing complex in New York City. Drawing on ethnographic research of organizing activities conducted by an organizational sociologist between 2012 and 2013 and community-based participatory research (CBPR) efforts undertaken with the founder and director of CAP, this paper examines CAP’s organizing activities before and after a major disaster: October 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. We show how CBPR can help small voluntary associations like CAP to more systematically focus reflexive activities. With CBPR, rather than mindlessly follow routines or externally imposed guidelines, groups such as CAP can continually examine issues, introduce organizing activities that respond to emergent needs, document activities, and forecast future needs. These activities promote community resilience by establishing bonds prior to potential disasters and establish a basis for flexible and generative organizing that can respond to disasters ranging in impact from small to system-wide. We conclude with recommendations about how researchers and organizations can undertake CBPR.

Introduction Recent natural disasters have revealed how vulnerable neighborhoods are to even temporary hardships. Prior studies have argued that social ties cultivated via organizations can enhance community resilience, (i.e., a community’s ability to weather crises and support individuals). Communities with higher resilience recover from disasters more quickly than those with lower resilience,1 indicating how ties among persons and groups are crucial to effective disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. Understanding what organizations can do to cultivate and strengthen such bonding activities before, during, and after disasters requires more research. Learning how to sustain such organizations is also important. This paper discusses one group’s efforts to enhance community resilience and set up a sustainable organization. The Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP) is a small, community-based voluntary association located in a multilingual, ethnically diverse, low-to-moderate-income housing complex in New York City (NYC). In 2003, Carolyn English, a registered nurse, started working on a community health issue at the request of her housing complex’s then board president. Because of her medical expertise, English was tasked with addressing the alarming number of elderly residents—from 15 to 22 a year—who died alone in their homes in the aftermath of 9/11.2 The complex, which was built in 1965 and welcomed its first residents in 1967, has become a naturally occurring retirement community. That is, the majority of residents were aged 65 or older and were aging in place rather than moving to retirement homes or nursing 16

facilities. Such residents needed support because infirmities complicate self-care activities, otherwise known as the activities of daily living (ADLs), including dressing and preparing meals. Over the years, CAP has offered health education, exercise classes, and recreational activities intended to engage and re-integrate socially isolated residents into the larger community. Drawing on the ethnographic research of organizing activities conducted by an organizational sociologist between 2012 and 2013 and community-based participatory research (CBPR) efforts undertaken with the founder and director of CAP, this paper examines CAP’s organizing activities before and after one major disaster with widespread impact, October 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. In particular, we discuss how CBPR has helped focus CAP’s efforts. In CBPR, a research partner and community partner team together to co-design and co-undertake a research project that addresses both partners’ aims and concerns.3 Superstorm Sandy provided an unanticipated natural experiment for studying disaster recovery and disaster preparedness efforts. We show how CBPR can help small voluntary associations like CAP to more systematically focus reflexive activities. With CBPR, rather than mindlessly follow routines or externally imposed guidelines, groups such as CAP can continually examine issues, revamp organizing activities that respond to emergent needs, document activities, and forecast future needs. These activities promote community resilience by establishing bonds prior to potential disasters and setting a basis

Key words community-based participatory research, disaster preparedness, disaster recovery, organizations

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

for flexible and generative organizing that can respond to disasters ranging in impact from small to systemwide. We conclude with recommendations about how researchers and organizations can undertake CBPR. This research can help practitioners and researchers understand how small organizations can strengthen the resilience of communities, as well as how CBPR can help promote the development and further the goals of community-based organizations. In addition, this study answers the call for more research on small organizations and collectivities, which have not been well represented in organizational research,4 particularly in disaster research.5 Small organizations are defined as including groups that lack paid staff and are volunteer-run. Because of their relative youth, size, and capacity, they may not have formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization.6 How small, community-based organizations could help with disaster preparedness and recovery In the United States, more people are living alone than before,7 suggesting changes in the types and number of social ties connecting persons. These changes have implications for individual and collective outcomes, including health and well-being. For example, meta-analyses of studies that examined relationships between social ties and mortality rates have revealed that those who have fewer social connections have higher mortality rates than those who have more social connections.8 Disasters such as heatwaves show how vulnerable socially isolated persons are, as help may not reach them in time.9 When the state and hospitals respond, their efforts may be coordinated too late. During the 2003 French heatwave, delays in emergency and medical response contributed to the deaths of 14,802 persons—mostly elderly residing in cities—from hyperthermia.10 Such outcomes suggest that decentralized, local activity may be crucial to preparing for disasters and recovering after disasters. In this vein, several policymakers have called for greater coordination with local organizations and promoted “neighbor helping neighbor” efforts.11 However, past research has shown how the state and its agents, such as the police and large organizations, have ignored or even suppressed emergent local efforts, citing security concerns. This suggests that the state and other entities do not yet fully recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of small, community-based organizations and informal arrangements. To interact with the state and other groups, smaller and less conventional organizations often experience internal and external pressures to adopt certain organizing practices that may not be appropriate for their

mission or size and that are incompatible with other practices.12 This is particularly problematic for community-based organizations that do not have the resources, expertise, or interest in emulating expected practices. The lack of coordination among a wider variety of organizations and the state is puzzling because experts contend that we should expect disasters on regular basis, rather than as infrequent occurrences.13 Instead of depending upon the state to spearhead action, especially because disaster plans are likely to be inapplicable, experts recommend that individuals coordinate with people in their vicinity—namely, colleagues and neighbors.14 Community-based organizations can facilitate those ties prior to disasters and offer the basis for immediate, coordinated action during disasters and recovery periods. But how can such organizations learn to prepare for disasters? Moreover, what conditions can support such learning? How to support CBPR with community-based organizations that are small and do not rely upon conventional bureaucratic organizing practices requires more study.

Community-based organizations can facilitate those ties prior to disasters and offer the basis for immediate, coordinated action during disasters and recovery periods.

Lessons learned from past disaster preparations and recovery Lessons shared from recent disaster experiences have emphasized how organizations should both perform advanced rational planning and adapt to unfolding circumstances. Some organizations can implement simpler steps immediately, like keeping an up-to-date emergency contact list15 and an inventory list for insurance claims.16 Other efforts involve more complex contingency planning to compensate for downed headquarters, communication systems,17 power, and pharmacies.18 Recommendations underscore organizational creativity, flexibility, and responsiveness to emergent needs. In particular, organizations may have to suspend rules and routines that work well in stable and predictable environments, but that are ill suited for rapidly changing environments. For example, after a disaster, a library became a community site that offered social services. It suspended standard operating procedures to assist patrons in need, thereby building “the support and good-will needed” for recovery.19 After a Superstorm Sandy-inflicted power outage necessitated the evacuation of NYC’s Bellevue Hospital Center, personnel moved more than 700 patients, including those needing hand-pumped ventilators, from up to 17 flights of stairs. Able-bodied patients assisted staff teams with transferring the bedbound,20 showing how seemingly unlikely volunteers can be recruited to assist others. Other challenges require activating a pre-existing organizational infrastructure and community network. Managers of trans17

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

portation agencies made informal agreements across their organizations to pool efforts in the event of a disaster.21 However, because these arrangements are informal, these agreements may dissolve with the inevitable personnel turnover, requiring new personnel to reestablish such links. Even if organizational members are willing to collectively pool efforts towards a common cause, they note barriers to knowledge-sharing. For example, professionals have expressed fears about bothering colleagues at more “elite” organizations and exposing themselves to potential liability for information shared in collective forums such as listservs.22 If effectively addressing complex issues is a priority, we need to surmount known stumbling blocks. For instance, experts have urged devoting greater attention to mental health access in the workplace and community at large. Post-disaster, more persons will need mental health services because of distress over the loss of homes, livelihoods, and posttraumatic stress disorder triggered by disaster experiences.23 Moreover, those with preexisting mental illnesses face more challenges than usual in following treatment plans.24 Structural challenges to CBPR’s role in disaster preparedness and recovery CBPR may play a role in orienting organizations to disaster preparedness and recovery, as researchers seek to share their expertise and learn from practitioners. In particular, CBPR may bridge the gap between research and policy by enabling partners to identify and target key actors that design and enact policy.25 However, conducting CBPR involves several challenges. Prior CBPR projects have documented the challenges of matching research and community partners and supporting research partners with sufficient research time to perform CBPR, which requires more time and labor than conventional research projects.26 In addition, institutions that are particularly reliant on “soft money” or grants may find CBRP an unattractive endeavor because of the time, labor, and other resources needed, suggesting that dedicated resources would encourage CBPR activities. 27 Proponents have identified systemic changes needed to support CBPR, including refashioning university tenure and promotion guidelines to reward CBPR and supporting personnel via fellowships. 28 Rationalization tendencies at certain universities—where researchers are assessed based on grants won, papers published and cited, patents filed, and other quantifiable measures29—suggest potentially hostile environments to CBPR endeavors, unless universities incorporate CBPR as part of their distinctive identity.30 18

Methods Establishment of relations prior to CBPR project In the fall of 2011, the two CBPR partners for this project met by chance at two meetings of two different umbrella organizations composed of representatives from local organizations that serve or advocate for older adults.31 Chen, an organizational sociologist, had been attending and observing these meetings for her research on how organizations approach aging issues. When English heard Chen briefly describe her research project, she invited Chen to observe CAP in the hopes that a researcher could help her learn more about what CAP could do to sustain its efforts. After several discussions with English about what this would involve, Chen conducted intensive ethnographic observations of CAP’s activities from January 2012 through December 2013. Her observations focused on the management of volunteers and six semesters of a clinical class in the urban nursing program at CityTech, CUNY that was hosted on-site as part of the CAP program. Research site Although CAP has not yet legally incorporated as a nonprofit organization, it is run and staffed by a small volunteer corps. Some volunteers are bilingual, with Russian, Spanish, Chinese, and other language proficiencies, reflecting the resident population’s primary languages. As a small voluntary organization, CAP has relied upon donated labor and resources, including space at its host residential complex. Its founding was supported by a small grant and assistance from other organizations—including the United Jewish Council and the now-defunct Cabrini Hospital. CAP has since established informal and formal partnerships with other organizations, including local universities, which provide

CBPR may bridge the gap between research and policy by enabling partners to identify and target key actors that design and enact policy.

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

in-kind services such as home visits and nutrition classes. To achieve its efforts, CAP works with several actors in its organizational field. Because of CAP’s location in a housing complex, relations with the complex’s management company and cooperative board—both of which have experienced turnover in terms of personnel and elected officers—have shaped the kinds of activities undertaken by CAP. The management company oversees repairs and security at the complex, and the complex’s cooperative corporation consists of shareholders and a shareholder-elected board. CAP also works with local elected officials, several local universities’ health services programs, healthcare providers, local businesses, and local community-based organizations that advocate and/or contract with the government to provide human services. Learning about CBPR practices During the fall of 2012, Chen and English applied to a CBPR workshop program run by the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service, now the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, at the City College of New York, CUNY. After completing an application, undergoing an interview, and being accepted into the program, the partners participated in sessions and individual meetings with Powell Center personnel about how to undertake CBPR. Undertaking CBPR At CAP, Chen not only continued to take extensive field notes on organizing efforts and experiences, but also worked with English on a potential CBPR focus. We regularly discussed CAP activities and CBPR efforts in person, by phone, and by email, with English forwarding information on CAP (e.g., fliers). When possible, we also attended meetings of umbrella organizations serving older adults, workshops, and conference presentations, which provided more ideas for community programming for the community partner and helped the research partner understand different perspectives of those working on these issues. This paper distills our CBPR experiences based on field notes and multiple discussions of efforts, with reflections on implications for CBPR in other organizations.

Findings Conduct of CBPR Using a CBPR template provided by the Colin Powell Center, the partners had several discussions during fall 2011 and spring 2012 about possible research questions for a CBPR project and about what research methodologies, stakeholders, and resources would be involved. Both agreed that the project needed to integrate

both partners’ strengths and interests. The research partner could offer skills and expertise in organizations and the community partner was interested in creating an organization that could continue to operate after her retirement. Thus, we focused our initial CBPR proposal on the sustainability of CAP as an organization, including documenting CAP’s efforts. During fall 2012, the partners refined the project’s focus because of Superstorm Sandy, an unexpected exogenous event. In general, CAP’s efforts can be categorized into three types: (1) planned, regular activities; (2) responses to emergent issues and disasters; and (3) advocacy work. Some activities are planned in advance and run according to a schedule. For example, as part of their community nursing class, nurses provide health education and make referrals to health and social service professionals, as needed, via face-to-face consultations and health fairs. CAP volunteers visit residents who are socially isolated or homebound and organize regular recreational activities and events that bring together residents. Other CAP activities involve responding to situations, crises, and disasters as they arise. These include addressing concentrated issues affecting individuals or families and mass disasters that span the city and even national boundaries. As English has described, CAP’s efforts “turn on a dime” by quickly shifting attention to emerging issues. For example, a fire sparked by a portable heater destroyed one apartment, severely damaged immediately surrounding units, and killed one family’s pets. Besides immediately tending to residents who had descended to another building’s lobby, away from the fire, CAP worked with the management office to help a displaced family temporarily relocate to another apartment. CAP also coordinated donations to help them and other affected families replace destroyed furniture. In addition, CAP connected distressed families with other resources, including the American Red Cross, and checked on residents’ well-being in the ensuing weeks. Similarly, when a nearby community center’s air conditioning broke during a July 2013 heatwave, closing their cooling center for local residents, CAP set up a temporary cooling center with bottled water and an airconditioned space. Having such a back-up site was important for minimizing the incidence of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, as not all residents have air conditioners or the ability to pay for the electricity to power air conditioning. In addition, older adults may not remember to drink enough water, risking dehydration (especially when taking medications). Additionally, CAP has taken on advocacy work on neighborhood-wide issues such as gentrification and the loss of affordable

In general, CAP’s efforts can be categorized into three types: planned, regular activities; responses to emergent issues and disasters; and advocacy work.


Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

housing. Within the housing complex, CAP has educated shareholders who are unfamiliar with their rights and responsibilities in their housing cooperative’s matters. Moreover, CAP has kept track of proposed changes to policies that affect the cooperative’s ownership structure, such as what happens if a shareholder moves to nursing home. In addition, CAP has referred residents to resources that help defray rising monthly maintenance payments, rental costs, and medical expenses. Such needs underscore what English has dubbed a metaphorical “storm arising,” one that threatens to undercut community resilience: the simultaneous erosion of affordable housing and increased living costs. CAP’s resulting endeavors underscore the program’s immediacy and responsiveness to community needs. Using CBPR for post-Superstorm Sandy recovery The October 2012 Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath posed the most visible challenge with its scale and duration. In general, some NYC residents were caught off-guard, as they had underestimated the severity of the superstorm given the previous year’s comparatively tame Hurricane Irene. In addition, residents experienced confusion over newly implemented policies. For example, during Superstorm Sandy, which was expected to hit during high tide, CAP had to notify one building’s residents that they were no longer in the area designated as a mandatory evacuation zone. After the storm, the entire housing complex experienced weeklong electrical, heat, water, and communication outages due to flooding at a utility plant, corrosion to copper wires for telephone systems, and other damage. These outages stranded residents who had difficulties navigating multiple flights of darkened stairwells. Some residents ran out of prescription medications, including those that needed refrigeration (such as insulin for diabetes). Electrical outages and storm damage had also closed surrounding hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets, and other amenities. To help residents, CAP inquired about medical facilities and amenities open elsewhere. To coordinate activities, CAP set up a temporary ground-level office at the housing complex that had a working landline, with English serving as a trained first responder who could coordinate efforts during emergencies.32 Throughout the week, English, other CAP volunteers, and co-op board members coordinated with several organizations, including the complex’s management office, police, and fire department, to evacuate several residents to medical facilities that could accept them. These efforts involved complex negotiations about who had the expertise and authority to make certain decisions to be executed by other 20

entities. For example, at post-Sandy meetings of CAP and other organizations serving older adults, English recounted a discussion with a fire chief about whether to evacuate an elderly, homebound resident. The resident’s top-floor apartment was damaged, with windows that

were broken by the storm, and the resident had run out of the refrigerated medication required to manage a chronic illness. Although a volunteer doctor had strongly recommended evacuating the resident to a care facility given the apartment and health conditions, the fire chief was because the resident did not want to leave. When English pointed out that the fire chief could either evacuate the resident now or break down the door later for a dead or dying resident, he agreed to evacuate the person immediately rather than wait.33 This and other negotiations indicated how management offices, co-op boards, and the state’s agents have not yet addressed who has decision-making authority and how to coordinate group efforts under this decisionmaker. As a first responder, English used her expert opinion and local knowledge to decide appropriate steps that impact individuals’ well-being. However, she needed other groups to agree with and act upon her decisions. How to handle decision-making suggests one crucial area that needs to be addressed if the state depends on local efforts to enact disaster preparation and recovery. During the power outage, CAP also worked with local elected officials, the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and surrounding community-based organizations. For example, a councilperson worked with CAP to ensure that residents who needed prescription medications could refill them at pharmacies that were open in other areas and in hospitals. In addition, CAP managed an influx of 120 volunteers who climbed up to 21 floors to

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

check on residents and distribute supplies such as water, batteries, and blankets. While some residents were able to temporarily relocate to the homes of relatives and friends, others remained in their own residences, relying upon volunteers for help and neighbors to share meals cooked on gas stoves. To residents’ relief, power to CAP’s housing complex was restored after a long, dark, and cold week. CAP’s efforts continued, shifting into disaster recovery and preparedness. When contacted by Chen in the days after Superstorm Sandy, Genéa Stewart at the Powell Center put CAP into contact with University Settlement, a local organization. Under a contract with FEMA, teams from University Settlement knocked on doors and offered mental health counseling for local residents in the year after the disaster. CAP integrated this program with its community nursing outreach program with nurses from CityTech, CUNY, during the spring 2013 and summer 2013 semesters. In the months after the superstorm, both research and community partners attended meetings on disaster recovery and preparedness that refocused CAP’s educational efforts for its staff and residents, as well as its community nursing program’s nurses. In anticipation of future disasters, English added disaster preparedness of residents and volunteers to CAP’s educational program. She and a volunteer, another registered nurse, underwent additional orientation and training conducted by the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM). CAP’s community nursing program undertook disaster preparedness as part of educational outreach efforts for the fall 2013 semester, when hurricane season resumed. In addition, CAP diversified volunteer recruitment with an intergenerational, multilingual corps of volunteers and interns. English realized that recruiting volunteers of all ages is necessary for effective disaster preparedness and recovery. Younger volunteers have physical stamina and technological know-how that can complement the experiences and expertise of older volunteers. A diverse volunteer corps also may be able to sustain CAP as activities evolve with community needs. Besides triggering changes for study, Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath provided the research partner with an unexpected opportunity to learn how to inquire about the community partner’s needs and teach research skills. About nine months after Superstorm Sandy, the research and community partners discussed what had and had not been done in regard to lessons learned. The community partner wanted her organization to learn how to record and analyze data to better target services and to generate statistics for internal

and external record-keeping. Although she had several conversations with the research partner and another organization’s representative about record-keeping in general in the past, she felt that it was time to use CBPR to help CAP analyze efforts after this particular exogenous shock, as well as prepare for future disasters. Developing a database for current and future CBPR efforts After several more discussions with community stakeholders, including organizations that partner with CAP, the research and community partners decided to focus efforts on documenting the numbers of residents served via CAP. Although the community partner had collected handwritten records, she had not tallied figures or presented these for internal or external use. While explaining what a database could do, the research partner explained possibilities for recognizing, categorizing, and counting issues for disaster preparedness and recovery. These included requests for translation help, as well as health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, recovery from recent surgery, etc., that require more concerted monitoring. During these discussions, the community partner outlined several objectives to pursue, such as flagging households with high needs—with residents’ permission—for extra attention during future disasters. The research partner discussed different uses of information, such as forecasting statistics and issues for future disasters. For example, another organization had advised that documenting numbers of households served could help, for example, with writing grant applications to fund programs and reports. After these discussions, the community partner developed a mini-project to assess the impact of Superstorm Sandy and how CAP could support residents. She developed a three-question, open-ended survey asking residents how they had been affected, what they needed to prepare for future disasters, and how they would prefer to have information about disaster planning disseminated. As part of their fall 2013 community nursing class, students administered this convenience survey to residents passing through the complex’s common areas and then collectively debriefed their findings in class. During this discussion, the community partner highlighted populations missed by this round of administered surveys—including the homebound and, in particular, Asian-American residents who are not proficient enough in English to answer the survey questions. This provided the community partner and students with a teaching moment about the importance of considering underrepresented populations in research.34 In addition, this mini-project demonstrated the community partner’s aptitude for research.

While explaining what a database could do, the research partner explained possibilities for recognizing, categorizing, and counting issues for disaster preparedness and recovery.


Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

Addressing skills and resources While discussing possible foci with the community partner, the research partner discovered the extent to which the community partner and organization must straddle the digital divide. Although the community partner owned a laptop and had Internet access in the CAP office, she did not yet know how to store and organize electronic files into folders, create a password-protected user account on her computer, or use formulas in a spreadsheet program to tally or categorize numbers. Rather than delve into the details of how to create a database and use other computer applications, the research partner described possibilities, quickly demonstrated software capacities, and provided links to online guides for software applications (e.g., how to use functions such as “track changes” in word-processing documents). The community partner had identified an undergraduate volunteer, who had been recruited by an elder family member, another volunteer, as interested in learning research skills. This volunteer provided help with entering data in a database, in consultation with the research and community partners. Considering trade-offs CBPR facilitated a more consciously reflexive process about how to organize, with discussion of trade-offs that might not otherwise be anticipated and considered. For example, when a student in the summer 2013 community nursing program suggested that CAP develop a website to highlight its mission and achievements, the community partner stated concerns about not having sufficient organizational and technological capacity to maintain a website. Later, the research partner discussed with the community partner the implications of having a website. On the one hand, a website might help CAP with public relations; on the other hand, it might generate a flurry of requests for help or information that the organization may not yet be able to support. With these issues in mind, one CAP volunteer is investigating the feasibility of constructing and hosting a website. During discussions about how the press has covered individual tragedies—such as suicide—and disaster relief in the housing complex, the research partner raised confidentiality concerns for the community partner to consider. To help the community partner understand different perspectives, the research partner compared the stances of health professionals, researchers, and journalists. Such perspectives are not immediately obvious for those who are unfamiliar with the practices and ethics of different professions. Awareness of such divergent viewpoints will allow CAP to craft policies that fit its members’ needs and interests. CBPR has enabled the research and community partners to identify how ramping 22

up efforts in bonding efforts might matter for long-term resilience and recovery. CAP has adopted the standard informational route, but recent events suggest an interesting twist on how to enlarge disaster preparedness outreach. For instance, the New York City OEM has helped “train the trainers” by educating prospective first responders, including nurses, who in turn will educate those who cannot attend such meetings, such as homebound residents. However, even self-aware professionals have admitted aversions to preparing emergency “go bags” for evacuation, which compile information such as contact numbers, and planning meet-up points with family members.35 In part, this may be due to a cultural reluctance to prepare or even entertain worst-case scenarios.36 However, recent activities suggest a possible strategy for surmounting that barrier is helping others in need. After 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan, elderly residents have asked CAP to assist with sending medical supplies via the American Red Cross to devastated areas in the Philippines.37 In addition, CAP will also hold a special outreach session, in cooperation with a partner organization, about mental health support for such transnational communities.38 Such efforts suggest that perhaps by helping others, even those located outside the immediate geographical community, individuals may also promote local resilience. Effective disaster preparation and recovery can grow out of neighbors’ efforts to help others, even across national boundaries. For the future, English would like to examine how bonding activities prior to disasters can provide a basis for maintaining trust among neighbors when everyday routines and arrangements are disrupted or suspended. These may be crucial to maintaining community integrity, particularly among those who are the most vulnerable. For example, she and another nurse have noted that residents who were “temporarily” relocated to longterm care facilities during the superstorm may have lost their apartments and thus may not be able to return home. Neighbor-to-neighbor ties may reduce the likelihood of these scenarios. If someone notices that a resident is missing or is in need of assistance to return home, that resident may be tracked rather than have to fend for themselves. In addition, CBPR fostered more reflexivity concerning community relations. The two partners view CBPR as one way of more formally integrating undergraduate and high school students who want to learn new skills. CBPR offers a more concerted opportunity for the community and research partners to mentor students and help them build community. In addition, the community partner gains familiarity with research methodologies

[B]onding activities prior to disasters can provide a basis for maintaining trust when everyday routines are disrupted.

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

and current developments in research that can reinvigorate efforts while the research partner develops a deeper understanding of community needs and interests. Moreover, CBPR connected CAP with more organizations than before, coordinating efforts and enhancing community resilience via referrals to resources. English has stated that “our work [at CAP] is supported and enhanced by partnerships with other organizations.”39 Instead of fostering a sense of competition, in which local organizations feel pitted against each other for scarce resources, organizations can realize complementary efforts that ultimately serve their community.

What kind of involvement do other partners want?

Discussion: Conditions that Enhanced CBPR

Formalize time to conduct CBPR Moreover, having time to undertake CBPR is important. To conduct this research, the research partner applied for and received an annual course release through her union. This course release reduced her teaching load by one class during one school semester. With a course release, the research partner could conduct observations, write field notes on activities, meet with the community partner and other stakeholders, and draft this paper and related presentations and manuscripts. At research-intensive universities, professors have reduced courseloads that allow concentrated time for research. In contrast, institutions such as CUNY have heavy teaching responsibilities as well as service demands (e.g., serving on departmental, divisional, and university-wide committees) that curtail the intensity and type of research among professors who cannot get course releases for research.41 If working with the community on research is a priority, institutions must be willing to support reduced teaching and service loads. In addition, institutions need resources to support such endeavors. For example, the Colin Powell Center facilitated workshops and conferences that helped acquaint bother partners with CBPR. In addition, both partners need to spend time training and working with volunteers, whose ranks often turnover because of school schedules or individuals’ changing interests. This allocation of time already is challenging for voluntary associations and nonprofit organizations that are short on manpower and have multiple responsibilities to address. Because CBPR offers a real-world context with potential longterm payoffs—namely, building future capacity—this can be an especially rewarding joint activity for both parties. However, both partners need to have regular discussions with volunteers about their involvement with CBPR and address considerations such as whether student volunteers can earn internship credits at their home institutions or have recommendation letters

Here, we reflect on conditions that enhanced our CBPR experience, with the aim of helping other groups anticipate possible issues when undertaking their own CBPR. Establish relations prior to undertaking CBPR In general, some organizational representatives may automatically say “no” when approached about participating in any research endeavors, including traditional research projects. Such “gatekeepers” feel they do not have the capacity to accommodate researchers’ efforts, and they also do not see an immediate short-term benefit to their organizations. They may view research as involving more work without sufficient returns, and they may also cite researcher fatigue, particularly in areas such as NYC where various research institutions and their representatives (in particular, students) are seeking sites to recruit respondents for surveys or enroll persons in medical trials, for instance.40 Thus, an organization’s willingness to embark on such projects is not to be underestimated. Moreover, constant and explicit discussion about what each partner might get out of the experience, as it unfolds, is important. For the authors, having established a relationship before developing a CBPR project was crucial to identifying viable projects. With her already conducted ethnographic research on CAP and the larger field of organizations serving older adults, the research partner was fully immersed in the community partner’s setting and familiar with CAP’s activities. This immersion provided her with both context and a sense of needs and possibilities. In addition, this relationship helped set up boundaries and guidelines with stakeholders as situations arose. For instance, what can a community partner ask of a student who is being supervised by the research partner?


Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

written on their behalf for applications. This is a capacity issue that not all organizations, particularly underresourced ones, are able or willing to handle. Asynchronize priorities and divide responsibilities Another issue concerns prioritization and division of responsibilities. Both partners have to work with stakeholders who often have multiple, divergent interests and may not agree on the relative importance of outcomes and processes to reach these outcomes. For instance, the research partner highly prioritized preparing items for publication according to a regimented, deadline-oriented schedule. The community partner also valued sharing experiences and lessons with a wider public in venues such as these. However, the community partner’s efforts were focused upon emergent matters, such as clients’ needs, that demanded immediate attention. Given these competing demands, partners may have to either implicitly or explicitly agree to work out-of-synch as needed, as well as assume different responsibilities. In this case, the research partner took primary responsibility for the write-up of the paper analyzing CBPR experiences, while the community partner shared relevant references, ideas, and feedback to refine drafts. Revise assumptions and adopt mutualcoaching roles On a related note, one lesson learned for the research partner involved suspending assumptions about capacity. By asking questions about resources and skills, particularly computer literacy and organizational skills, which are otherwise taken for granted, the research partner was able to understand where to target efforts. At times, the research partner adopted an expert coaching role, explaining possible steps and consequences that are not obvious to laypersons. Likewise, the community partner took time to impart local knowledge—that is, tacit information that was not readily accessible to an “outsider”—and formal policies to the research partner, who did not have direct access to these. Learning is a two-way street, as each partner has expertise in certain areas. Encourage connection, reflexivity, and dissemination Although fledging groups view improving organizing as an important priority, in practice, they spend little time reflecting on organizing processes.42 Moreover, lessons learned may not fully disseminate to the wider public. In particular, voluntary organizations find that powerful actors, such as the state and foundations that provide financial support for programs, have expectations about what organizations should do. However, those actors 24

evidence seemingly little awareness or regard for conditions needed to realistically sustain programs and their underlying organizations. Conducting CBPR toward understanding how to sustain organizations can help address this gap. For both authors, undertaking CBPR and working on this paper contributed to an aim of connecting and sharing experiences with the public and other actors. Under traditional research, study designs and publications usually reflect only researchers’ experiences. In comparison, CBPR can forge stronger relations between researchers and communities, enhance the conduct of research, and broaden dissemination. Particularly among under-represented communities, reflecting both partners’ voices is crucial to more fully portraying experiences from multiple perspectives.43 For the two partners, CBPR has facilitated a learning loop beyond both parties and widened understanding of roles vis-à-vis others. For example, CBPR offered the community partner connections with other organizations that might not otherwise be entertained. Similarly, because of immersion into the community, the research partner has acquired a deeper understanding of how the typically divided spheres of research and community can forge more mutually beneficial ties via perspective and information sharing, student intern placements, and other activities. Through the dissemination of this and other findings, CBPR could potentially enhance capacity-building and support for other local organizations. In this way, CBPR can simultaneously help communities enhance resilience while promoting knowledge-building and sharing among researchers, organizations, and communities.

Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)


1. Aldrich, Daniel P. Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2012. 2. Observation of a lower Manhattan umbrella group, December 2, 2011. 3. For an overview of CBPR’s origins and aims, see Minkler, Meredith, “Community-Based Research Partnerships: Challenges and Opportunities,” Journal of Urban Health 82(2) (2005): ii3–ii12. 4. Smith, David Horton, “The Rest of the Nonprofit Sector: Grassroots Associations as the Dark Matter Ignored in Prevailing ‘Flat Earth’ Maps of the Sector,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 26 (1997): 114–131. 5. Lanzara, Giovan Francesco, “Ephemeral Organizations in Extreme Environments: Emergence, Strategy, Extinction,” Journal of Management Studies 20(1) (1983): 71–95. 6. Smith, “The Rest of the Nonprofit Sector: Grassroots Associations as the Dark Matter Ignored in Prevailing ‘Flat Earth’ Maps of the Sector.” 7. Eric Klinenberg, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (New York: Penguin Press, 2012). 8. Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, Timothy B. Smith, and J. Bradley Layton, “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review,” PLosMed 7(7) (2010): e1000316.doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316 9. Klinenberg, Eric, “Dying Alone: The Social Production of Urban Isolation,” Ethnography 2 (2001): 501–531. Eric Klinenberg, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 10. Adrot, Anouck and Jean-Luc Moriceau, “Introducing Performativity to Crisis Management Theory: An Illustration from the 2003 French Heat Wave Crisis Response,” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management 21(1) (2013): 26–44. 11. Armour, Gaston and Hero Tameling, “Collaborative Relationships are Key to Community Resilience and Emergency Preparedness.” Proceedings of the 8th International ISCRAM Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, May 2011. 12. Joyce Rothschild and J. Allen Whitt, The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986). 13. Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1999). 14. Lee Clarke, Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999). Lee Clarke, Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006). 15. Wall, Kay L., “Lessons Learned from Katrina: What Really Matters in a Disaster,” Public Library Quarterly 25 (3/4) (2006): 189–198. 16. Drew, Jeff and Ken Tysiac, “Preparing for Disaster, ” Journal Of Accountancy 215(5) (2013): 26–31. 17. Wall, “Lessons Learned from Katrina: What Really Matters in a Disaster,” 189–198. 18. Redlener, Irwin and Michael J. Reilly, “Lessons from Sandy–Preparing Health Systems for Future Disasters,” New England Journal of Medicine 367(24) (2012): 2269–2271. 19. Wall, “Lessons Learned from Katrina: What Really Matters in a Disaster,” 198. 20. Mbewe, Catherine and Marcia Jones, “Hurricane Sandy: Competencies Needed to Contend with Natural Disasters,” MEDSURG Nursing 22(4) (2013): 1–5. Newsletter. 21. Donald Chisholm, Coordination without Hierarchy: Informal Structures in Multiorganizational Systems (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989). 22. Binz-Scharf, Maria Christina, David Lazer, and Ines Mergel, “Searching for Answers: Networks of Practice Among Public Administrators,” The American Review of Public Administration 42(2) (2012): 202–225. 23. Drew and Tysiac, “Preparing for Disaster,” 26–31; Redlener and Reilly, “Lessons from Sandy,” 2269–2271. 24. Manuel, John, “The Long Road to Recovery,” Environmental Health Perspectives 121(5) (2013): A152–A159. 25. Minkler, Meredith, Victoria Breckwich Vásquez, and Peggy Shepard, “Promoting Environmental Health Policy Through Community Based Participatory Research: A Case Study from Harlem, New York,” Journal of Urban Health 83(1) (2006): 101–110. 26. Shalini Tendulkar et al., “A Funding Initiative for Community-Based Participatory Research: Lessons from the Harvard Catalyst Seed Grants,” Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action 5(1) (2011): 35–44. 27. Freudenberg, Nicholas, “Case History of the Center for Urban Epidemiological Studies in New York City,” Journal of Urban Health 78(3) (2001): 508–518. 28. Philip Nyden, “Academic Incentives for Faculty Participation in Community-Based Participatory Research,” Journal of General Internal Medicine 18(7): 576–585. 29. James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012). Gaye Tuchman, Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009). 30. Such an approach may be useful when competing with otherwise similar organizations for donor funds (e.g., Barman, 2002). 31. Observation of Lower East Side umbrella group, October 25, 2011, and Lower Manhattan umbrella group, December 2, 2011.


Superstorm Sandy and Cooperators’ Advocacy Project (CAP)

32. First responders are trained professionals, such as medical personnel and law enforcement, who can take charge of emergency situations and delegate or relinquish authority at their discretion. 33. Observation of CAP, November 20, 2013. 34. Observation of CAP, October 2, 2013. 35. Observation of CAP, November 20, 2013. 36. Karen A. Cerulo, Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006). 37. Conversation with English, November 18, 2013. 38. Observation of CAP, November 20, 2013. 39. Conversation, November 18, 2013. 40. Chen, Katherine K., “‘Why must we keep coming back?’ Mobilizing interorganizational networks during extreme uncertainty.” Manuscript presented at Eastern Sociological Society annual meeting, February 24, 2012. 41. CUNY has a contractual 21-credit load for tenured faculty. If courses are three credits each, this translates into a 4:3 course load during the school year. In other words, a tenured faculty member teaches four courses one semester and three courses another semester if s/he cannot get course releases for research or service, such as directing a program. In comparison, research-intensive universities, as well as some small liberal arts colleges (SLACs), have a 2:2 (two courses each semester) or 2:1 (two courses one semester, one course another semester) course load. Some institutions also offer teaching assistants who help with grading and classroom instruction. 42. Kathleen Blee, Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). 43. Suzanne Christopher, et al., “Building and Maintaining Trust in a Community-Based Participatory Research Partnership,” American Journal of Public Health 98(8) (2008): 1398–1406.


Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

The Challenges of Designing a Successful Service-Learning Course about the Roots, Ruin, and Rebirth of New Orleans TED A. HENKEN VANESSA RENE KWAME OCRAN

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot



ased on the spring semester honors seminar, “The City that Care Forgot: The Roots, Ruin, and Rebirth of New Orleans” (SOC 3130H)—offered jointly by Baruch College and Macaulay Honors College—this paper1 asks following questions: What are the challenges to carrying out a study-away, service-learning course in the wake of a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina) and what are the best practices in course design that can give such a course continuity, relevance to local New York issues (in the wake of Superstorm Sandy), and benefit community partners (in New Orleans), while deepening the student learning process by successfully balancing the necessary academic foundation of such a course with its community service and civic engagement components? We identify logistical support and institutional and student funding as major challenges along with identifying responsible, engaged community partners in New Orleans and developing an ongoing, reciprocal relationship with them. Additionally, a major challenge is integrating the cultural, historical, geographical, and sociological knowledge (acquired prior to the service portion of the course) with the civic engagement portion carried out during an intensive 12-day visit to the city. A related challenge is successfully linking these elements with specific post-Katrina public policy issues studied at the course’s conclusion.

Introduction The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it. 28

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.2 This quote, taken from the opening of a National Geographic report by Joel K. Bourne on New Orleans’s vulnerability to catastrophic flooding, captures with vivid language the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the havoc it wreaked on the city and the wider Gulf Coast region in the late summer of 2005. However,

Keywords Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, service-learning, civic engagement, public policy

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

the truly haunting fact about this particular description of the flood is that it was published in the October 2004 edition of the magazine, a full eleven months before the events it describes so well came to pass. Bourne’s report was not exceptional,3 nor was it buried in an obscure scientific journal intended for specialists. Such facts contradict President George W. Bush’s public statement in the days after the disaster in which he defended the sluggish governmental response to the storm (to put it charitably), by saying, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”4 Given the dramatic language of Bourne’s quote and the chilling fact that his words were not, in fact, a description of the Katrina disaster but an eerie prediction of it, we begin our course on New Orleans with this and other cautionary tales published well before the storm as our “hook” and “springboard.” Having a student read the full quote aloud at the start of the semester’s first class sets a necessarily sober tone for a course focused on what was indeed one of “the worst natural disaster[s] in the history of the United States.” Then, after the quote’s provenance and startling date of publication are revealed moments later, students are also forced to grapple with the fact that while the storm itself may have been an “act of God,” the humanitarian catastrophe that followed in its wake was the direct result of the “inaction of man.” In fact, as early as the summer of 2001 (that is, before 9/11), the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) publicly ranked the potential damage to New Orleans from a direct hit from a major hurricane as among the three likeliest and most catastrophic disasters facing the United States. The other two were a massive earthquake in San Francisco and— you guessed it—a terrorist attack on New York City.5

Overview of the Course: “The Roots, Ruin, and Rebirth of New Orleans” “The City that Care Forgot: The Roots, Ruin, and Rebirth of New Orleans” (Sociology 3130H)6 is an interdisciplinary, urban studies, service-learning course taught in conjunction with CUNY’s Baruch College and the Macaulay Honors College (MHC). Combining historical, cultural, and sociological perspectives, the course revisits the week of August 28, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans and the wider Gulf Coast region. The course objective is to understand what unfolded during those days and during the subsequent weeks, months, and years,

linking those events to the city’s storied past and still uncertain future. The course focuses on how human complacency, lack of preparation, and inaction transformed a natural disaster into an ongoing socioeconomic, political, and humanitarian catastrophe. During the course, we uncover specific lessons that can be gleaned from Katrina using a variety of disciplinary and intellectual perspectives, including urban planning, levee engineering, hurricane science, environmental protection, as well as local, regional, and national history. While a major focus of the semester is the impact of Hurricane Katrina, this is not simply a Katrina course. Instead, we start by seeking to understand and appreciate the unique literary, cultural, historical, demographic, geographic, and even geologic character of New Orleans—a city sometimes vividly referred to in historical texts as the “Isle of Orleans,” because it is indeed surrounded by various bodies of water and was slowly built by the Mississippi River over eons—to place the Katrina disaster and its aftermath in a wider sociohistorical, regional, and national context. For this reason, the first part of the course (before our spring break trip to the city) covers the cultural, historical, geographic, and geologic foundations of the city.7 While in New Orleans itself, we focus on the substantial service-learning components of the course, including an opportunity for students to engage in a collective rebuilding effort. These activities include doing construction work with the local chapters of national housing organizations (e.g., Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together) and undertaking various educational tours, both in the city proper and in the wider region, to become familiar with the city’s cultural geography and the pressing environmental issues that threaten the wider South Louisiana region.8 We also engage in various other activities that can be grouped under the New Orleans term “lagniappe.”9 These activities usually begin with a professor-led walking tour of the French Quarter, followed by a St. Charles Avenue streetcar ride uptown to the Garden District. Additional activities—often spontaneous, unscheduled, and optional—include joining in some of the city’s many unique cultural and/ or neighborhood events, such as attending a “second-line parade,”10 going to neighborhood music festivals (such as the Ferret Street Fest or the French Quarter Fest), learning the basic steps of Zydeco at Mid-City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl, or eating crawfish po’boys on “The Fly” (an uptown public park on the levee overlooking the Mississippi river). In the final part of the course (after our return to New York City), we take stock of how the city has fared in the decade since the storm. We aim to uncover specific lessons

The course focuses on how human complacency, lack of preparation, and inaction transformed a national disaster into an ongoing catastrophe.


Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

that can be gleaned from Katrina and its aftermath using a variety of disciplinary and intellectual perspectives. We also make comparisons between the impact and recovery in New Orleans after Katrina and New York’s own experience with Hurricane Sandy. More specifically, this final section of the course requires students—working in small teams—to choose a particular area of public policy (such as housing, education, health care, emergency preparedness, environmental protection, cultural preservation, public safety, or race and ethnic relations) and prepare a joint research report and in-class presentation on that topic, tracing its transformation before (roots), during (ruin), and since (rebirth) the storm.

Background and Context: “The Storm After the Storm” “The City that Care Forgot” was born with Hurricane Katrina. Between 1996 and 2002, I attended graduate school at New Orleans’s Tulane University, earning my doctorate at the school’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Despite moving from “The Big Easy” to “The Big Apple” in January 2003, and starting work at CUNY’s Baruch College that September, I fell deeply under the city’s spell during the nearly seven years I spent in New Orleans. I even spent part of my honeymoon there in mid-August, 2005, fewer than two weeks before Katrina. Given this background—my own personal and intellectual history as an honorary “son” of the city, a transplant who had enthusiastically “gone native”11—I watched with rapt attention during the week of August 28 as the city was first pummeled by the storm and then seemingly abandoned by the nation to its terrible fate for an interminable week afterward. Because I was unable to “do something” that could directly impact this unfolding and frankly embarrassing catastrophe, I decided to organize a teach-in for early September at Baruch College called, “The Storm After the Storm: The Social, Political, and Economic Consequences.” Speakers included a displaced student who had come to Baruch after Tulane was shuttered, another student—from India —who had experienced the Indian Tsunami firsthand, a dislodged New Orleans bar owner, and the prolific ethnomusicologist Ned Sublette and the Baruch journalism professor Christopher Hallowell, both of whom have published extensively on South Louisiana.12 Despite these speakers’ best efforts, we came away from the teach-in with more questions than answers. It was these festering and unanswered questions, as much as anything else, 30

that gave birth to “The City that Care Forgot.” Along with the rest of the country and much of the world community, we asked ourselves: What went wrong? How could we help? What could we learn from this disaster so that history wouldn’t repeat itself? How did the government fail so spectacularly at all levels in preparing for and responding to such a predictable threat? Is there something about the carefree (or careless?) culture and personality of New Orleans itself that contributed to this lamentable outcome? What are the long-term cultural and economic consequences of the flood and what will become of New Orleans? Should (all of) it be rebuilt, and if so, how would it be paid for? One article on the New York Times Op-Ed page—published during the storm’s aftermath and just a week before our teachin—was particularly helpful in highlighting some of the “unnatural” elements of this supposedly natural disaster. In “The Storm After the Storm,” David Brooks argued that as bad as Katrina was, perhaps its most instructive outcome was to peel back the layers of complacency, denial, and euphemism to reveal the long festering ills of poverty, inequality, and neglect that afflict not only New Orleans’s own poor, old, black, and infirm, but also similarly situated minority communities all across America. “Floods wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done,” he wrote. “They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” Pointing to the obvious racial and class distinctions among those who seemed to bear the brunt of the suffering, Brooks forced his readers to question whether we are a nation with basic responsibilities to one another as fellow citizens and human beings or simply a place where everyone must fend for themselves in the wake of crisis.13 Community Needs and Partners In Katrina’s wake, the easiest question to answer was also the quickest and least complicated: How can we help? In the years after the storm, thousands of volunteers—many from the nation’s colleges and universities—descended upon New Orleans in an unprecedented rebuilding effort. As part of that effort, I joined twenty-five CUNY students and two other chaperones in a week-long “Alternative Spring Break” service trip to the city in 2007. Working in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity and Community Collaborations International,14 we spent our days gutting and “mucking out” flooded homes, hanging drywall, laying new wood floors, and hammering and painting our way to exhaustion. We bedded down in communal dorms converted from a flooded out school in Violet,

Students working in small teams choose a particular area of public policy and prepare a joint-research report, tracing New Orleans’s transformation before, during, and since the storm.

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

Louisiana. Located in swampy St. Bernard Parish, about thirty mintues downriver from New Orleans, this center became known as “Camp Hope” – the veritable “ground zero” of post-Katrina volunteerism.15 Engaging in this initial volunteer effort allowed us to learn first hand about the most pressing community need in post-Katrina New Orleans: housing. At the same time, during our week in the city we became acutely aware that the storm had also washed away nearly all other support systems necessary for the functioning of any community, including health care (especially mental health services), schools, utilities (e.g., water, sewage, electricity, etc.), the police force, grocery stores, and most jobs. This is to say nothing of the immediate need to patch up the city’s failed levees or the longer-term project to build a more robust and comprehensive flood protection system. In essence, we discovered that a focus on housing in isolation from the larger network of related protections, resources, and services would be insufficient because displaced residents could not seriously contemplate coming home again without jobs, schools, health care, utilities, and a police presence that could prevent a wave of post-Katrina crime from flooding the city after the water was pumped out. After returning to New York, I couldn’t stop thinking about the natural connection between a group of college students providing service to a community in need and the many, still largely unanswered questions (and unsolved problems) that inevitably arose in Katrina’s wake. Harnessing young people’s almost innate enthusiasm and altruism was one thing, but why not also take advantage of the major “teaching moment” provided by the storm to stimulate critical thinking about real-life issues and respond to these students’ equally innate intellectual curiosity and search for answers? By September 2007, I had succeeded in turning this evolving brainstorm into a formal proposal for a course that could effectively combine our rich (if frustrating) service experience from the previous spring with an equally powerful learning one. This led to our return to New Orleans in 200816 this time in the form of an intellectually rigorous, creditbearing, service-learning course entitled, “The City that Care Forgot: The Roots, Ruin, and Rebirth of New Orleans.” While I researched the intellectual foundations that such as service-learning course would need, I also reached out in the fall of 2008 to past and potential future community partners with whom we could work when returning to the city. Service partners we have worked with over the years include the previously mentioned Habitat for Humanity (which is partly staffed by young AmeriCorps volunteers) and Community Collaborations

International, as well as Rebuilding Together and Grow Dat Youth Farm (pictured below). Our partnerships with both Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together have greatly facilitated our engagement experience in rebuilding affordable housing after the storm. This has been true because both organizations have deep roots in local communities and have performed extensive needs assessments among homeowners. Each organization also employs a “sweat equity” model requiring homeowners to contribute man hours toward the rebuilding of their homes, which has the added benefit of allowing student groups to interact directly with them. Another key aspect of these organizations is their provision of an experienced foreman at all worksites, as well as safety equipment and all necessary tools.

The ideal volunteer scenario saw our group of anywhere from 16 to 28 students split into two or three smaller teams of 8 to 10 persons, each of whom spends the full service week working in a single location so that students can see the impact of their work and also perhaps develop a relationship with the homeowner. In recent years, however, given that CUNY’s spring break almost always falls on Easter week and Passover, we have not been able to consistently work at a single site. Instead, we have developed a relationship with a second local partner, the Grow Dat Youth Farm,17 where we work on alternate days planting and harvesting vegetables. The staffs of each of these four organizations has also been extremely helpful in their role as co-educators, allowing students to learn from local experts and activists about the post-Katrina affordable housing crisis and the difficulty of accessing fresh, healthy foods—especially for the city’s poor. 31

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

For our room, board, and local transportation, we have partnered with the faith-based Project Nehemiah, working out of the St. Jude Community Center. Despite the rather rustic, dormitory-style bedding and bathroom accommodations provided here, the combination of great hospitality, incredibly low cost, and ideal location has made this partnership hard to beat. Our partnership with this pair of faith-based organizations has been especially useful as it has allowed students to experience firsthand the important role that religious organizations play in New Orleans community building and especially in filling the many service gaps left by local, state, and federal government in the wake of Katrina. While our more recent 10 to 12-day visits have not allowed us time for internships, our initial 16-day intersession course trip in January 2008 had students doing construction for one week and deploying across the city on various internships for another week.18 A more direct and intentional form of co-education during these trips takes place through a series of city and regional tours that treat the “city as text” to better understand and appreciate the peculiar “geographies” unique to New Orleans. These tours begin with a daylong trek that reveals the “urban and ethnic geographies” created by the socioeconomic and historical distinctions among New Orleans’s neighborhoods, and is led by prolific author and Tulane geographer Richard Campanella. Next, Tulane geologist Stephen Nelson provides the group with a comprehensive tour of New Orleans’s infamous levee system, highlighting the reasons behind its massive failure in 2005 and updating us on what has been done since then to guard against a repeat of the catastrophe.19 Finally, the Tulane Latin American specialist and New Orleans native James Huck discussed the role Central American and Mexican immigrants have played in revitalizing the city—both as construction workers and in food service. Our third major outing focuses on environmental concerns in the wetlands of South Louisiana and the wider Gulf Coast caused by oil exploration and climate change. Visiting Jean Laffite National Park’s Barataria Preserve20 south of the city and partnering with the knowledgeable park ranger staff allows students to bear firsthand witness to the progressive erosion of the natural habitat of much of South Louisiana as a result of salt water intrusion caused by global warming and years of dredging of oil, gas, and navigation canals through the state’s vital swamps and marshlands. In past years, we have also toured Destrehan Plantation, which is located upriver from New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi. This visit has provoked incredulous outrage among some students given the way 32

history—and especially the history of slavery —is recreated at the plantation, making it truly a “teaching and learning moment” for the professor and students alike.21 Finally, we visit and evaluate the progress of various ongoing area-rebuilding efforts, including Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation in the Lower Ninth Ward and the new mixed-income housing project style that has replaced the city’s previous “super blocks,” which were controversially demolished in the wake of Katrina even though many were left largely intact by the storm. Course Design I: Intellectual Content In fits and starts since 2008, through a process of trial and error and with great attention paid to student feedback and class/trip evaluations, “The City that Care Forgot” has evolved into the sociologically based, multidisciplinary service-learning course outlined above. In essence, and as currently offered, the course attempts to give equal attention and importance to three central elements, which are to • lay the intellectual foundations for a critical understanding of the unique culture, history, and geography of the city before our trip there; • design a service experience during our stay that combines engaged volunteerism with constant, hands-on intellectual stimulation through multiple supplementary outings and activities; and • engage in a critical debriefing in the weeks after our trip that culminates in a series of narrowly focused, student-led public policy analyses aimed at providing answers to some of the questions posed above. When I first began to design this course in the summer and fall of 2007, I envisioned it as an extension of the pre-existing sequence of four New York City seminars required of all MHC students.22 Specifically, having already taught the second course in this sequence, “The Peopling of New York,” numerous times, I decided to use it as a model because it highlighted both the historical development of New York City and its diverse ethnic “layering.” It also gave attention to the city’s current resurgent multiplicity of ethnic neighborhoods, culminating in a hands-on ethnographic study of a particular neighborhood or ethnic group. Thus, as I designed and refined the intellectual content of the course on New Orleans over the subsequent seven years, six interrelated themes emerged: • The city’s unique colonial and cultural history (famously labeled “a EuropeanAfrican-Caribbean-American-Southern City” by Kent Germany)23

A more direct and intentional form of co-education during these trips takes place through a series of city and regional tours that treat the “city as text.”

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

• The city’s alternate, three-tiered racial and ethnic regime (highlighted most vividly by the end of Reconstruction, the famous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case, and the subsequent and increasingly tenuous social and legal position of the city’s “free people of color,” also known as “Creoles of color,” and later as simply “Creoles”)24 • The city’s role as a bellwether for many of the ills afflicting other major urban areas during the mid-to-late twentieth century (exemplified by the Ruby Bridges school integration saga, which was followed by a de facto resegregation of New Orleans public schools and accompanied by massive white flight to the surrounding suburbs, disinvestment from the urban core, failing public schools, and a concomitant increase in intergenerational poverty and drug-related violence)25 • A focus on the unique fluvial geography and topography of the city and its environs, what Richard Campanella has termed “Bienville’s Dilemma”26—that is, the city’s ideal “situation” (its location at the mouth of the Mississippi) and equally impossible “site” (the chronic affliction of the city and its residents by hurricanes, floods, fires, plagues, and “subsidence” or sinking) • A comparative focus on how other cities, countries, and regions have prepared for and recovered from “natural” disasters—a subject sometimes called “the sociology of disaster”27 • A related focus on the issue of global climate change, rising sea levels, and threats to costal cities around the world, such as to New York City itself—a reality brought home (quite literally) with the destruction wrought throughout the metropolitan region and beyond by Hurricane Sandy in October-November 2012.

quite comprehensively during our trip to the city itself). For this reason, I begin my New Orleans course each spring with an assignment that gives students an opportunity to develop an awareness and appreciation of New Orleans culture by having them (1) read short work by some of America’s greatest authors who have written about the city, (2) listen to a unique series of NPR podcasts—known as “Poet On Call”—recorded by the creative writing professor, New Orleans transplant, and unofficial poet-in-chief of the city, Andrei Codrescu, and (3) sample the cornucopia of musical genres originating in New Orleans and South Louisiana.29 New Orleans has been a writer’s mecca for more than a century, with the French Quarter serving as a haunt for bohemian artists since the 1920s and 1930s. Famous writers who have lived in and/or authored stories set in the city include Walt Whitman, Kate Chopin, James Lee Burke, John Kennedy Toole, Walker Percy, Anne Rice, Tennessee

Course Design II: Readings, Assignments, and Activities Culture One of my favorite and most effective professors in graduate school, the sociologist J. Timmons Roberts,28 once told me, “Before you can get students to study something, you’ve first got to get them to care about it.” Since becoming a college professor myself, I have always tried to employ this teaching philosophy in my own pedagogy. Thus, I begin each course with a hook or springboard that can plant a seed of interest and motivation in my students with the hope that it blossoms throughout the semester into a flower of passionate intellectual fire. For a course about a city with such a rich and renown culture as New Orleans, three obvious choices come immediately to mind for this hook: literature, music, and food (we address the third option

Williams, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Truman Capote, Zora Neale Hurston, Lafcadio Hearn, Ishmael Reed, and the legendary writer-musicians Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan. Given the impossibility of covering all this literature, I have repeatedly turned to the excellent collection New Orleans Stories: Great Writers on the City, edited by John Miller, which includes short stories or excerpts from the novels of nearly all the authors mentioned above.30 One assignment I have begun the course with is to have each student read a single story from Miller’s collection and give a ten-minute class presentation that critically summarizes the story, highlights its “sense of place” in New Orleans, and presents research on the story’s author and his or her own biographical connection to the city. 33

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

During the last two spring semesters, I have had students compare selected stories from the Miller collection—all of which were written before the Katrina disaster—with the series of podcasts recorded by Andrei Codrescu for NPR’s All Things Considered under the title, “Poet On Call.” Codrescu, a Romanianborn poet who has lived in New Orleans for 25 years, is only among the latest writers to have adopted the city as his home. From among the podcasts he recorded in the days, months, and years after Hurricane Katrina, I have selected 19 of the most poignant and powerful and made them available to my students via hyperlink on Blackboard.31 While I make the podcast transcripts available as well, I encourage students to listen to the audio recordings to experience Codrescu deliver his witty, often acerbic, and always trenchant observations in his unmistakable gravelly, accented, and poetic voice. After students listen to these podcasts (most of which are just two pages or three minutes long), they then write up a single 3-4 page reaction paper where they compare Codrescu’s portraits of the city after 2005 with the other literary portraits “painted” by authors in previous years from the Miller collection. History While Lawrence M. Powell’s recent, minutely detailed academic history of New Orleans’s first century of existence (1718–1810), The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans reminds readers of the unique strengths of a measured (and copiously researched and referenced) scholarly work, much of the most useful, engaging, and original work done recently on the city’s history has been done by non-historians.32 First among these is the fabulous popular history of that same first century recently published by the musician and ethnomusicologist Ned Sublette: The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.33 While I have used both books in the early weeks of the course to provide students with the essential historical foundations of the city, they respond better to Sublette’s writing style and unique ability to connect the city’s past to its still evolving present. Likewise, the geographers Pierce F. Lewis and Richard Campanella have included extremely useful historical synthesis in their work. For example, while it is primarily a text of geographical analysis, Pierce Lewis’s New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape (2003) benefits from a keen historical awareness that allows him to masterfully compare the city’s first two-and-a-half centuries with its most recent quarter century (1976–2001).34 First published in 1976, Lewis’s work quickly became the classic geographical study of the 34

city. After returning to the city in 2001, Lewis updated his earlier work by publishing a new 2003 edition with a “Book Two” that richly details how and why the city was so thoroughly transformed in the quarter century between 1976 and 2003. My students have also benefitted from the prolific and richly illustrated work of Tulane geographer Richard Campanella (described below), who is Lewis’s rightful heir in many ways. A new primary text of great historical value that I have just incorporated into the historical foundations section of the course is the recently translated and never-before-published memoir/journal of French “company man” Marc Antoine-Caillot, who departed Paris for New Orleans in 1729 at the tender age of 21. The text of his memoir, A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies35 was rediscovered and edited by Erin M. Greenwald, a curator and researcher for Historic New Orleans Collection, which published the book in a richly illustrated edition accompanied by a helpful introductory essay by Greenwald. Being able to provide students with access to such a rare primary document helps me (as an educator) transport them back to the very different context of an early-seventeeth-century French colonial outpost. Moreover, one of the things that makes this study-away, servicelearning course so unique is that I have been able to schedule a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection for my students during our stay in the city, which includes a viewing of the original French manuscript of the text as well as a guided tour of the French Quarter given by Greenwald herself. Two final extremely useful resources for covering “historical New Orleans” are the 2006 PBS documentary American Experience: New Orleans36 and a special December 2007 issue of the Journal of American History—“Through the Eye of Katrina: Past as Prologue?”37—dedicated to the “writing of a ‘second draft’ of the history” of the hurricane’s impact on the city. Given that I have yet to encounter a single text that does justice to the entire sweep of the city’s almost 300-year history, I have turned again and again to the PBS documentary to fill in historical gaps. The film is especially good at covering the city’s late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century history, including the birth of Mardi Gras, the end of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case, the birth of jazz, the 1927 Mississippi flood and the city father’s decision to (unnecessarily) blow up protective levees downriver in rural Plaquemines Parish, supposedly to protect the city from an imminent flood.38 While the special issue of the Journal of American History has been particularly helpful

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in exposing students to specific historical eras and issues, it has also allowed me to familiarize them with the style and substance of research published in an academic journal (with the added benefit that the articles are often richly illustrated and rarely longer than ten pages). Also, although the issue does contain essays focused strictly on the city’s history,39 it is thankfully interdisciplinary in content with coverage of urban, environmental, architectural, and musical history, as well as more sociological and political essays that focus on contemporary issues such as racial inequality, ethnic succession and immigrant mobilization, public housing, and the tourism and hospitality industries.40 Thus, the stated goal of the special volume is “to provide a historical basis for thinking about Katrina’s impact, a way to measure its significance from many perspectives.”41 Geography As previously mentioned, the work of Pierce F. Lewis and Richard Campanella must form the foundation of any understanding of New Orleans’s unique geography. Campanella’s numerous books and articles provide a thoroughgoing cultural, ethnic, and even political geography of the city. His most comprehensive text in this vein is undoubtedly the previously mentioned Bienville’s Dilemma.42 Apart from providing students of the city with a comprehensive, 70-page historical timeline at the start of the book, this unique study is composed of more than sixty brief, pithy, information-and analysis-packed essays that seek to unravel the many geographical secrets that have long be shrouded in mystery. Of particular importance are Campanella’s essay, “Bienville’s Dilemma,”43 which gave its title to the book itself; his penetrating historical dissection of the all-important New Orleans term “Creole” found in the essays, “Creolism and Place”44 and “Nativity as Ethnicity in New Orleans”;45 and his trifecta of essays that shed light on the heated post-Katrina rebuilding wars: “A Proposed Rebuilding Methodology,”46 “The Great Footprint Debate,”47 and “The Build/No-Build Line.”48 Two other very useful and unique resources on the city’s geography are Tulane Geology Professor Stephen A. Nelson’s self-guided levee tour, “Hurricane Katrina: What Happened?”49 and the just published and highly original Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, co-edited by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker.50 Documentary Films One final activity that we engage in before our departure for New Orleans is an assignment that asks the students to view and write a comparative documentary film review of two related films on the city. This assign-

ment is intended to expose the students to the sights and sounds of the city before our trip so that they are better intellectually prepared to think critically about the things we experience there. It also allows them to sample a wider array of films than we would be able to view in class as a group. Students are encouraged to select two topically related films from a long list that includes documentaries that cover general history and culture,51 Creole history and culture,52 the history and culture of Mardi Gras and the Mardi Gras Indians,53 as well as many of the documentaries released since 2005 that focus either on what went wrong during the storm54 or on the struggles of the city’s residents to return and rebuild.55 Another option for this assignment is for students to view and critically compare two feature-length fictional films or television series that focus on New Orleans, such as the HBO series Tremé56 or the critically acclaimed experimental film Beasts of the Southern Wild.57 Trip Design: Planning and Logistics I have gradually discovered over the past seven years that deciding on the intellectual content of the course, designing its various assignments, and actually teaching it (as described in detail above) has turned out to be only about a third of what is required to make such a study-away, service-learning course successful. A second major investment of time and constant effort takes place during the four to six months before the actual spring break trip in March/April during which time detailed logistical planning must take place. This includes heading up the course application process; searching for additional scholarship funds for needy students; resolving registration glitches for a cross-campus course that requires many students to register via e-sims; making sure that all release, emergency, and permission forms are properly filled out, signed, and filed, along with submitting CUNY’s mandatory domestic travel packet; arranging for flights and local room, board, and transportation; setting up the group volunteer experience with a local partner (while also negotiating the prices and arranging the payments for each); collecting program fees from students; and submitting receipts to CUNY/MHC for reimbursement afterwards. While some of the above logistical arrangements have been made by Baruch or Macaulay staff over the years, I have discovered—often the hard way—that all such duties are the ultimate responsibility of the professor (i.e., “The buck stops here”) and that, due to the lack of a clear institutional “ownership” of the program, only rarely do CUNY/MHC staff see these duties as part of their job descriptions. Finally, a third major investment of time and energy—perhaps the most sustained and 35

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significant of all—takes place during the trip itself, which typically lasts between eight and twelve days. During this time, the professor (together with a second volunteer chaperone) must be constantly on call to act as guide, bus driver, teacher, conflict moderator, problem solver, and all-around pied piper. Given the intellectual and emotional maturity of our students, my own experience doing this has been exceedingly positive and rewarding. However, all these duties are done without any additional compensation for the professor either in the form of extra pay or course release time. On top of this, leading the service-learning portion of the course requires the professor to give up his own spring break vacation—a sacrifice he has so far been happy to do but one that makes the program difficult to sustain over the long term. Trip Impact and Student Takeaway During the trip, students spend 30–45 minutes each day keeping a journal in which they reflect on their experiences, chronicling each day’s events and their reactions to them, and taking special note of the sights, sounds, and impressions of the city that cannot be gleaned from a book. Students are allowed to perform this task exclusively in writing or they can expand it into a multi-media composition with photos, video, etc. These journals form the basis for a reflection paper students write after returning to New York. While students are given great flexibility in this assignment, they are encouraged to make connections in their writing and reflections between the course’s intellectual foundations (built before the trip) and the various intellectual, social, and emotional impressions that the servicelearning experience had on them. In other words, this is an opportunity for students to make critical links between course readings and films and our varied experiences in New Orleans. What follows are selected reflections from four different students who made the service trip in spring 2013. Geoffrey “This is how I breakdown New Orleans in the end: Festivals, bars, and parties lie in the center of New Orleans. Take a step back from the center of the city and notice the broken education system, the environmental racism, and the lingering socioeconomic disparities that have existed for a long period of time. Take a step further back and watch the swamplands (that have been home to alligators, deer, cypress trees, and other wildlife) erode slowly as saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico seeps in. Overall, New Orleans is a dying city in the making—a city that parties all day long while neglecting the problems around it. Hurricane Katrina inflicted significant damage to 36

many parts of the city, but what it really did was highlight the environmental, the socioeconomic, and the political diseases that existed before the hurricane.”

Rachel “Upon arriving in New Orleans, I was immediately enchanted by this fun, uninhibited lifestyle that cloaks the city in a shroud of impenetrable recklessness. This care-free nature is what makes New Orleans ‘The Big Easy,’ an attribute that is truly unique and remarkable to experience. Despite the extreme racial and class tensions and inequalities that exist and intersect with the impoverished state of New Orleans, the city has managed to maintain this easy going, uninhibited lifestyle. While I found this lifestyle magical and entertaining, I could not help but wonder: at what point does the magic end? From a sociological perspective, without the shroud of music, festivals, and alcohol New Orleans would cease to exist as we know it, revealing a broken skeletal structure built upon inflated inequalities and unstable terrain.” José “Lawrence Powell’s The Accidental City and Richard Campanella’s Bienville’s Dilemma put the city of New Orleans in its rich historical and geographical context for us prior to our trip. Many think of New Orleans as the ‘true melting pot’ of America. This conflicted with

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my established notion of what a melting pot was as a native New Yorker. I knew that New Orleans’ diversity was far different from that of New York’s. For example, Powell and Campanella’s respective analyses of the word ‘Creole’ and its evolution harped on this. The word serves, at any given point in history as a racial divide between peoples of New Orleans. Prior to visiting the city, I found it difficult to imagine a city with distinct Spanish, French, and African influences that was both divided and amalgamated at the same time. Traveling there and experiencing this apparent contradiction first hand was a rare and instructive educational experience impossible otherwise.” Vanessa “I was around thirteen years old when Hurricane Katrina hit. Even though I knew what happened was terrible, I was still unable to fathom how much damage had been done. In class, we read all about the numbers, how the hurricane claimed over 1,800 lives, some parts of the city had flooded to over fifteen feet, the city had remained flooded for about four weeks, over 50 levees had breached. All of those numbers seemed abstract. All those situations, even as they played over and over on the news did not seem real, and did not feel as though they could have happened in the United States. I definitely had trouble comprehending how the government had failed its people. After taking this class, traveling to the city, and hearing many stories of different people, both natives of New Orleans and transplants, I got a clearer picture. Kanye West’s infamous outburst that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” no longer seemed that unsound or unjustified. For example, while the Lower Ninth Ward is just 20 minutes from the French Quarter, it looks like an entirely different city. Even while watching and walking through it in real life, it was difficult to understand how any government would allow its own city to quickly spiral down into complete ruin.” Course Design III: Making Sense of the Storm and Future Public Policy In the last three to four weeks of the semester after our return from New Orleans, students focus on the multiple public policy failures that accompanied Hurricane Katrina.58 In this culminating course project students work together in pairs, collaborating on a class presentation and a jointly produced research paper that focuses on one of the following ten public policy topics: (1) public housing, urban planning, insurance, and architecture; (2) levees, flood protection, evacuation, and emergency preparedness; (3) the river, the ocean, and environmental pres-

ervation; (4) education, segregation, and the debate over charter schools; (5) affordable and available health care; (6) the economic base, industry, jobs, and labor force; (7) poverty, inequality, and the city’s changing racial and ethnic demography; (8) the hospitality industry, cultural preservation, and Mardi Gras; (9) public safety, police brutality, and political corruption; and (10) public transportation and utilities. In their investigation of one of the above themes, students must include three clearly defined sections: a brief summary of the historical background of their theme or topic (roots), an analysis of how their topic/theme was impacted by Hurricane Katrina (ruin), and an evaluation of the development and current state of their topic/theme in the almost nine years since Katrina (rebirth). As an alternative, students can follow the same three guidelines above but make their presentations and papers comparative—focusing on both Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. All presentations take place during our final class meeting and are graded on the following six criteria: (1) accurate and understandable summary of information; (2) critical analysis of data; (3) ability to relate the topic to other course material or concepts; (4) voice projection, eye contact, and interaction with the class; (5) strategic use of visual aids and multimedia; and (6) ability to respond intelligently to questions. Students are given feedback on their presentations and have another week to complete their research papers, which are essentially a written report of their presentations. While this final project is intended to be a culmination of the work of the entire semester—allowing students to combine their intellectual foundations in the city’s culture, history, and geography with their hands-on experiences in the city and apply that to better understand specific areas of public policy—I have found that students find this difficult to accomplish. This is partly because students tend to be exhausted after the trip and in a state of anti-climax as they come down from the intensity of the trip. They are also dealing with the end-of-semester crunch, and, in some cases, graduation jitters. In this environment, it is hard for them to synthesize the multiple strands of information necessary for the project. This is especially true of the collaborative written report. That is, while the in-class presentations are usually rich and dynamic, sustaining that teamwork and applying it to produce a quality research paper is rare.

“Even while watching and walking through [the Lower Ninth Ward] in real life, it was difficult to understand how any government would allow its own city to quickly spiral down into complete ruin.”

Conclusion: Challenges, Lessons, and Implications for the Future Since 2007, well over 100 CUNY undergraduate students have traveled to New Orleans as part of this service-learning honors course 37

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focused on the city—including its unique culture, history, and geography—and on the challenges posed to its future by the Hurricane Katrina public policy debacle. Students invariably come away from the course convinced that its unique mix of scholarship, service, and engaged learning was among the most powerful and memorable educational experiences of their entire undergraduate careers. In short, it was a life-changing experience for them. They also come away with a deeper appreciation of the complexity of multifaceted public policy issues combined with a heightened desire to remain engaged in such issues in the future. Urban university systems like CUNY primarily serve students from backgrounds that don’t typically provide the opportunity to study a different city in both the academic (classroom learning) and experiential (local community engagement) senses. Because of this, a study-away, service-learning experience functions similarly for many students as a study-abroad opportunity, albeit on a smaller scale. This is all the more important since the course is made accessible and affordable to students who may not have the financial resources or time to engage in a typical study abroad experience. Furthermore, many students find the interdisciplinary nature of the course (i.e., looking at a single urban environment from multiple perspectives) intellectually fulfilling and even life changing as they are able to come away with many of the same cultural, historical, geographical, and political lessons that students normally take away from actual study abroad courses. At the same time, the challenge remains to provide such a course with the institutional and logistical support it needs so that it has a solid foundation that can ensure its future. The ad-hoc nature of the trip’s funding, the triple workload of academic, administrative, and logistical responsibilities that falls largely upon the professor, and the few tangible rewards provided to the professor for undertaking such an arduous pedagogical enterprise, all threaten the long-term viability of any such service-learning, study-away program. Nevertheless, the ongoing success and popularity of the course indicate that it is possible to seamlessly integrate intellectual rigor with engaged service, allowing students to gain a deeper first-hand appreciation of the complexity of applied public-policy analysis.



1. This work is adapted from “A Look at Macaulay in the Big Easy,” a presentation delivered by Ted Henken (Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Baruch College) and Vanessa Rene (Brooklyn College and Macaulay Honors College, ‘14) on November 8, 2013, at the National Collegiate Honors Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Kwame Ocran (Hunter College and Macaulay Honors College, ‘15) assisted in the preparation of the presentation but was unable to attend the conference. The paper was written from the point of view of its primary author, Henken. However, Rene and Ocran contributed important elements to the sections entitled, “Trip Impact and Student Take Away” and “Making Sense of the Storm and Future Public Policy,” and provided vital feedback on earlier drafts. We also thank Christopher Hallowell, Astou Thiane, Veronica Maldonado, Deborah Gardner, and Fred Franke for their feedback. 2. Joel K. Bourne, Jr., “Gone With the Water,” National Geographic, October, 2004 (http://www3. While Bourne’s dramatic description is admittedly inaccurate in some of its details, we use it to indicate the fact that concerns about the city’s safety were well-known long before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. See also Bourne’s “Louisiana’s Vanishing Wetlands,” Science 289 (September 15, 2000): 1860–1863 ( full/289/5486/1860). The summer of 2004 also saw the Hurricane Pam exercise, which was a major tropical storm simulation intended to test the region’s emergency preparedness organized by FEMA. For more on Pam, see: 3. Other journalistic alarms were sounded in the run-up to Hurricane Katrina by Mark Fischetti in “Drowning New Orleans,” Scientific American, October 2001 ( cfm?articleID=00060286-CB58-1315-8B5883414B7F0000). In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Fischetti published an article on the New York Times Op-Ed page entitled, “They Saw It Coming,” September 2, 2005 ( John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, reporters for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, published a five-part series from June 23 to 27, 2002, entitled “Washing Away” ( See also McQuiad’s post–Katrina report in Mother Jones, “Storm Warning,” August 2007 (http:// Also see Eric Berger, “Keeping Its Head Above Water: New Orleans Faces Doomsday Hurricane Scenario,” from the Houston Chronicle, December 1, 2001 ( Additionally, two powerful and prophetic books were published in the twenty years before Katrina’s landfall. They are John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989) and John M. Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (Simon & Schuster, 1998). 4. Justin Webb, “Video Shows Bush Katrina Warning,” BBC, March 2, 2006 ( americas/4765058.stm); Joby Warrick, “White House Got Early Warning on Katrina,” Washington Post, January 24, 2006 ( AR2006012301711.html). 5. See Eric Berger’s blog post, “Did FEMA really rank New Orleans as one of three likeliest catastrophes?” Houston Chronicle Blog, September 9, 2005 ( and his previously cited December 2001 article from the Houston Chronicle, “Keeping Its Head Above Water.” 6. Offered through Baruch’s Sociology and Anthropology Department, the course is cross-listed in Black and Latino Studies as well, allowing students across CUNY to get credit for any of these disciplines. While the course is an honors course, admission is granted through an application process, giving the professor the discretion to admit sufficiently mature and motivated students whether they are “honors” students or not. An application process is necessary because the course includes a mandatory service-learning trip to New Orleans, the cost of which must be addressed well ahead of time. 7. How does one explain to New Yorkers—themselves intimately familiar with living on an island (“The Isle of Manhattan”) surrounded by rivers and other bodies of water—that in New Orleans you actually have to walk uphill to the highest topographical part of the city whenever you approach the Mississippi River? 8. These tours include visits to historical landmarks such as the crossroads where Homer Plessy was arrested on June 7, 1892, after boarding a segregated railcar, leading to the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court case; St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is the burial ground at the edge of the French Quarter where both Plessy himself and the famed New Orleans “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau are interred; and the Ninth Ward’s William Franz Elementary School, the site of a major civil rights showdown where federal marshals accompanied six-year-old Ruby Bridges as she enrolled in the school on November 14, 1960—a scene depicted by Norman Rockwell in his painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” and by John Steinbeck in his memoir, Travels with Charley: In Search of America (Viking, 1962). 9. A colloquial word that originated with the Spanish/Caribbean term la ñapa; the New Orleans variant “lagniappe” refers to anything “extra.”

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10. Given that our trip falls during Holy Week, we have made it a tradition to join the annual second-line parade of the Pigeon Town Steppers Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which takes place on Easter Sunday in Central City. 11. The primary author, Ted Henken, was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, 200 miles east of New Orleans. For a rich discussion of the significance of being—and not being—from New Orleans, see Richard Campanella’s excellent essay, “Nativity as Ethnicity in New Orleans” (270–274) in his book Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (Center for Louisiana Studies, 2008). 12. See Sublette’s vivid popular history, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square (Lawrence Hill Books, 2008) and his memoir, The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans (Lawrence Hill Books, 2009). Hallowell’s books include Holding Back the Sea: The Struggle for America’s Natural Legacy on the Gulf Coast (HarperCollins, 2001) and People of the Bayou: Cajun Life in Lost America (Pelican, 2003). We have also benefitted from Sublette and Hallowell’s direct participation in the course as guest speakers. 13. David Brooks, “The Storm After the Storm,” The New York Times, September 1, 2005 ( opinion/01brooks.html?pagewanted=print). Also see presidential historian Douglas Brinkley’s article on the Washington Post Op-Ed page, “Reckless Abandonment,” August 26, 2007 ( html). While these op-eds have become required reading for our course, we have also used Brinkley’s vivid and encyclopedic The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Harper Perennial, 2007) as a main text. 14. CCI runs service programs throughout the United States as well as in various international locations in Central American and the Caribbean. See: 15. Subsequently, Stacey Korolkova, one of the students on this inaugural trip, wrote a feature article for the Baruch College student newspaper entitled, “Renewing Hope in New Orleans” (April 23, 2007, The Ticker). 16. Various versions of this course—each involving service in New Orleans—have been offered in the winter term of 2008, and in the spring semesters of 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014 (no course or trip occurred in 2011). The course was team-taught from 2008 to 2010 with Hunter College Professor Deborah Gardner, who also served as a co-chaperone with Baruch College Honors Advisor Brooke Carter and myself on the original “Alternative Spring Break” trip in April 2007. Danielle Jakubowski served as the trip’s co-chaperone in 2012. The 2009 and 2010 iterations of the course treated the service trip as a separate and optional activity from the course (with some students doing only one or the other, while a handful did both). However, since 2012, the service portion of the course has been mandatory. The fact that Macaulay Honors College (MHC) students can apply to use a portion of their allotted educational travel funds to cover the $1,000 program fee (beyond tuition, which is covered by their academic scholarships) has been a vital facilitator for the course. However, my commitment to keeping the course open to non–MHC students as well has required me to “go begging” each year for ad-hoc funding to provide partial scholarships to other students. The Baruch College President’s and Provost’s offices, as well as its Honors Program, have been especially helpful here, as has the recently endowed Valetín Lizana y Parragué Chair in Latin American Studies, held by Professor Ana Yolanda Ramos-Zayas. The MHC has also consistently supported the course, by both covering overhead travel costs and providing classroom space in its flagship brownstone on the Upper West Side. Individual MHC staff members who have supported the course over the years include Solita Alexander, Tim Carron, Wynter Greene, Veronica Maldonado, Andrew Adair, Carolyn Geisel, Nicole Da Silva, Mary Pearl, and Ann Kirschner.

17. See New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat-nola. org/about), Rebuilding Together New Orleans ( who-we-are), and Grow Dat Youth Farm ( 18. Our community partners for these internships included the New Orleans Public School system, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Pro-Bono Legal Assistance Project (, Café Reconcile (, and the jazz and heritage community radio station WWOZ, 90.7 FM. 19. Professor Nelson’s harrowing tour of the city’s levee system is complemented by his more than 50-page online PDF guide, which provides meticulous detail about the city’s geologic formation as well as the recent history and development of New Orleans’s levee system. This is augmented by an online course module, “New Orleans and Hurricanes: Past, Present, and Future” ( New_Orleans_and_Hurricanes), which provides students with many explanatory links. 20. This national park system is controversially named for Jean Lafitte, the famed pirate, contrabandist, and slave trader who assisted the United States in its victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans—a fact that only deepens the intellectual content of the course. See: http:// 21. Some students have even opted to write letters to the plantation’s board of directors urging a complete overhaul of the story they tell and how they tell it, while others have argued that such a visit should be scratched from future course itineraries completely. See: http://www. 22. These courses are: “The Arts in New York City,” “The Peopling of New York City,” “Science and Technology in New York City,” and “Shaping the Future of New York City.” See: academics/curriculum.php. 23. See page 21 in Germany’s New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship, and the Search for the Great Society, University of Georgia Press, 2007. 24. The peculiar stratification of black New Orleans posed a problem for organizing a successful local civil rights movement. “Black society was as stratified as white society,” notes Germany. In fact, in 1964, a leading civil rights activist, Oretha Castle Haley, told The New Yorker: “We’re split in so may different ways. We don’t have just Negroes. We have our Catholic Negroes and our Protestant Negroes, our downtown Negroes and our uptown Negroes, our light Negroes and our dark Negroes. And we have too many Negroes who don’t think they’re Negroes.” (Ibid.,: 30-31). This is a pointed reference to the city’s Creole elite, who tended to occupy the most prominent positions within the black community, especially in progressive civic organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League, as well as in politics. Germany notes that this tradition of leadership was as much a curse as a blessing because such distinctions “created deep antagonism within the larger black community. . . . Creole superiority was viewed almost as unfavorably as white supremacy.” For more on “Creole” both as a “place-based ethnicity” and as “a complex, fluid, and controversial identity, whose definition varies on the axes of time, place, context, and perspective,” (Campanella, 2008: 161) see Campanella’s “Creolism and Place” (161–167) in Bienville’s Dilemma and his longer, richly illustrated essay, “Creole New Orleans: The Geography of a Controversial Ethnicity” (205–225) in his Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm (Center for Louisiana Studies, 2006). Two other historical studies of “Creolism” are Sybil Kein’s Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana’s Free People of Color (Louisiana State University Press, 2000) and Arnold R. Hirsch’s


Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

and Joseph Logsdon’s edited volume, Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization (Louisiana State University Press, 1992). Hirsch also contributed the essay, “Fade to Black: Hurricane Katrina and the Disappearance of Creole New Orleans” (752–761) to the special issue of the Journal of American History (Vol. 94, No. 3) described below. While Hirsch writes of New Orleans’s Creoles gradually “fading to black” (i.e., ceasing to exist as a separate “Creole” group distinct from African-Americans), Bliss Broyard’s family memoir One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets (Little, Brown, and Company, 2007), reminds us that many Creoles, especially those like Bliss’ father—the well-known writer and literary critic Anatole Broyard—who left the city in the early years of the twentieth century, actually “faded to white” (i.e., they “passed” as white). For more on the “passing” of Anatole Broyard, see Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New Yorker, “White Like Me,” June 17, 1996. 25. In reference to this issue, Germany writes perceptively: “The 1960 school showdown in the Ninth Ward showed that governmental efficiency and economic progress were no match for the deeply rooted desire of white New Orleanians to maintain white privilege. The entry of four black girls into white schools changed the local economy as much as any vision of progressive capitalism. The city’s finances never quite recovered from the ensuing exodus of white residents and their tax revenue.” (Ibid.: 24) 26. See Campanella’s previously mentioned encyclopedic masterwork Bienville’s Dilemma, where he discusses Bienville’s fraught and hugely consequential 1718 decision to locate the city where it is. According to Campanella, Bienville acted wisely because “he knew that what makes a city great is not its site, but its situation” (2008: 113), the “site” being a place’s local topography and climate and its “situation” being its location relative to the surrounding region. Bienville selected what is today’s French Quarter as the city’s site in 1718 because it “represented the best available site within a fantastic geographical situation” (Ibid., 114). In New Orleans: The Making of an Urban Landscape (University of Virginia Press, 2003), the geographer Peirce Lewis famously dubbed New Orleans an “impossible but inevitable city” because of its swampy, mosquito-infested site. However, Lewis also wryly observed, “If a city’s situation is good enough, its site will be altered to make do” (2003: 19). 27. Such an approach weighs the power of nature—sometimes colloquially referred to as “acts of god” (e.g., fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.)—with the consequences of human intervention in the natural world (e.g., human error, accidents, unintended consequences, etc.). How do societies prepare for, endure, react to, recover from, and learn from such disasters? Are natural disasters simply unavoidable misfortunes that no one could have predicted, prevented, or mitigated? Three important recent works that pose these kinds of questions are Eric Klinenberg’s Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2003), Marc Gerstein’s and Michael Ellsberg’s Flirting with Disaster: Why Accidents are Rarely Accidental (Union Square Press, 2008), and Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2011). 28. Roberts is currently the Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology at Brown University. 29. Recordings are made available both in a Dropbox file with more than seventy songs and musician interviews, and by referring students to the live stream of WWOZ 90.7 FM, New Orleans’s own jazz and heritage community radio station. 30. Published by Chronicle Books in 2004. With an introduction written by Andrei Codrescu, the Miller collection includes stories by twenty-two writers, including all those mentioned above except James Lee Burke and Bob Dylan. Burke has written a score of noir novels, most of which feature the detective Dave Robicheaux, including The Tin Roof Blowdown (Pocket, 2007), which is especially useful given that it is partially set in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While


Dylan has recorded a number of haunting Louisiana-themed songs (e.g., “Blind Willie McTell” and “High Water (for Charlie Patton)”), his 2004 musical biography, Chronicles, Volume One, features a vivid description of New Orleans. See his “The Ghosts of New Orleans”: http://www. 31. Codrescu’s incisive audio essays can be found on NPR at http://www.npr. org/series/4464351/poet-on-call. Highlights from this series include, “Mourning for a Flooded Crescent City,” August 31, 2005; “A Dream of New Orleans, Interrupted,” September 13, 2005; “Father and Son Reflect on Childhood in New Orleans,” March 1, 2006; “Before and After: Telling Time by Calamity,” May 12, 2006; “The Shame of Katrina Hangs on FEMA,” August 29, 2006; “The Long Route with New Orleans’ Oldest Cabbie,” December 27, 2006; “New Orleans Needs Museum Of The Normal,” February 4, 2009; and “Oil Spill? Oh, Well,” July 6, 2010. 32. The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans was published by Harvard University Press, 2012. Another great recent example of non-academic history is the book Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans by journalist Dan Baum (Spiegel & Grau, 2010), which traces the lives of nine New Orleanians over the course of the forty years between Hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Katrina (2005). Also see Paul Sánchez and Colman DeKay’s operetta-like musical production based on the book (“Nine Lives: A Musical Story of New Orleans,” Mystery Street Records and Threadhead Records, 2012, 137 min.). 33. The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square was published by Lawrence Hill Books, 2008. 34. Lewis’s approach is particularly useful since, as a nonnative and nonresident of the city, he fearlessly skewers a number of sacred “NOLA” cows, including the tendency to pay more attention to gumbo and duels than to economics, geography, politics, and scientific truths. 35. Published by Historic New Orleans Collection, 2013. 36. By Stephen Ives, 110 min. 37. (Vol. 94, No. 3) 38. This documentary is accompanied by a well-designed website that includes a teacher’s guide, clips of traditional jazz, a “gumbo as history” section, and multiple specially commissioned essays (http://www.pbs. org/wgbh/amex/neworleans). 39. Historical essays in the volume include: “What Does American History Tell Us about Katrina and Vice Versa?” by Lawrence N. Powell (863–876); “The Atlantic World and the Road to Plessy v. Ferguson,” by Rebecca J. Scott (726–733); and “The Political Construction of a Natural Disaster: The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853,” by Henry M. McKiven Jr. (734–742). 40. Some of these include: “The Politics of Poverty and History: Racial Inequality and the Long Prelude to Katrina,” by Kent B. Germany (743–751); “Boundary Issues: Clarifying New Orleans’s Murky Edges,” by Ari Kelman (695–703); “An Ethnic Geography of New Orleans,” by Richard Campanella (704–715); “Carnival and Katrina,” by Reid Mitchell (789–794); “Poverty Is the New Prostitution: Race, Poverty, and Public Housing in Post-Katrina New Orleans,” by Alecia P. Long (795–803); and “The Disneyfication of New Orleans: The French Orleans,” by Alecia P. Long (795–803); and “The Disneyfication of New Orleans: The French Quarter as Facade in a Divided City,” by J. Mark Souther (804–811). 41. The Journal of American History has also created a companion website ( that includes several interactive graphic elements—including historical and contemporary maps, images, sound, and video, a number of audio slideshows, timelines, and an extensive glossary. New Orleans traditional jazz bandleader Dr. Michael White, who contributed the personal essay, “Reflections of an Authentic Jazz Life in Pre-Katrina New Orleans” (820–827) to the volume, has allowed the site to stream a number of his recordings for Basin Street Records.

Civic Engagement in the City That Care Forgot

42. 2008. 43. Ibid., 111–114. 44. Ibid., 161–167. 45. Ibid., 270–274. 46. Ibid., 341–343. 47. Ibid., 344–350 48. Ibid., 351–354. Another helpful journalistic piece on the post–Katrina rebuilding debates that highlights Campanella’s work is the New York Times Magazine cover story, “Jungleland: The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’,” by Nathaniel Rich, March 27, 2012 ( magazine/the-lower-ninth-ward-new-orleans.html?pagewanted=all&_ r=2&). Among Campanella’s other books on New Orleans geography are Time and Place in New Orleans: Past Geographies in the Present Day (Pelican, 2002), Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm (Center for Louisiana 2002), Geographies of New Orleans: Urban Fabrics Before the Storm (Center for Louisiana Press, 2014). 49. Available online at: 50. Published by University of California Press, 2013. Modeled after Solnit’s bestselling 2010 Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, this new atlas includes twenty-two short essays on a wide variety of city “geographies” (e.g., sugar, bananas, oil, music, the environment, social and pleasure clubs, second-line parades, Mardi Gras parades, etc.), each of which is accompanied by a unique, hand-drawn, full-color, two-page-spread map that places the city’s various subcultures, traditions, industries, and communities in sharp relief. Finally, I have found three PDF graphics created by the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper to be particularly helpful in explaining New Orleans’s unique geography. They are, “Going Under” ( goingunder.pdf); “The Last Line of Defense” ( hurricane/images/nolalevees.pdf); and “The Scourge of the Surge” ( 51. American Experience: New Orleans (Stephen Ives, 2006, 110 min.) and “Yeah You Rite!” (Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker, 1985, 28 min.). 52. Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans (Dawn Logsdon & Lolis Eric Elie, 2008, 68 min.); Too White to be Black, Too Black to be White: The New Orleans Creole (Maurice Martinez, 2006, 84 min.); and Maroon: On the Trail of Creoles in North America (Andre Gladu, 2006). 53. Tootie’s Last Suit (Lisa Katzman, 2007, 97 min.); The Black Indians of New Orleans (Maurice Martinez, 1976, 33 min.); By Invitation Only (Rebecca Snedeker, 2006, 57 min.); and Mardi Gras: Made in China (David Redmon, 2008, 74 min.). A very recent addition to this documentary tradition is the harrowing film The Whole Gritty City (Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, 2013, 94 min.). 54. “The Storm” (Frontline, 2005); “Inside Hurricane Katrina” (National Geographic, 2005); and “Storm that Drowned A City” (Nova, 2005). Also useful are two similarly focused post–Katrina podcasts from the show This American Life: “After the Flood,” Episode 296, September 9, 2005, and “This is Not My Beautiful House,” Episode 297, September 16, 2005. 55. Shake the Devil Off (Peter Entell, 2007, 99 min.); Trouble the Water (Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, 2008, 96 min.); and I Am Carolyn Parker: The Good, The Mad, and The Beautiful (Jonathan Demme, 2012), released with the book by Daniel Wolff, The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back (Bloomsbury, 2012). Also see The Old Man and the Storm (Frontline, June Cross, 2009, 60 min.). Finally, Spike Lee has produced two riveting post-Katrina documentaries that allow viewers to hear directly from a wide array of the city’s residents themselves: When the Levees Broke (2006, 240 min.) and If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise (2010, 240 min.). 56. By David Simon and Eric Overmyer, 2010–2013. 57. By Benh Zeitlin, 2012.

58. One pair of creative nonfiction accounts that directly address what went wrong during Hurricane Katrina are Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun (Vintage, 2009) and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown Publishers, 2013). A very different pair of books on public policy are The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina–the Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist by Ivor van Heerden with Mike Bryan (Viking, 2006) and the Center for Public Integrity investigation City Adrift: New Orleans Before and After Katrina (Louisiana State University Press, 2007).



Learning from Disaster



o university or community is immune to the impacts of disasters. While immunity is a comfort that cannot be expected, preparation for the inevitable is integral to establishing a responsive approach with potential educative connections, preferably one that will not need to be recreated the next time disaster strikes. This article presents three educational models designed to maximize the learning potential for students who are engaging in disaster response. The educational models align with typical approaches in higher education (e.g., courses, internships, and alternative breaks), but have been adapted to meet the needs of communities impacted by disaster and, concurrently, to align with the best practices of service-learning. We propose that these responsive approaches will be most effective if they are established and prepared before a disaster occurs. Each model is presented through an institutionally specific case study that is analyzed to identify lessons learned and transferability. In addition, themes common to all practices are extrapolated to provide practical information for higher education institutions seeking to prepare for a responsive approach when the inevitable occurs.

Key words service-learning, responsive pedagogy, internship, alternative breaks, disaster response

Establishing a Root System within a Forest Institutions of higher education connect with their identified communities in many ways and through many different scenarios. A major adverse event (e.g., earthquake, hurricane, or flood) that is directly associated with the earth’s natural processes—a natural disaster1—presents a unique scenario for potential connections. Charles Fritz, a disaster sociologist, stated that, “disaster provides a form of societal shock which disrupts habitual, institutional patterns of behavior and renders people amenable to social and personal change.” With regard to educational approaches, this “arrest [of] habitual patterns of behavior”2 could be metaphorically viewed as a call to adjust our approach to lean toward the disaster, not shy away from it. In short, this scenario lends itself to new or potentially overlooked avenues for collaboration between higher education and impacted communities, and in turn presents an opportunity to create (if one is not already established) or strengthen (if already established) powerful partnerships. The most powerful community engagement relationships are those that provide reciprocity—mutual benefit to both the community partner and the institution.3 In an educational sense, partners who work together to identify and solve tangible community issues through direct connection with relevant curricula and intended learning outcomes of the institution can be transformative for all stakeholders. One established pedagogical approach that directly addresses this complex phenomenon and can be called upon within the context of natural disaster is referred to as service-learning.4 5 In this article, we establish the underpinnings of service-learning pedagogy, as well as its applicability to disaster response. We then present three case studies, each utilizing a different approach to student engagement in disaster response; in all cases,

the goal is to capitalize on the potential learning derived from engagement while also meeting express community needs—thus, each is presented as a form of service-learning.

Service-Learning’s Root System: A Brief Literature Review Service-learning has over 165 different published definitions and assumes many different forms, models, or approaches upon implementation.6 Arguably, this wide representation of definitions gives service-learning more credence, a stronger foundation, and a potential wider base of use, greater applicability/ transferability, and value to the user.7 While service-learning typically includes a situational balance of student civic-engagement, community involvement, connection to curriculum, structured reflection, academic enhancement, and personal growth, it is fundamentally about the joining of two complicated concepts. Those concepts include “community action, the ‘service,’ and efforts to learn from that action and connect what is learned to existing knowledge, testing it, and confirming [or denying] it along the way.”8 To recognize the value in service-learning it is important to identify the roots of this flexible and powerful pedagogy. The deepest level of service-learning’s root system begins with Dewey’s experiential education philosophy, passes through Kolb’s experiential learning theory and cycle, and in the interest of this article, breaks through the surface in three educational models: service-learning as a course (Case Study #1), service-learning as an alternative break (Case Study #2), and service-learning as an internship (Case Study #3). 43

Learning from Disaster

Deep Roots: Experiential Education Philosophy and the Experiential Learning Cycle While disasters can generate a departure from society’s habitual way of doing things,9 experiential education approaches tend to provide a similar context whereby “organic connections between education and personal experiences”10 can be cultivated. These types of organic connections and responses can be achieved through a departure from habitual or traditional ways of doing things, such as our typical approaches to teaching and learning. Dewey believed that if an experience is truly educative, it can be very useful in presenting “typical problems to be solved by personal reflection and experimentation and by acquiring definite bodies of knowledge leading later to more specialized scientific knowledge.”11 Experiences are truly educative when they are linked by the “principles of continuity and interaction, the process of problematization and inquiry, and the phases of reflective thought.”12 Because community (real life) was a core concept in Dewey’s social philosophy and experience (real action) was a core concept in his education philosophy,13 it is assumed that universities would encourage experience with the community—so long as its design and intention is educative—as an appropriate teaching and learning environment. This concept is the support source of the philosophical underpinnings of servicelearning pedagogy. Service-learning pedagogy is most relevantly rooted in experiential education philosophy in the following three conceptualizations:14 • Principles of continuity and interaction: This is the recognition that the past, present, and future experiences of a learner are a continual means to the educative process and carry with them a source to draw upon in future situations in conjunction with the identification of the importance of interactions or experiences that take place between the learner and their environment.15 • Process of problematization and inquiry: Problematization is an imperative to inquiry and is best captured by the postulation that educative opportunities are typically based on problems to be solved that awaken curiosity, are of interest and intrinsically valuable to the learner, and bring with them a level of perplexity or doubt.16 Moreover, how and 44

what we think is essentially determined by the process of testing and assessing (problematizing) our current situation based on: previous experience within similar environments and scenarios (continuity), beliefs that have been shaped up until that exact moment, and the knowledge we can access and apply. • Phases of reflective thoughts: This process includes “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends.”17 An experience void of reflection is a lost opportunity to shape oneself and subsequently develop one’s understanding of the lessons learned from the experience. From this, we can determine that the educative experience, the problematization of it, and the reflective thoughts that are borne from this process of questioning are fundamental imperatives of experiential education philosophy and serve as the deepest roots associated with service-learning pedagogy. As Tonkin recognized, “Dewey’s emphasis on the importance of learning through reflection on experience is central to the pedagogy of service-learning.”18 Building on Dewey’s conceptualizations, the Experiential Learning Cycle provides a way of making order out of this approach to learning and serves as further foundational support for service-learning pedagogy. The experiential learning cycle is based on the premise that “learning, the creation of knowledge and meaning, occurs through the active extension and grounding of ideas and experiences in the external world and through internal reflection about the attributes of these experiences and ideas.”19 Experiential learning theory is demonstrated by Kolb’s learning cycle and is made up of four adaptive modes: concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.20 The four adaptive modes correspond to and interact with each other through the internal scaffolding formed by the dimensions of grasping (i.e., comprehension and apprehension) and transformation (i.e., intention and extension). Timothy Stanton, a pioneer in the field of service-learning, acknowledged the experiential learning cycle as being “very helpful in explaining to colleagues how service-learning can work, what its benefits are to learners, and how to organize courses and curricula.”22 Moreover, Stanton identified communityengaged experiences—primarily when framed by well-organized and deep reflection—as the impetus for meeting real community needs, developing characteristics of effective citizenship, and expanding their knowledge.23 These words are relevant in typically stable circumstances, but are even more potent and

Kolb’s experiential learning theory is made up of four adaptive modes: concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.

Learning from Disaster

applicable in times of disaster. In fact, a certain response is catalyzed when the societal shock reveals itself and the subsequent disruption of habitual, institutional patterns of behavior occurs. It is in this moment that people become amenable to the need for redefining, restructuring, and reconsidering the demands of their present realities.24 This departure of thought and action from the way things were, to the way things can be, is an important element when considering the application and use of a responsive pedagogy like servicelearning. Additionally, institutions of higher education bear the major responsibility for taking advantage of this opportunity, which is primed for educational innovation, creativity, and engagement. A pivotal publication that supports the integration of experiential education into higher education curriculum is A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future.25 The reception of this call is one that has been widely respected and, through efforts of Campus Compact, has found its way to the core of higher education discourse. This document proposes that our societal and economic well-being is connected to our collective civic health. College graduates will increasingly be asked to be contributors to the benefit of their community’s well-being, to be civically engaged, and to be globally conscious. Both employers and our society indicate a need for college graduates who are not only knowledgeable in their curricular focus, but whom also possess critical thinking skills, problemsolving abilities, ethics, and leadership skills.

Diverging Branches: Case Studies on Service-Learning as Disaster Response In the case studies that follow, service-learning is exemplified through three different educational models. Each model stays true to the aforementioned root system, but takes on a shape all its own above the surface. Again, a relevant strength of service-learning pedagogy is its responsive, flexible, and adaptable design. In each of these cases, based on the needs of the partner (community), the means of the learner and teacher (university), and the context (after a natural disaster), service-learning lends itself well to supporting the alignment of resources and solutions with the response needs and issues within effected communities. While the practices presented in Case Studies #2 and #3 (i.e., alternative breaks and internships) do not always align with the typical definitions of service-learning practices, we make the

Figure 1: Kolb’s Experiential Cycle.21

argument that there is potential to link with the basic tenets of service-learning pedagogy by focusing on intentional learning goals and making the effort to address genuine community needs. In fact, it was this effort to address genuine community needs that shaped the direction of the learning structures. It is also important to note the first-person approach to each of these responsive uses of servicelearning pedagogy. Case Study # 1: Service-Learning as a Responsive Course It is counterintuitive to associate the word “traditional” with the concept of service-learning, particularly because of the counter-normative nature of this pedagogy,26 but compared to the other two case studies being discussed below, the course-based approach to service-learning is perhaps the more traditional, prominent, and well-researched one. As the most well-known application of service-learning pedagogy, it is presumed that the outcomes, uses, and expectations associated with the course-based approach have become somewhat anticipated, particularly with research on its effects. As students, practitioners, teachers, and scholars, we27 have a combined fifteen years of international experience working with service-learning pedagogy, with a majority of that time spent practicing course-based service-learning. This experience has helped us to understand the intentions, values, and outcomes associated with quality course-based service-learning experiences. Yet, through our involvement in service-learning as applied to disaster response, we came to know this pedagogy in a new light and thus witnessed an 45

Learning from Disaster

evolution in our own thinking about coursebased service-learning. This transformation re-illuminated the imperative that is student reflection, but reframed it as creative and individualized. Charles Fritz’s notion of a disaster’s ability to “disrupt habitual patterns of behavior” is a sociologist’s perspective of a reality shift that disaster evokes in organizations and communities.28 In a similar vein, Laura Rendon offers a salient perspective more specific to higher education’s response to disasters.29 Rendon identifies disasters as proverbial “emergency 911 calls,” whereby students, faculty, administrators, and the community can come together, ask and reflect upon difficult questions, determine solutions, and respond accordingly. She goes on to note that, “Sadly, it often takes a tragedy for us to pay attention to the other side of academics, the one that evokes a sense of wonder in the beauty and mystery of the natural world and the realization of the sacredness of our lives.”30

From the Earth, a Call Was Heeded The “emergency 911 call” for the University of Canterbury (UC) in Christchurch, New Zealand began at 4:35 a.m. on September 4, 2010 with a 7.1-magnitude earthquake. As the first of what would be over 15,000 earthquakes and aftershocks (still occurring as of January 2014), the earthquake caused devastation to the built and natural landscapes of Christchurch and affected nearly all of its 400,000 residents. Through the relentless battery of aftershocks (the most notable being the 6.3-magnitude earthquake on February 22, 2011) there have been 186 direct casualties, thousands of injuries, and over $40 billion in damage to the city. After the initial earthquake in September 2010, UC was at a crossroads between Fritz’s “societal shock” leading to “a redefinition and restructuring of the situation” and Rendon’s “emergency 911 calls” leading “us to pay attention to the other side of academics.”31 We were in the midst of this catastrophic scenario and this was our community. This was the UC’s community. Our worlds were turned upside down—literally—and we were left with a new context and environment, but relied on the same set of tools and resources to engage within this uncharted context. The shifting of the tectonic plates under our feet forced us to become reacquainted with the tools and resources in our toolbox and devise new meanings for their use. This crossroads served as the context for an organic movement created by 9,000 volunteers—many of whom were UC students—who had organized themselves into 46

the Student Volunteer Army (SVA). The SVA provided relief mainly by shoveling silt after the September 2010 earthquake and by testing and tempering themselves as volunteers through the subsequent earthquakes and aftershocks that occurred throughout 2011. After many months of service engagement with the SVA, and concurrent efforts to secure our own safety and security, a feel-good news report by TV New Zealand’s ONENews— detailing how nice it was for the SVA students of UC to be “putting their educations on hold” to help the community—struck at the heart of our educational values, thus inspiring an idea. In the days after the February 2011 earthquake, we met with the Vice Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Success with a proposal to develop a course, CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch—An Introduction to Community Engagement in Tertiary Studies (CHCH is the established acronym for Christchurch. Early in the process, Professor Barbara Holland advised some decisions. Having a relatable and significant name was one of those pieces of advice). The proposal aligned with the underpinnings and roots of service-learning pedagogy, but reframed this course-based approach to service-learning in ways that were unique to UC’s context, the needs of the community, and the role played by the SVA, in the following ways: • In this course, students would apply theory critically to analyze community engagement and service as a topic of inquiry, evaluate the impact of their own community engagement experiences on themselves and the wider community, and use a self-reflective approach to devising, developing, and presenting personally relevant assessment products. • The course would be offered to any SVA member who had completed a significant service experience related to the Christchurch earthquakes and had proof of their engagement; thus the service component in the CHCH101 service-learning course would have already been completed before course commencement. • If SVA members successfully completed the course and could document their engagement, the students’ fees for that course would be waived. CHCH101 is based on interdisciplinary content and draws upon a range of sources. This content was presented in four modules centered on Caring, Helping, Connecting, and Healing (CHCH), and was primarily based on readings from the disciplines of history, economics, education, leadership, and sociology. While the academic content of the course was an amalgamation of a number of resources (e.g., videos, poems, songs, books,

Disasters are “emergency 911 calls” whereby students, faculty, administrators, and the community can come together.

Learning from Disaster

movies, and service), one that served as a core resource was The Civically Engaged Reader.32 While our version of this course was housed in the College of Education, a similar course at other universities could be housed in almost any college. The imperative is that there is a champion (or two) who is willing to own, manage, and deliver it. It is important to note that at this point in UC’s service-learning and communityengagement timeline, there were only two documented service-based courses offered. Moreover, at UC, community engagement and service-learning were not widely understood or used. With the seismic shift in our environmental context, UC pursued community engagement with vigor. UC did not choose community engagement; community engagement chose UC and it chose the university through the dedicated work of its students—9,000 SVA members. Significant milestones were achieved after developing a responsive and engaging curriculum including the following: • As of January 2014, over 400 students have completed CHCH101. • UC hosted the First New Zealand Tertiary Community Engagement Summit in August 2013. • In 2013 Community Engagement was listed as one of four pillars of UC’s new draft graduate profile. These achievements and other progress were dependent on a number of external and unexpected factors, including (1) the earthquake disaster providing an opportunity for new strategies to engage students; (2) the students creating the SVA themselves; and (3) recently completed research at UC demonstrating that service-learning was effective in that context.33 With the support of the literature, which indicates that service-learning can occur in a variety of modes and formulations,34-35 this particular approach at UC used service as a prerequisite for the initial offerings of CHCH101 and not as a synchronous occurrence within the course. Specifically, students’ engagement work after the earthquakes accounted for one-third of the course with readings, discussions, and reflective assessments comprising the other two-thirds. Alternatively, in the subsequent offerings of CHCH101—specifically with the influx of study abroad students and the increased popularity of the course with domestic students, the service experiences were included in the course and primarily focused on disaster recovery. Several transferable themes emerged that helped explain the success of CHCH101 emerged, including the following:

• Institutional buy-in was essential to the initial adoption of CHCH101 and its wider acceptance across campus. Institutional buy-in started with UC’s Chancellor, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Success, and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Education and became a special topic course first, and then a regularly occurring course in the College of Education. This initial acceptance and support by UC’s leaders was imperative for the course in its nascence and should not be underestimated or undervalued. • Students’ experiences outside the classroom are valued and credited as an essential part of the course requirements. For UC students who had provided service after the earthquakes without any expectation of receiving credit or acknowledgement, the fact that this service was now seen to count for onethird of their course content was significant and valuable to them. This essentially “primed the pump” for CHCH101 specifically, and for UC community engagement and servicelearning generally. While offering direct credit for the service a student performs is not common service-learning practice, in this case the students’ natural response to serve was recognized and that experience equivocally served the same role as their other readings and resources. They received credit for completing the course through the assessments they undertook and not just for performing the service. Assessment was focused on the connections, reflections, and artifacts they produced as a result of their service experience in contrast and comparison to other course resources. • Current, relevant, and timely interdisciplinary academic content was important. The readings and resources for CHCH101 were specifically chosen for their local perspective (e.g., articles from the Christchurch newspaper and New Zealand magazine Mana), global perspectives about disasters (e.g., articles about Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and tornadoes in the United States in 2011), and timelessness (e.g., readings about community service from the Torah, Buddhism, and the Bible). • Students were encouraged to challenge where ideas come from. Socratic dialogue in group conversations, online discussions, and guest speakers encouraged risk-taking and idea development. These course activities all started with a questioning premise whereby CHCH101 students were asked to challenge their own previously held assumptions about community service and the idea of incorporating service into a university course. • Critical reflection can be effectively portrayed through many different assessment methods (e.g., songs, poems, videos, presentations, photos, sculptures, essays, etc.). 47

Learning from Disaster

Assessments are opportunities for students to creatively reflect on their experiences and link them to the academic content. The assessments for CHCH101 were both structured and open-ended invitations for students to connect their experiences and content through four modules: caring, helping, connecting, and healing.36 Intentionality was paramount in our approach and learning goals for this course. We continually stayed true to service-learning’s goal of engaging students with the community to help meet the needs of that community. Extending this, students brought what they were learning in class to their experiences in a relevant way. One student, Waata, clearly captured this intentionality with the following observation: I could see connections between what I was learning in my classes and the relevance of what I was witnessing first hand in my community. It is strange to think that creativity like this could be fostered in the midst of such destruction. I think that learning takes place when your ego is in a state of submission or servitude. I believe this because being able to let go of a currently held belief requires humility in order to accept the possibility of another truth…I was outside of my comfort zone…[and] the motivation and determination I felt when faced with the aftermath of the disaster that befell Christchurch spilled into all areas of my life.37 Waata’s critical reflection on his service experience demonstrates the connection he made, the observation of creativity’s birth in destruction, and the permeative effect of powerful service. Another student, Andrew, recognized the value in critical reflection and the acceptance of that reflection in creative, individual ways with the following perspective: It is the process of taking time to reflect on the understanding that has been gained, and reassessing the habitual action that has been quietly churning away in the background… this was one of the first times I had to formally reflect upon the greater meaning my experiences had on my life’s purpose.38 From pre- and post-course surveys of the CHCH101 course, it has become apparent that the most robust learning outcome and source of greatest improvement for students is not the actual service they performed or the academic content knowledge obtained, but rather their understanding of critical thinking and the process associated with it. This obser48

vation has been substantiated by the evident shifts in students’ critical thinking about their experiences through their assessments, and significant increases in critical thinking according to pre- and post-course surveys.39 Course-based service-learning served as the vehicle for student engagement in conjunction with disaster response to be formalized and intentionally associated with UC. While CHCH101 was only a small component to the overall community-engagement portrait of UC (i.e., a single course) it served as the bridge between the students’ call to service and the university’s acceptance of it. In conclusion, our approach—i.e., building a course around prior service experience —was rare and appropriate to our situation. Alternatively, co-authors of this article have used responsive service-learning courses to engage students in group-based and individual service concurrent to the implementation of the academic course. Likewise, others have made different choices in the academic content which served as the foundation for the course; while we focused on the study of civic engagement and reflective practice, faculty and staff at the University of Vermont, for example, framed their courses around the disastermanagement cycle, using disaster management as the primary academic content of the course. Despite these differences, we shared a common commitment to the roots of servicelearning practice—a focus on academic learning goals and a desire to meet genuine needs of our community after a disaster. Case Study #2: Service-Learning as Alternative Break As noted earlier, educational philosopher John Dewey provided a theoretical framework for community-based experiential learning, laying the foundation for a number of high impact educational practices. His emphasis on action-oriented, collaborative, real-world problem solving is seen as a key component of teaching and learning. The context for this type of problem solving in higher education often takes place in the curriculum, but it can also be highly effective in the co-curricular setting. Alfred State, one of five technology colleges within the State University of New York (SUNY) system, enrolls approximately 3,700 students. The seventy associate and bachelor degrees include a wide diversity of majors such as architecture, forensic science, culinary arts, network administration, and welding technology. The pre-professional majors that dominate Alfred State’s curriculum have led toward the natural inclusion of courses that include hands-on application. Project-based learning is a fundamental component to teaching and learning, and is a common theme of the Alfred State student experience.

Learning from Disaster

Dewey’s work has informed the dynamic approach used at Alfred State, whereby students tackle real-world problems and challenges, often in a collaborative learning environment. This project-based learning approach has translated into the popularity of alternative break programming on campus —especially those oriented to the provision of disaster relief and recovery. Alternative break trips are designed to provide an option for college students seeking to engage in volunteer service and community development. Promoted as a positive alternative to traditional break options, they often involve a focus on a particular social issue, such as homelessness or sustainability. The popularity of this option in higher education is trending positively, with recent data illustrating a 20% growth in the number of students taking advantage of this opportunity.40 The recent surge in popularity of alternative breaks at Alfred State has led to a nontraditional format. Disaster relief and recovery programs often originated in, and are still integrated with, the academic curriculum. This curricular/co-curricular relationship has enabled us to implement alternative breaks that are well aligned to academic learning goals and that are based upon relationships spearheaded by faculty members. As such, we have adapted what might have been more of a volunteer effort (though alternative breaks quite often involve intentional reflection) and created an overlapping model that integrates the best practices of service-learning.

Alternative Circumstances Call for an Alternative Approach Hurricane Irene crippled large portions of New York State in late-August 2011, knocking out power for 1.1 million people, causing ten fatalities, and generating $1.3 billion in damage. It is ranked as one of the costliest natural disasters in New York history. In early September of the same year, Tropical Storm Lee generated epic flooding to regions already inundated by Hurricane Irene. Among the hardest hit was the area of Binghamton, New York where record rains generated a 1-in-200to 1-in-500-year flood of the Susquehanna River, ultimately damaging over 7,300 buildings in Binghamton. The combination of these two storms generated unprecedented damage and hardship just two hours from Alfred State’s campus. Alfred State students and faculty reacted to the human need by mobilizing four separate

weekend trips during the fall of 2011 and early winter of 2012. The first two teams focused on clearing debris in Schoharie, NY. The third and fourth trips transitioned to the Binghamton area where teams worked to rehabilitate a school drainage system and restore a local cemetery. The key players on most of these initial trips included the Heavy Equipment Operations (HEO) club (a co-curricular club associated with the HEO Associate in Occupational Studies degree curriculum) and the faculty advisor, also an assistant professor of heavy equipment operations.

Over the course of these short trips, members of the HEO club and their faculty advisor developed a passion to assist the Binghamton area in a more substantive and sustainable way as the region recovered from this disaster. The advisor took a leadership role in leveraging corporate, local government, non-profit, and SUNY partnerships and relationships built from previous trips to identify a project focused on the remediation of Apalachin Creek. The project, identified by the local community and agency representatives, involved redirecting the stream bed and creating a berm that would mitigate future damage in this flood-prone area. Students were energized by this opportunity and the trip quickly filled to capacity. Team members utilized heavy equipment, such as bulldozers and excavators, and invested more than seventy hours during the week to complete the ambitious task alongside local experts from Tioga County Soil and Water District. They gained invaluable exposure to logistical organization, project planning, collaboration, and real-world experience on heavy equipment as they addressed a root cause of this ongoing flooding challenge. Participant interviews confirmed that this week of service was an extremely meaningful experience. Students were able to clearly 49

Learning from Disaster

articulate a connection between their degree program and civic engagement due to their extensive interaction with local community members directly benefiting from their efforts. One student commented that, “we did a lot, but there was so much more that needs to be done.” This comment reflected the general sentiment that a ”once and done” experience was not enough and confirmed the willingness of students to engage in future disaster relief and recovery efforts. This passion led to the formal development of a Disaster Relief Club, which has helped ensure a sustainable approach to replicating these educative opportunities. Participants in the spring break trip demonstrated leadership by working to initiate a new club that is now organizing a Superstorm Sandy disaster recovery trip to Staten Island, NY. This time, student leaders spearheaded the planning and logistical efforts with the advisor taking on more of a coaching role. The students are now taking on leadership roles including logistical organization, volunteer management, marketing, and project planning. There has been a transition from a simple desire to help to a desire to develop the ability to plan and lead these transformative projects alongside faculty members. Other programs have also mixed a curricular focus with disaster relief and recovery. For example, Building Trades sponsors Semester in the South, a semester-long program that formally partners curricular activity with Habitat for Humanity projects along the Gulf Coast. Several key elements that emerged as transferable themes and contributed to the success of disaster-relief-oriented alternative break opportunities at Alfred State, including the following: • Institutional support was vital to generating the momentum for and lowering the barriers to enable timely and meaningful response. For example, the Vice President for Student Affairs worked with his counterpart at Binghamton University to facilitate housing and parking on this campus for the team, a Culinary Arts faculty member donated his time and expertise to cook for the team that week, and institutional funding was quickly released to cover costs related to transportation. • Successful leveraging of external partnerships is a prerequisite to launching any alternative trips. Alfred State’s spring break opportunity was made possible through the collaboration and support of corporate, non-profit, and local/state government agency partners. It is vital to reach out to alumni, donors, elected officials, and others to explore opportunities that maximize impact. For example, corporate partners 50

donated the transportation of a bulldozer, excavator, and wheel loader, as well as an articulated dump truck, a bulldozer, and software. In all, over $10,000 of in-kind donations from partners were leveraged to realize this project. • The organizational culture and perspective toward disaster relief must be planted and nurtured, an imperative made easier by its contagious nature. Leaders throughout the college had already invested effort to build a root system that nurtured a culture of disaster preparedness and had identified faculty/staff champions to lead the ongoing effort. Alfred State’s culture can be traced back to seeds planted in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina caused a national fervor to respond. Alfred State’s initial twenty-eight-member contingent was such a transformative experience that the college organized a second trip during a recess in early 2006, serving as its first disasterrelated alternative break. In 2011, Alfred State launched a trip to flood-damaged Minot, North Dakota with the intention of identifying and inspiring potential Alfred State leaders to engage in future disasteroriented trips. This approach has proved to be fruitful as these trip participants have gone on to lead multiple disaster relief trips throughout New York State. • Disaster Relief is a reliable catalyst for student growth. Through alternative break experiences, community needs are addressed and simultaneously serve as a pathway for students to become civically engaged and develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and leadership opportunities. • Disaster Relief is an effective vehicle to introduce and measure student learning and development. Incorporating disaster preparation and critical reflection throughout the experiences leads students to evaluate the multitude of political, environmental, and social issues embedded in any disaster-relief scenario. Increased awareness, experiential learning, and critical reflection are a powerful combination for civic engagement. • Almost any major can provide a unique skill set to assist in disaster relief or the much longer-term recovery phase of disaster situations. The involvement of the HEO program has not been the only example of curricular engagement in alternative breaks. For example, students and faculty of the nursing, veterinary technology, and building trades have annually traveled to com-munities in Haiti that are still recovering from the massive 2010 earthquake to assist in ways designed to utilize their respective majors.

Alternative break experiences can be a powerful pathway to achieve innovative solutions.

Learning from Disaster

The students who have been involved in disaster relief return with new skills and a greater appreciation for both their local community and for being directly involved in the development of innovative solutions. Alternative break experiences can be a powerful pathway to achieve this aim as students can engage in the effort over the course of a full week. Ideally, the relationships and partnerships that develop over a sustained period of time encourage students to return. Participation over a longer period of time exposes students to the various stages of disaster relief and recovery and enables them to better understand the complex dynamics of relief and recovery. Perhaps just as importantly, the infectious nature of disaster-relief work inspires par ticipants to recruit others, thus enhancing a campus culture of civic engagement. Case Study #3: Service-Learning as Internships In 1996, Andrew Furco drew distinctions between internships and service-learning based on two considerations: (1) “the primary intended beneficiary” of the activity; and (2) “its overall balance between service and learning.”40 Internships, he noted, often focus on the student as learner, and on the benefit to the student in completing the internship in both an academic and professional sense. Thus, he argued that internships were not service-learning because of their overarching focus on the student’s learning achieved by the student, with less attention on the needs of and benefit to the community. “Clearly, in internship programs,” said Furco, “the students are the primary intended beneficiary and the focus of the service activity is on student learning.”41 This case study challenges this clear distinction, blending the pedagogical and philosophical intentions of service-learning with the professional and experiential intentions of student internships.

Recovering from Hurricane Irene with Community-Engaged Internships In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont, leaving over 7,000 damaged or destroyed homes and multiple communities isolated from critical resources. Individual Vermonters, as well as nonprofit and state organizations, were quick to respond, and many higher education institutions provided immediate support.42 When involvement among higher education institutions slowed— and in some cases, become more focused on

research—staff members at Vermont Campus Compact (VCC) sought to develop an initiative that would ensure the long-term involvement of campuses in ongoing recovery. VCC is a consortium of eighteen higher education institutions dedicated to fulfilling the civic mission of higher education, and it often plays the role of “portal” between state and community needs and the resources available on campuses. The statewide nature of campus membership, combined with VCC’s relationships with state and nonprofit entities, allowed VCC to serve a similar function in disaster recovery. Based on an assessment of community interests, and learning from the experiences of member campuses that had engaged in disaster response, VCC leaders determined that the best model for the future would need to offer more intensive and committed support to state and community organizations, especially for what they considered lower-priority (but meaningful) projects that couldn’t always be completed by busy staff members or volunteers. In addition, campus representatives emphasized that professional-level summer experiences would fill a need for students who were interested in staying in Vermont and contributing to the local community. Thus, the Irene Recovery Internship Program was born. Funding to support the program was obtained from three Vermont-based philanthropic entities that were playing an active role in supporting recovery. Key partners in the development of the program that helped link community needs to program goals, included the State Irene Recovery Office, local Long-Term Recovery Committees, and nonprofit organizations. Drawing on an academic service-learning course model originally designed at the University of Vermont,43 the Irene Recovery Internship Program was envisioned as a mutually beneficial program that would meet community needs, while also providing students with an intentional learning and professional-development opportunity. Host sites for the internship were selected through an application process through which state, community and nonprofit organizations proposed specific projects that would fit within the summer timeframe and be appropriate level work for students. Given the interdisciplinary nature of disaster management, projects were appropriate for students from a range of academic disciplines with varying professional interests. Projects included direct work with disaster survivors (i.e., case management), organizational data collection and reporting, disaster preparation planning, and document creation. Students were recruited to fill these positions through VCC’s statewide network of service-learning and career services professionals. Positions were designed to last six weeks in 2012, and when the program 51

Learning from Disaster

continued in 2013, positions were extended to eight weeks. During the internships, each student worked thirty hours per week at their respective placements and received a stipend. Thirteen students participated in year one and eight in year two. To ensure a valuable learning experience for students, the program (outlined in an academically oriented syllabus) included: required readings, a pre-internship disastermanagement orientation, weekly site updates (designed to be reflective in nature), a midinternship team meeting, and a final team meeting/recognition event. Utilizing a cohortbased model, students were encouraged to learn about each other’s work, to compare experiences, and to share problem-solving strategies throughout the internship period. The orientation featured guest speakers from academic, professional, and community settings, as well as guided readings, reflective dialogue, and community service activities. Weekly site updates were based on the “DEAL Model” for critical reflection and asked students to: • describe the work they completed at their sites; • explore how their experiences connected to learning from the orientation, as well as to their own professional career goals; and • articulate either something significant they were taking away each week or a goal or question with which they were entering into the next week.44 The mid-internship team meeting provided an opportunity for continued learning in disastermanagement topics, as well as for problem solving and goal setting for the remainder of the term. The final team meeting engaged students in exploration of where this experience might lead them next, both academically and professionally, and provided a venue for celebration of student accomplishments and recognition of community partners. The Irene Recovery Internships Program differed from traditional internship models in that it utilized a cohort-based approach, while providing centralized support to interns and host-sites from VCC. For students, it was an individual professional-quality internship combined with a group-based learning experience. For host organizations, the program offered ongoing support to supervisors and the knowledge that the students had received foundational training before arriving at their site. Thus, combining the best practices of academic service-learning and professional internships proved valuable to all stakeholders. At the conclusion of the internship period, VCC administered evaluation surveys to both student interns and site supervisors. 52

Every intern reported being “very” satisfied with his or her internship experience. Multiple students noted that the internship had developed in them an interest in disaster management that they had not previously had, and that they might actually pursue a career in this field moving forward. In terms of student learning, self-reported ratings showed the highest gains in professional self-confidence, reflective analysis, communication, project management, and working with diverse constituents. “I was able to practice defining and approaching problems without waiting for a supervisor to tell me what needs to be done,” said one student. Students also valued the professional development sessions that were integrated into their internship, unanimously agreeing that the pre-internship orientation prepared them quite well for their internship. They appreciated hearing about the projects of other interns and learning vicariously through them at group gatherings. Because the cohort approach was an unusual element of this program—compared to other individual internship experiences—we were pleased to see students value these experiences so highly. Most supervisors agreed that the internship project was very useful or extremely useful to their organization and all supervisors said they would recommend VCC interns to other organizations. We learned that the presence of interns in recovery efforts helped to re-energize organizations and individuals. As one supervisor stated: “It was invaluable to have additional people-power on the ground during this time to best serve those affected by the storm and meet as many needs as possible, especially nearly two years after the storm.” Most partners reported a high return on investment in terms of their time spent working with the interns, stating that they were able to accomplish projects that otherwise would not have been possible. In a few cases, interns were not as successful as they could have been; upon reflection it was clear that these sites lacked the capacity to provide consistent supervision and guidance. While some interns were able to thrive independently, others lacked the professional experience and self-regulation to operate under these conditions. Especially during the intensity of a disaster recovery effort, it can be tempting to accept an intern without full consideration of the time and energy required to support that person. Screening and coaching of potential host sites are important roles for an educational organization and they became an important responsibility for VCC. Likewise, we learned that the ability to work independently and be self-motivating were important qualities to seek in potential interns. This internship model fulfilled unmet community needs when other supporting

Learning from Disaster

resources had dwindled, thus enabling us to be more involved in disaster re-covery and efforts to prepare for and mitigate future events. The disaster-management cycle implores us to consider how this model can remain in place beyond response and recovery efforts, rather than the alternative of allowing the program to disappear only to be recreated when another disaster strikes. Thus, it is our goal to move the focus from response and recovery to a more overarching emphasis of building resilience, and thus maintain a more permanent internship program. Such a program would be in place every summer not only to meet the needs of our community, but also to develop informed professionals in a variety of fields. The challenge, of course, resides in the ebb and flow of financial support for disaster response —more prevalent when a disaster is near in our memories, but more difficult to find when the immediate impacts have dissipated. Thus, we are encouraging individual campuses, other state Campus Compacts, and state and community entities to examine the allocation of resources that might creatively enable such programs to continue.

Transferable Lessons from Across the Three Models of ServiceLearning In interviews and a focus group conducted with campus representatives who had supported the engagement of students in immediate disaster response efforts after Tropical Storm Irene, Williams Howe notes that there was considerable agreement among this group about a “missed opportunity” when it came to student learning.45 Faculty and staff noted that it was challenging for students to engage with disaster survivors, that students were not always supported through that process, and that students probably could have done a lot more to process their experiences and understand what they had gained from them. Such hindsight is understandable, and does not seek to devalue the contributions that were made by students. However, this self-reflective dialogue also provides a critical lens for understanding higher education’s role in disaster response. While we can provide much-needed support to communities and pay great attention to the educational opportunities and imperatives, we also have a responsibility to ensure that our students are well supported during this difficult and demanding work. The purpose of this article is to provide some means through which faculty and staff can feel better prepared to pursue educational goals and also attend

to student needs, while engaging students in disaster response and recovery efforts. Preparation is vital to success, because when future disastrous events present themselves, there is not much time to plan or think through complexities. Among the three case studies presented, a number of important themes emerged that help to compare and contrast these models. First, institutional support is absolutely necessary. As much as these efforts m ight seem “grassroots” at first read, they would not have been possible or nearly as successful without the symbolic and physical support provided by leadership at each institution/organization. Presidents, deans, faculty members, and administrators hold certain power over bureaucratic processes (e.g., getting courses approved for credit), as well as the resources of the campus (both financial and otherwise). In the case of the internship program, partnerships with state entities and resourceful funders were essential to success-ful implementation. Second, and perhaps extending the first theme, is the value of intentional and well-developed learning goals. Each of these programs was more successful and was able to achieve better support from institutional leaders and funders because learning goals for students were explicit and genuine. These learning goals were presented in structured syllabi, backed up with research in the field, and made all the more relevant by being connected to experiences which were truly framed as educational opportunities first and foremost. In addition, students responded well to the presentation of these programs as learning experiences; they could see relevance to their personal, academic, and career goals and thus, in most cases, were able to gain more from the experiences and report significant personal transformation as a result. Most importantly, the structure and validity of the curricular approach seems to have enhanced the level of student commitment. Lastly, the fact that these programs were linked with important learning goals and were spearheaded by faculty and staff mentors meant that community partners could count on continuity of support; some may have even been more willing to enter into partnerships because of this formalization. Thus, aligning with the pedagogical imperatives of the service-learning educational approach was key to each of these experiences. A third theme that emerges is the essential value of partnerships and the need to ensure that their focus on learning is equaled by a focus on meeting genuine needs of our part-ners and not exclusively imposing our perspec-tives on them. This is, of course, also a central theme to service-learning. Each of the models included in this article was in many ways built as a response to the needs of the

[T]he structure and validity of the curricular approach enhanced the level of student commitment.


Learning from Disaster

communities: the devastation in Christchurch required immediate “boots on the ground” and a deep and wide volunteer base for sustained assistance; structural damage in New York required specialized skilled labor; and organizations in Vermont wanted a long-term commitment to projects they had not been able to attend to. Thus, it is important to gauge community needs before deciding on the educational model to utilize. That said, the models presented in this case study were not used in isolation; in fact, many campuses used more than one approach. Knowing that and balancing it against campus strengths and available resources, campuses can still create educational formats that will lend themselves to disaster response when needed. Finally, as each of us reflects on the amazing response of our students and communities to devastating events, we look forward to building upon our experiences and knowledge together, while heeding the greater purpose of addressing community needs and engaging students in educative activities. Clearly, there is a theme here around building on the momentum of successful engagement activities to further enhance student and campus engagement. That may mean that the energy derived from present work can lead toward further institutionalizing service-learning on campus (as was achieved at Christchurch), harnessing student energy to form a more formalized student commitment to disaster engagement (as is happening through the student disaster-relief club at Alfred State), or leveraging partnerships toward a permanent, long-term focus on resiliency through academic programs or summer internships (as Vermont Campus Compact is hoping to do). As Charles Fritz stated, sometimes it is the disruption of habitual patterns that a disaster brings that enables us to move in new directions and achieve key institutional changes.46 Being aware of and amenable to that potential 54

change makes it more likely that we will be able to capitalize on it.

Conclusion One of the primary goals of this article is to articulate a variety of ways in which campuses can engage in disaster response and, in particular, to emphasize the ways in which these efforts might intentionally be designed to foster student learning. It is hoped that the case studies described here demonstrate that such learning might take place through a variety of venues, both inside and outside of the classroom. By sharing these case studies and the learning that resulted from them, we hope we’ve made a clear case to justify striving for disaster resilience as an important component of educational programming and planning. Each case presents an approach that was essentially building the ship as it was steered, so to speak. The intentions of these cases studies are to present the readers with lessons learned so they feel equipped with more of a foundation if they find themselves at ground zero or the epicenter of a disaster situation. In preparation, institutions can: (1) identify academic and/or co-curricular “homes” for disaster resiliency efforts; (2) enlist the cooperation and support of top leadership to pursue higher education’s two-part role in disaster resiliency (i.e., supporting communities and fostering student learning); (3) develop educational frameworks that can either live as permanent programming on campuses or be ready and waiting when needed; and 4) establish partnerships that will enable them to act quickly when the inevitable strikes in your community. There is no reason for institutions of higher education to be caught off-guard or to feel like their response to a disaster feels like the first time every time. Resources like these need to be readily available and conversations for preparedness must begin today.

Learning from Disaster


1. Bankoff, Greg, George Frerks, and Dorothea Hilhorst, eds. Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People (London, UK: Earthscan, 2003), 73. 2. Fritz, Charles. Disasters and Mental Health: Therapeutic Principles Drawn from Disaster Studies (Newark, DE: Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware, 1996), 55. 3. Carnegie Classification Description,” Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, http:// 4. O’Steen, Billy and Lane Perry. “Born from the Rubble: The Origins of Service-Learning in New Zealand and an Expansion of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve,” Jefferson Journal of Science and Culture 2, (2012): 27–30. 5. See Williams Howe, Carrie. “Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response: Exploring Campus Response to Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont,” (this publication). 6. Stanton, Tim, “Community Engagement and Critical Analysis: Essential Elements for Character Building Education in the United States and South Africa,” in Character Development Through Service and Experiential Learning, ed. Goh Chuan, Vilma D’Rozario, Alan Heong, and Cheah Mun (Singapore: Prentice Hall, 2009), 39. 7. Perry, Lane, “A Naturalistic Inquiry of Service-Learning in New Zealand University Classrooms: Determining and Illuminating the Influence on Student Engagement (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Canterbury, 2011), 39–40. 8. Stanton, Community Engagement and Critical Analysis, 45. 9. Fritz, Disasters and Mental Health, 55. 10. Dewey, John. Experience and Education (New York: Touchstone Publications, 1938), 25. 11. Dewey, John. “How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process,” in John Dewey: The Later Works (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1933/1986), 290–291. 12. Giles, Dwight and Janet Eyler. “The Theoretical Roots of Service-Learning in John Dewey: Toward a Theory of Service-Learning,” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 1, no. 1 (1994): 80. 13. Ibid., 80. 14. Ibid., 80-85 15. Dewey, Experience and Education, 25–27. 16. Dewey, “How We Think,” 9–13. 17. Ibid., 9. 18. Tonkin, Humphrey. Service-Learning Across Cultures: Promise and Achievement. A Report to the For Foundation (New York: The International Partnership for Service-Learning and Leadership, 2004): 4. 19. Kolb, David. Experiential Learning: Experiences as the Source of Learning and Development (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1984): 53. 20. Ibid 21. Davies, Clara and Lowe, Tony. “Kolb Learning Cycle Tutorial – Static Version,” Leeds University, 22. Stanton, Community Engagement and Critical Analysis, 61. 23. Ibid, 61–62. 24. Fritz, Disasters and Mental Health, 55. 25. National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2012). 26. Howard, Jeffrey. “Academic Service Learning: A Counternormative Pedagogy,” New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 73 (1998): 21–29. 27. Fritz, Disasters and Mental Health, 55. 28. Rendon, Laura. Sentipensante Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice, and Liberation (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2009). 29. Ibid, 19. 30. Ibid, 19–20. 31. Davis, Adam and Lynn Elizabeth. The Civically Engaged Reader: A Diverse Collection of Short Provocative Readings on Civic Activity (Chicago, IL: The Great Books Foundation, 2005). 32. Perry, Naturalistic Inquiry of Service Learning, 1-364. 33. Furco, Andrew. “Service-Learning: A Balanced Approach to Experiential Education,” in Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit (Boston, MA: Campus Compact, 1996), 2–6. 34. Steinberg, Kathryn, Bringle, Robert, and Williams, Matthew. Service-learning research primer (Scotts Valley, CA: National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2010), 2. 35. O’Steen, Billy and Perry, Lane. “Service-Learning as a Responsive and Engaging Curriculum: A Higher Education Institution’s Response to Natural Disaster,” Curriculum Matters, 8 2012: 178–179. 36. Hipaango, Waata. “Gifts for Givers: A Reflection on Service Given in the Aftermath of Canterbury Earthquakes.” The International Undergraduate Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change, Fall 2012: 14–15. 37. Pemberton, Jason, Chalmers, Andrew, Perry, Lane, O’Steen, Billy. “Finding our Why: Combining Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ with Service-Learning and Critical Reflection.” The International Undergraduate Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change, Fall 2012: 25–26.


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38. Kember, David, Leung, Doris, Jones, Alice, Yuen Loke, Alice, McKay, Jan, Sinclair, Kit, Tse, Harrison, Webb, Celia, Kam Yuet Wong, Frances, Wong, Marian, and Yeung Ella. “Development of a Questionnaire to Measure the Level of Reflective Thinking,” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 25, no. 4 (2000): 381–395. 39. “Annual National Alternative Break Survey,” Break Away 40. Furco, Andrew. “Service-Learning: A Balanced Approach to Experiential Education,” in Introduction to Service-Learning Toolkit (Boston, MA: Campus Compact, 1996). 41. Ibid., 11. 42. See Williams Howe, Carrie. Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response: Exploring Campus Response to Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont (this publication). 43. Brabant, Calab, Hillary Laggis, Katherine Reynolds, Kelly Hamshaw, and Carrie Williams Howe. “Rebuilding Vermont: Living and Learning Disaster Response After Tropical Storm Irene,” The International Undergraduate Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change, Fall 2012: 4–11. 44. Clayton, Patti. DEAL Model For Critical Reflection, 45. See Williams Howe, Carrie. Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response: Exploring Campus Response to Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont (this publication). 46. Fritz, Disasters and Mental Health, 55.


Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response Exploring Campus Response to Tropical Storm Irene in Vermont CARRIE WILLIAMS HOWE VERMONT CAMPUS COMPACT

Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response



hen disasters strike local communities, nearby higher education institutions often wonder how they can help. In many cases, despite active community engagement programs, campuses don’t possess a great deal of experience in responding to urgent or catastrophic needs. This qualitative, multi-institution case study explored the response of Vermont campuses to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Through narrative interviews with four representative campuses, I addressed two research questions. First, in what ways did Vermont higher education institutions support their local and regional communities in the immediate response after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene? And second, what strategies, approaches, or systems that were used seem to be promising practices for the fields of higher education and disaster management? The study revealed a number of logistical challenges and strategies that were important to campus response. In addition, it revealed the impact that campus culture can have on the ability to respond.

Introduction In August of 2011, Tropical Storm Irene battered the eastern coast of the United States, bringing torrential downpours, winds, and extensive flooding. The State of Vermont was hit especially hard by flood waters that rose both during and after the storm, leaving some towns literally disconnected from the outside world, destroying infrastructure around the state (including many historic buildings and bridges), and damaging thousands of homes. Over 7,000 Vermonters registered for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).1 In the days, weeks, and months after Irene, students, faculty, and staff from college campuses around the state contributed their time and energy to help local communities recover. Some campuses sent hundreds of volunteers into neighboring towns to “muck out� and clean up, and others offered more indirect support (e.g., infrastructure recovery, space for displaced workers, follow-up research, etc.). Most of these campuses had never responded to such a catastrophic natural disaster in their home state, and for the most part, they were not using preestablished protocol to do so. Through this study, I sought to understand what happened on campuses in 58

Vermont in terms of community response. In particular, I explored how campuses contributed to immediate and short-term volunteer needs in local communities, and how those efforts were structured or supported. I did so through a case study approach, which included interviews and document analysis with four campuses representing different scales and sizes, including one faith-based institution, one military college, one state college, and one private liberal arts college. Common themes, strategies, and approaches that may be transferable to similar situations were explored in an effort to encourage all campuses to consider how they might respond to such a disaster in a nearby community. Brief Literature Review Although many college campuses have been involved in disaster recovery efforts across the United States and around the world (with popular press articles covering these extensive volunteer efforts), at the time when Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont, there was not a great deal of published research on the relative success or failure of such services or on the institutional approach to providing

Key words higher education disaster response, campus disaster preparation, campus-community engagement, campus disaster response

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them. There were resources on the role that higher education plays in preparing emergency management professionals (such as FEMA’s Emergency Management Higher Education Program), as well as guides to higher education emergency planning that focused on how campuses manage internal emergencies. Very rarely did this literature explore how to support the community around you when your campus may not have been so heavily affected. Since that time, interest in publishing campus efforts toward response has increased slightly, evidenced primarily by the contributions of Billy O’Steen and Lane Perry regarding the response to earthquakes in New Zealand2 and by the reflective contributions of students in New Zealand and Vermont to this conversation (in collaboration with O’Steen and Perry).3 Both efforts focus on pedagogical approaches to fostering the learning of students who engage in disaster response. (For a more detailed analysis of learning strategies related to disaster response, see Perry et al.’s contribution to this publication). Those writings, however, do not necessarily address the structures and systems (beyond pedagogical design) that contribute to and influence campus response initiatives. One notable publication that does address structural and systematic processes in campus disaster response is the 2005 Ready Campus Manual created collaboratively by US Government programs (e.g., the Office of Domestic Preparedness, Homeland Security, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency); College Misericordia in Dallas, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Campus Compact; and a number of other education and disaster-related organizations and government offices.4 The creation of this manual, modeled after a similar manual designed to help colleges and universities deal with emergencies on their own campuses, was funded by a grant from FEMA. The manual was, “designed to provide all colleges and universities a flexible, adaptable planning guide to prepare their own campuses for emergencies and, just as importantly, to become valuable resources to serve the communities which have given so much to them.”5 The manual reviews ways in which higher education institutions can contribute to community efforts at the preparation, mitigation, recovery, and response phases of disaster. It is primarily a logistical “how-to” guide, detailing steps in a suggested planning process and identifying who should be involved and what roles various constituents might play. Unfortunately, when funding for this project ended, coordinators “were unable to find a way to sustain the work and make it widely available.”6 That said, “ready campus” initiatives have taken place in states like Louisiana, especially by integrating this work into other emergency management planning.7 While

this guide provides (or could provide, if widely available) a wealth of information on strategies and protocols for disaster response, what is still missing is research or evaluation-based literature that would help us to understand how these processes are working, and whether they cover the extent of campus response or if there is more we don’t know and haven’t documented. In the absence of significant research literature on campus-community partnerships around disaster, a useful theoretical framework to apply to this question comes from general research on the ability of organizations and government to respond to disasters (from immediate relief to ongoing recovery). For example, in 1997, Quarantelli published a list of ten criteria for evaluating the management of community disasters.8 Many of these criteria relate to the ability of organizations to adapt in the face of disaster-relief needs. In 2004, Wachtendorf used the term “improvisation” to describe how organizations responded to the 9/11 attacks in New York City.9 She developed three categories of improvisation: reproductive, adaptive, and creative.10 Wachtendorf argued that disaster and emergency planning might rely on the use of systems that are already in place—or which simply need to be reproduced or adapted—but that successful response to disasters will also necessitate the final—creative—category. Similarly, in 2006, Rodriguez, Trainor, and Quarantelli drew on the concept of “emergent behavior” to explore how organizations and individuals react to disasters.11 Their exploration of emergent behavior was connected to the sociological term “collective behavior,” which includes behaviors that are “primarily of a nontraditional nature and generally arise because the standard ways of acting cannot be followed or are not appropriate for certain occasions.”12 The response that many higher education institutions must provide in times of disaster could fall into this category; the typical campus approach to engagement with community (e.g., existing programs, courses, etc.) may not be sufficient when a disaster strikes and an immediate response is necessary. “Emergent” in this sense refers to behaviors or systems that are newly created or “different from routine.”13 As overarching themes, all of these frameworks point to the need for adaptability and creativity in responding to natural disasters, yet institutions of higher education are not typically known for effecting rapid change. During the 2011 flood-relief efforts in Vermont, the response activities of higher education institutions varied, especially in relation to their proximity to the immediate impacts of flooding. Yet most campuses were involved in matching campus-based volunteers to community relief needs during the first few

In the absence of research literature on campus-community partnerships around disaster, a useful theoretical framework comes from general research on the ability of organizations and government to respond to disasters.


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months after the storm. In this study, I sought to understand the extent to which these responses aligned with current organizational and sociological literature, or whether higher education institutions in fact created new paradigms of response. Specifically, I sought to answer two research questions. First, how did Vermont higher education institutions support their local communities in the immediate response after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene? Second, what strategies, approaches, or systems seem most promising as transferable to the broader higher education field?

Methods and Analysis Data Collection Qualitative data was collected through interviews, document analysis, and a focus group (which also served as a member-checking effort). This multifaceted research design allowed for a deep exploration of a small sample of campuses through interviews and document analysis, and an expanded exploration through a focus group that included additional campuses—leading to triangulation that can help to enhance this study’s dependability and transferability.14 Thomas defined the methodological process used in this study as a parallel multiple case study, characterized by cross-case analysis of cases that are “all happening and being studied concurrently.”15 I chose to use multiple cases instead of a single case study because I wanted to diversify the information gathered, while also being able to illuminate trends that could be useful for other audiences. While the goal of this research was not to uncover or narrowly define a single way of responding to disaster, I did want to make sure findings could be transferable to other settings, thus the importance of looking at a handful of different campuses rather than just one. I conducted one-hour, semi-structured interviews with staff members at four higher education institutions in Vermont between six and ten weeks after the storm; specifically, these staff members worked in community service or community engagement offices and coordinated institutional response in some way. Because I am a colleague with these individuals and have some knowledge of each staff person’s office and institution, there did not appear to be a significant difference in the amount or quality of the information gathered through either means. Phone conversations were free flowing and covered a great deal of content over the course of the hour, and notes from these conversations were as equally detailed and thorough as those from the face-to-face conversations. I also took measures to ensure that my preexisting 60

professional relationship with interviewees did not bias the questions, their responses, or my interpretation of the responses. This study was conducted as part of a graduate-level course in qualitative research and thus was approved through an instructor’s assurance process with the Institutional Review Board. Interview participants were sent a copy of a consent form and gave verbal consent for participation during interviews. Aligning with the principles of narrative inquiry, interviews were designed to allow interviewees to “construct their reality through narrating their stories.”16 Before each interview, I described the intent to focus on campus involvement in community recovery, as opposed to recovery of its own facilities and resources. However, when campuses were directly impacted by the storm, it was discussed in terms of the proximity of damage to campus. I began interviews by simply asking individuals to describe what was happening on their campus in the days and initial weeks after Irene, including sub-questions about: volunteer involvement and coordination; roles played by staff, faculty, administrators, and students; relationships with community partners; and proximity of storm impacts. Follow-up questions specifically asked about such topics as: perceived successes and challenges; key players; preexisting structures or plans for response; necessary resources (and how they were provided); and any advice the individual might have for other campuses. All interviews were recorded; full transcriptions were completed for the first two interviews and detailed notes were transcribed for the second two (including the outlier case). In all cases, I returned to the recorded interview to doublecheck any quotes—including the context in which they were spoken—before using them. In addition to interviews, public and internal documents were collected from each institution, including press releases, newspaper articles (both internal and external), memos and campus announcements, public announcements, and campus website content. At least five documents were collected from each institution, and in some cases video footage was also reviewed. Document analysis of this material was part of the coding process. Lastly, a network meeting of campus representatives was used to member-check initial findings. This meeting included representatives from at least eight higher education institutions in Vermont, two of which were already represented in interviews. Participants were provided a one-page handout that described preliminary findings and asked to comment on the accuracy of those findings to their own experience through a group dialogue that lasted about 45 minutes; they also were invited to add to the findings if anything seemed to be

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missing or misrepresented. The dialogue was recorded, and detailed notes were transcribed and integrated into the analysis process.

faith-based institution, one military college, one state college, and one private liberal arts college.

Data analysis All transcripts, notes, and documents were coded for key points, patterns, and themes; in the first coding phase, I used descriptive coding to label sections of the data with topical words or phrases.17 This was especially important for coding narrative sections that described what was actually happening immediately after Irene. I also used structural coding to label concepts emerging in the data that directly addressed the second research question (i.e., promising strategies and practices).18 To some extent, I used “in vivo coding” to mark words and phrases used by the participants themselves that could be useful in describing the concepts that emerged. During a second phase, codes were grouped into categories, or clusters, to illuminate common themes through pattern coding.19 Data from interviews were compared to data from documents to further illuminate and clarify the analysis, and then a comparative analysis among cases was used to highlight the most common themes. Findings were grouped by these themes into a handout for the member-checking session described above, and comments from the memberchecking session were used to triangulate the previously collected data. Draft versions of this article were read and reviewed by multiple faculty members and peers at my institution who served as “critical friends” (i.e., scholars external to the phenomenon being studied whom I asked to evaluate my inferences and findings).20 Lastly, a full draft of the article was sent to each interviewee with a request that they review how their perspectives were represented and comment on the findings, if applicable. Interviewees did not express any concerns with representation or interpretation of their stories.

Campus One: A Small, Faith-Based Private College Campus One is a small, faith-based institution of about 2,000 undergraduate students, most of whom are from outside Vermont. The campus has a long history of service tied closely to its faith-based mission and participates regularly in the local community as well as in the global community through alternative breaks and other service-based travel study programs. This campus did not see any immediate impacts of the storm, as it was located further away from the most heavily impacted communities. Like most of the campuses in the study, classes had just started when Irene hit Vermont. While this campus has a history of responding to significant international events (such as the earthquake in Haiti), it did not participate as heavily in response to Tropical Storm Irene. The campus did arrange for a one-day service event during which students signed up to load into a bus and head out to help a community in need, but the campus struggled to identify appropriate service projects, perhaps due to the lack of relationships with those who were “on the ground.” The campus staff member interviewed also noted that students didn’t really seem to know what was happening further away from them within Vermont because they did not see it as much through social media or national media outlets, and they therefore did not express as much interest in getting involved.

Description of Cases In selecting four cases to include in this study, I used all three of Thomas’s categories: (1) I had “local knowledge” of these campuses through my membership in the Vermont Campus Compact network to which we all belonged (a network focused on civic engagement priorities);21 (2) three of the campuses chosen were “key cases” in that they helped to illuminate the process through which campuses engaged in response; and (3) I included one “outlier”—a campus that had not engaged quite as significantly in response efforts—to illuminate different angles to the story.22 Campuses also represented a range of geographical locations and proximity to the storm’s effects and a range of institution sizes. The sample included one

[T]he campus struggled to identify appropriate service projects, perhaps due to the lack of relationships with those who were “on the ground.”

Campus Two: A Private Military College Campus Two was perhaps the most heavily involved in Irene relief, and for the longest period of time. This campus enrolls approximately 2,300 students, a student body made up of both cadets and civilian students. Many students on this campus were trained in emergency response and high-water rescues, which meant that they got involved in response almost immediately on the night of Irene’s impact. In addition to the skills of their students, this campus was also located in close proximity to a town that had been severely damaged by Irene. Students could not avoid the sights and sounds of Irene’s impact, and many of the faculty and staff on the campus live in the local area. This campus set up a response office staffed on a daily basis with shifts for which students could sign up. The campus eventually designed an orientation in which all students participated before community involvement. The existing relationships between college staff and community groups/organizations served to jumpstart campus involvement and 61

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keep open the lines of communication between campus and community. Campus Three: A Small State College The third campus is a small state college that enrolls approximately 1,900 students, many of whom are from Vermont. Irene directly impacted this campus, with a significant campus building incurring major flooding. Students not only helped to clear out this building, but also participated in “mucking out” the local community, which had likewise been impacted. The President of this institution visibly participated in campus response efforts, and drew on key political and community allies to facilitate student involvement and ensure that students were meeting key priorities in the community. In addition, the campus integrated response efforts into already-planned days of service, and athletic teams were highly involved. Campus Four: A Private Liberal Arts College The final campus was a small liberal arts college located in a rural community in Vermont. While the immediate local community was not as heavily impacted by Irene, this campus was surrounded (in fairly close proximity) by communities that had been heavily impacted, mostly in rural and isolated locations. This college had not started classes when Irene hit, but students who typically arrive early to campus (e.g., athletic teams) had; it was these teams who participated most heavily in immediate response. When other students did arrive on campus, however, many also became involved. This campus did attempt a significant fundraising effort which was minimally successful. In addition, they created a student leadership team that took responsibility for planning and implementing response efforts. One of the primary organizers of response efforts was an individual who had been on the campus for over 20 years and had lived in the surrounding rural community for even longer; her contacts with local organizations, including rescue organizations, played a significant role in the ability of the campus to respond to immediate community needs. Interpretive Findings: Themes and Promising Strategies While each campus was somewhat unique in its approach and level of engagement, every campus interviewed—to some extent—sent student volunteers into the community to help support recovery efforts. The number of students involved ranged from 60 to 350 or more. Students were, by far, the largest constituent of volunteers sponsored by campuses, though faculty and staff were also involved in some 62

cases. Most often, staff in the civic engagement or community service offices coordinated these volunteer activities, though student leadership did emerge as response continued, especially on the more involved campuses. In every case, there seemed to be one person who was the driving force and coordinated the immediate response. Sometimes that person assumed this leadership role; in other cases, that person was appointed by the administration. (In other cases, it was a combination of the two.)

As described above, proximity did play a role in how quickly and extensively campuses responded to their local communities; campuses where the impacts of Irene could be seen either right on campus or nearby (including the state college, the private liberal arts college, and the military institution) had students, faculty, and staff working in communities within a day or two of the storm’s arrival. Campuses located further away from the visible impacts (e.g., the small Catholic college) took a bit longer to organize a response. The largest groups of volunteers were involved in “mucking out” storm debris and cleaning up after the storm, most often in individual homes or in community buildings. Quite often, this was physically demanding work. In almost every case, volunteer days were scheduled from a few days to a week in advance; large groups of campus volunteers were pulled together, provided with safety equipment and food, and transported to sites as close as one mile and as far away as a two-hour drive. Campuses frequently reported working with local offices of organizations like the American Red Cross and FEMA, but more often they reported working with key local community contacts—including fire departments, municipalities, and active com-

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munity leaders—to find and address the most urgent and appropriate needs. In short, every campus interviewed played some role in response, but there was a significant difference between those campuses that “dove in” completely, forgoing other activities and priorities in order to focus on response, and those for whom contribution to recovery was sporadic or limited. This difference was closely connected to differences in proximity to the disaster, but the distinction does not end at geography. Presented below are a number of additional themes that arose in the narrative interviews. Leadership [The administration] played a role in getting us started, and then once we got everything together they were there as well; I mean the President on down. The Dean of Students, the Associate Academic Dean . . . I mean they were all there helping out as well, so we had tremendous support from them. —Campus Interviewee

Every campus spoke about the need for the President’s office and the upper-level administration to voice a “call to action” and to follow through in support of that call. Presidential involvement was important at multiple points in the process: they voiced their commitment to working with communities on recovery, demonstrated that commitment by participating in service events, and provided the necessary resources (both symbolic and actual) to make things happen. As one interviewee stated: “I think it helped to have the knowledge that we had presidential-level support, and we could use that, like when calling dining services, and when I did use it I said, ‘I’m responding because the President wants us to do x, y, z,’ and that was something that got me in the front door.” On campuses where presidential endorsement was less clear, there seemed to be less of a collective agreement on the priority of helping communities. “Maybe we would have felt better if we had agreed together whether response would be a high priority,” one interviewee noted. Presidents also played a role in publicly designating who would be in charge of the effort to engage in community recovery; in almost every case, it was a community service program or office director. “The president wrote public statements instructing all offices, all students, all staff and faculty, to work through me,” said one community service director. This public assignment of responsibility represented another clear directive of responsibility: it left fewer questions about who was supposed to be doing what. In most cases, this responsibility was paired with the president’s creation of a

leadership team to spearhead the effort or to serve as a sounding board to the individual or office designated as lead. As one interviewee described: “They became my resource group whenever I needed anything or when I needed to have something leveraged that I couldn’t get on my own.” This echoes one of Quarentelli’s ten criteria for evaluating the management of community disasters: “Involve proper task delegation and a division of labor.”23 These groups frequently became the groups to whom anyone on campus who was doing recovery work reported. Some campuses noted that they reported on a daily basis to their President or to an advisory committee of administrative leaders. These designated lead individuals or offices became the driving force of the campus response, often putting in long hours and adjusting their priorities and programming. Interviewees on campuses where Presidents played a role in assigning additional resources to this office— whether through funding for basic supplies and transportation, or through the reassignment of staff members to work in these offices—often reported higher levels of involvement in response efforts. Student leadership was also evident in many of the campus response initiatives; however, in many cases, student involvement came later, once students had seen firsthand the impacts of the flooding. It is possible this delayed reaction in student leadership was related to timing—most campuses were in their first week of classes or hadn’t even started classes when Irene hit, so student groups were not yet active. Many students hadn’t even been in the region when Irene hit. It is also likely that students did not take early action because they simply did not realize the extent of the damage or did not take it seriously until they were able to witness the impact firsthand. Logistics Without fail, every campus mentioned the challenge of getting volunteers to sites, whether because of the lack of college vehicles available or funding for busses, and the ease with which those resources were made available seems to have made a substantial difference in campus involvement in response. Interviewees said the same about accessing supplies: “I was spending $800 on supplies and I needed more and I was worried,” said one, “but he [the Special Assistant to the President] was always supportive. There was never an issue there.” “They paid for it,” said another. “Luckily I didn’t have to tap into my budget. I would have if I had to, but they found the money to take care of all that.” As Quarentelli24 outlined in his criteria, “effectively mobilizing personnel and resources” is an important criteria in disaster response.25 A clear message that resources were available

[I]t helped to have the knowledge that we had presidentiallevel support.


Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response

and a clear process to access them made the work of lead offices more effective. Likewise, the interviewees stated that clear systems or policies were necessary to engage in response. Even something as seemingly simple as obtaining access to a college vehicle became a roadblock when the regular processes for accessing them weren’t available (e.g., on a weekend). This is an example of a need for what Wachtendorf would characterize as “creative improvisation”—the development of new structures or practices to more effectively respond to disaster.27 It also aligns with Rodriguez et al.’s notion of emergent behavior: new ways of doing things when the old systems will not work in the current situation. The same need arises when the normal ways of allocating financial resources (through formal proposals and reviews) may not be possible.28 This could be especially difficult in hierarchical, bureaucratic institutions (like colleges and universities) where permissions need to be processed through multiple channels and levels. If creative improvisation is not successful, it can be a major barrier to response. As Quarantelli points out, successfully responding is not just about delegating tasks, but also about “permitting the proper exercise of decision-making.” He says, “Decision-making is very likely to be effected in a negative way by certain typical happenings during the emergency period.”29 He juxtaposes a frequent focus on “organizational control” (negative) with effective decision making (positive); in other words, focusing too much on who has control, rather than on the ability to make good decisions can impact the ability to be effective.30 Capitalizing on Pre-Organized Groups and Events When a campus comes together to respond to volunteer needs in the community, one might assume that students in volunteer organizations would be the most active, or that large one-day events through which individuals sign up to help would be common. These things certainly did happen, but the “first responders” on most campuses included in this study were organized groups with clear leadership structures—primarily athletic teams and ROTC or military corps. Multiple interviewees described how coaches or leaders in these groups had the power to say, “OK, this is what we’re going to do today,” and the students would listen; they indicated that such a response is not unique to this situation. “I will say,” one interviewee told me, “our athletes are probably, they’re our first line. And that comes from their coaches; their coaches really encourage them to do positive things in the community and any time I need help—say even setting up or breaking down a blood drive, something like that—these guys are ready to help.” The use 64

of teams, and the existing structure of these teams, is an example of successfully utilizing an existing structure to fit a new situation—a “reproductive” approach—that allows you to move quickly without having to create a new system or practice.31 In addition, the fact that these groups were prepared for—and physically capable of—doing this work cannot be ignored. “You could see why they loved having the football team come because here are all these really strong guys who are in great physical shape and have a different kind of stamina and physical ability,” said one interviewee. Another helpful strategy cited by multiple campuses was the integration of response into existing or regularly occurring programs or events. Campuses made disaster recovery the theme of their orientation programs, for example, or announced disaster recovery opportunities during their convocation events. This gave them a venue with a group of potential volunteers that was already planning to come together. This is another example of avoiding the need to create new structures to respond—an “adaptive improvisation,” wherein existing systems, resources, or programs are adjusted to a new situation to enable you to move more quickly and efficiently, even when you are using those planned structures for new purposes.32 Visibility of the Disaster Until you see it in person, you just don’t understand. —Campus Interviewee Vermont is not used to natural disasters devastating local communities at this level, and for many students it was hard to picture or really see what was happening until they got out there and witnessed it themselves. For students who were not located in close proximity to the impacted areas, this lead to a potential lack of awareness of the response needs around the state. On campuses that did not have a substantial or immediate volunteer response among the student body, there was a common perception that students simply didn’t understand the magnitude of what was going on. On my own campus, where I was teaching a class to 26 students on disaster relief and community engagement, students frequently told me, “My friends really have no idea what is going on in other parts of the state.” “Students don’t watch so much local news,” said one interviewee, “and it wasn’t really covered so much in national venues like Katrina or Haiti was. Students just weren’t seeing it.” In addition, there was a noticeable difference described between students who were from the local area and those who came to campuses from further away. Some interviewees cited this lack of personal con-

[C]lear systems or policies were necessary to engage in response.

Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response

nection or proximity to the disaster as a reason some students did not get involved, and why some campuses had a more limited volunteer response. This observation led to speculation among interviewees and focus group members that making the disaster more visible might have increased interest or involvement in volunteer response on some campuses. Existing Campus Culture and Relationships While the above themes represent more of the “how to” for disaster response (i.e., what worked or created challenges), this theme is less concrete and more about the conditions that serve to make those concrete action steps successful, including two sub-themes: (1) an existing campus culture of responding to immediate needs; and (2) existing (and positive) campus-community relationships. Interviewees indicated that the presence of these two conditions before disaster strikes was key to their ability to more easily adapt and respond to an event. In each interview, I asked the staff person if their campus typically responds to immediate community needs. “In other words,” I would ask, “if someone calls because they need an elderly person’s lawn raked that weekend, are you usually able to make that happen?” Most campuses responded that this was a common role for their office and something they did not have trouble doing. They had systems in place, and perhaps more importantly, a culture that accepted or embraced this regular occurrence of responsive service to the community. Likewise, some campuses stated that they had a “typical” way of responding to large disaster (usually on a global scale), which might involve a campus-wide gathering, groups who normally step in, a typical fundraising approach, etc. This norm of response did not always lead to a high level of engagement after Irene; one campus specifically struggled with the fact that students usually do respond to things like this and weren’t responding to calls for help for Irene (a contrast that the interviewee hypothesized was connected to the issues of proximity or lack of awareness about the impact of Irene). Yet it did seem to be especially helpful to campuses that could access these previously developed modes of response that, again, reduce the need to create new systems and operational solutions. Equally important (and likely related) to a culture of responsiveness was the existence of networks and positive relationships between campuses and their surrounding towns. Interviewees credited much of this to individual relationships. Said one campus staff person: “It helped to a certain extent that I’ve been here so long because I knew who to call in the firefighter’s group and one of the guys is

a personal friend. So we have a network and an infrastructure that is already in place that helps.” But institutional relationships were also important, as was trust in each other as partners. “They knew if they asked that we would provide as much help as possible, so I think all of our community partnerships that we’ve had over the last 10–12 years helped in . . . pulling it off pretty easily,” said one interviewee. The relationships at this institution were intentionally and carefully built. “What myself and my staff tried to do early on was to connect with as many organizations, individuals in the community to let them know that we are here as a partner,” this person told me. “We’re not here as somebody to come out and tell you what you need to do.” In some cases, response to the disaster also went a long way in building this sort of trustful relationship for the future. Presidents who had positive relationships with local government and offices that have a reputation for coming through when communities need them seemed to lay the groundwork for a more successful and smooth campus response. “Having Faith” as a Planning Philosophy When a disaster strikes, communities often have trouble easily defining what it is they are going to need from a group of 10 or 200 volunteers in a week’s time. But what they usually do know is that they will need them and they will make use of them. Campuses that had robust response initiatives seemed to understand and accept this condition; they had faith that communities would figure out how to use volunteers, or that they would adapt and go somewhere else if need be. In the scenario that a group of volunteers arrived at a community location that didn’t need them, they were either redirected or asked to come back later. And this was OK. Waiting to have all of the details before you get a group of students, staff, or faculty signed up for a day of volunteer work wasn’t always practical. But that’s often our regular way of doing things in higher education: we want to know where we are going, what we are going to be doing, how many people can go, how we will get there, and what the hours will be. One of my interviewees described in detail a situation in which she was literally making phone calls while riding on a bus full of students, after initial plans had fallen through. They found an alternative site that needed help and were put to good use. But if they hadn’t been needed, she would have had to accept that and potentially return to campus. Campuses that had regular volunteer shifts or days, perhaps without realizing it, were also taking this “faith-based” approach. They had to trust that “if they built it (the volunteer base or event), the needs would come.” Taking this approach

Equally important (and likely related) to a culture of responsiveness was the existence of networks and positive relationships between campuses and their surrounding towns.


Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response

requires campuses to adopt a more “creative” improvisational response, one that might be quite different from their normal mode of operation. While this approach is not necessarily a new structure, activity, resource, or task, it is a new “way of being” and calls on organizers to resist the temptation to stick to their typical ways of operating.33 It also calls on all campus volunteers—but leaders especially—to make community needs the top priority; volunteers need to understand that disaster response is a complicated situation and that spontaneous volunteerism can be as much of a burden as a relief in some communities. Being flexible, and not pushing your own needs or agenda, is incredibly important. Connecting to Learning and Reflection A theme that emerged later, and which was primarily discussed during the memberchecking session, was that of connecting the immediate response to learning goals and engaging students in critical reflection on their involvement. “What type of experiences do we want our students to have?” asked one participant. Others asked questions about how the experience could have been connected to more intentional learning, and how learning goals could have been attached to decisions about which activities to pursue (a specific example mentioned here was the choice to do fundraising, which resulted in students “petering out” and losing enthusiasm). Participants talked about a perceived “missed opportunity” to model critical reflection with their students, to add transparency in the midst of the chaos, and to voice their own interpretations and struggles when it came to being active in the response. There were two campuses in Vermont that integrated Irene response into academic courses, including a course that I created with a colleague. There is much to learn from these models of “responsive service learning” that are not fully covered in this paper; however, this model could prove useful in addressing the concerns raised by participants in this study around student reflection and learning.34

Discussions The Ready Campus Manual offers a comprehensive guide to campus disaster response that includes ideas on how to contribute to local community recovery through volunteer support.35 Many of the more concrete findings from the interviews conducted in this Irene disaster research study confirm the content of that manual: planning teams or advisory committees are recommended,36 executive-level support is included in key roles and responsibilities,37 the importance of assigned roles and responsibilities of offices/individuals are 66

outlined,38 and there are suggestions for how to identify resources (both human and financial) to support the work.39 Organized groups are stressed as important contributors (especially through case studies and examples), and there is encouragement to develop relationships with state, federal, and local response groups (e.g., the American Red Cross, FEMA, local police and emergency management departments, and area businesses).40 The fact that the current interviews confirmed these components of the guide offers an evidence-based affirmation of the guide’s suggested action steps. The current research may also help to illustrate the need to make this guide more readily available again. The original creators cited that the guide became rather outdated and was not frequently accessed when it was available online as reasons why it was removed from publicly accessible resource lists.41 Yet the campuses in this study might have found the guide valuable had it been available. While the findings show that many of the best practices in the guide were followed by these campuses, it is possible they might have been more successful, been able to react more quickly, or would have faced less stress if they had not had to figure these things out on the spot with little guidance. Future conversations might focus on how to make this guide widely available, how to find support for regular updates, and how to make it known as a resource to campuses before and after disaster strikes. Many of the findings from this study echo the practices included in the Ready Campus Manual, but this study also illuminates the less easily defined side of disaster response: the ways in which campuses must examine their culture, relationships, and ways of operating in order to effectively respond to disaster. Logistical planning solutions can only go so far in making disaster response work on a campus that does not have a supportive culture or tradition of responding to immediate community needs, positive relationships with its surrounding community, a willingness to organize volunteers even when service needs are not yet identified, or the ability to set aside hierarchical systems that depend on strict definitions of power and decision making. In addition, the role that the executive officer (i.e., President) plays in committing to, promoting, and supporting campus response may be much more significant that one would first guess. Based on the experiences of the institutions in this study, campuses might do well to examine their ability to respond to immediate community needs on a regular (i.e., less catastrophic) basis and, in fact, make a regular practice of doing so. By “practicing” this work and reflecting upon its relative success, they can not only develop a cadre of people who are used to responding in such situations, but

[D]isaster response is a complicated situation and spontaneous volunteerism can be as much of a burden as a relief.

Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response

might make great progress in creating positive and dependable relationships with their local community, thus building a level of trust that will enable them to work well together when disaster strikes. In addition, developing strong relationships between campus administration and community service offices (because they are often the ones designated to handle response efforts) would also contribute to an ability to adaptively respond; administrators need to trust that community service staff members will make good decisions when empowered to do so, thus enabling them to let go of restrictions when it becomes necessary. Likewise, community service staff members need to trust that administrators will come through with the resources and support when those things become necessary. As was demonstrated in the interviews conducted for this study, intentional reflection on campus response after an event can also provide valuable insight for future preparation.

Table 1: Key action steps to improve campus ability to respond to community disaster Category Results logistical and concrete steps to prepare for disaster response.

Process campus culture and “ways of doing”

Limitations and Opportunities for Further Study This study utilized a narrative inquiry approach with a case study involving four campuses, and was specific to one event. The number of cases was small, and narrative inquiry means that you are, to a large extent, trusting one person’s interpretation (or story) of the event, even with careful triangulation and member checking. As such, like most qualitative research, these findings cannot be presented as generalizable to all incidences of disaster response. Further research on how campuses have responded to similar events could help to corroborate or contradict these findings. In addition, the use of the promising practices suggested in the conclusion by campuses that take responsive action in the future could help to “test” the theoretical implications of these stories. Furthermore, my own reflexive bias can also be identified as a limitation. My ability to set aside my own experiences in order to subjectively interpret the stories of my interviewees can only go so far. Further research conducted by scholars not intimately involved with a particular event or response process could help to add some level of objectivity to the findings, though interpretations of stories can never be truly objective. In addition, there may be some specificity to these findings based on the type of disaster studied (e.g., a localized flooding event as the result of a natural disaster). Replication of this type of study for a different type of natural or—especially—a man-made disaster could help to further illuminate promising practices.

Relationship quality and extent of relationships between key individuals and groups

Action Planning: Create an emergency management planning team or advisory committee, ensure that community response planning is included in their charge, and ensure that executive-level support for this group is strong. Responsibility: Designate key offices that will take leadership in the event of a disaster in the local community. Resources: Pre-identify resources (both human and financial) that may be necessary in the event of a community-based disaster (e.g., an office to coordinate response, transportation funds, safety equipment, food and water, etc.) and devise a flexible plan to make them available. First-responders: Identify organized groups on campus as good candidates for early involvement (e.g., sports teams, ROTC, campus rescue groups, etc.); consider providing relevant training and preparation for these groups and their advisers on a biannual basis (to account for student turnover). Individual roles: Encourage campus members who will likely play a part in response to reflect on and plan for how they would handle such an event; workshops and campus-wide discussions can help to support such reflection. Culture of response: Ask whether your campuses have a “tradition” or established way of responding to immediate needs in the community; if not, explore ways to build such processes, to enable faculty, staff, and students to become more practiced at responsive service; this could include faculty and departmental training in “responsive” service learning. Contingencies to hierarchy: If your campus typically relies on hierarchical systems to make decisions, consider hypothetical, planned alternatives to decision-making processes. For example, if a key individual is not available, who are the next two people in line with authority to make a decision? Engendering flexibility (within reason): While campus systems are in place for a reason (e.g., risk management, fiscal responsibility), consider how and whether they could be more flexible during a disaster, and whether campus policies should be adapted or revised to prepare for an event of this nature. Internal: Create time for campus offices that would likely work together in response efforts to get to know and trust each other before such an event occurs. This could occur through a planning committee but could also emphasize other ways of working together on a normal basis such that trust is built beyond common membership on a committee. In particular, community engagement offices that have little communication with campus administration and the President would do well to improve that relationship. External: Include community organizations and leaders who would likely be key contacts in disaster response in campus-planning conversations. In addition, campuses can strengthen their relationships with these groups by partnering on nonemergency community initiatives so that trust and comfort are established. External relationship building should also include nearby campuses, such that response can be coordinated and collaborative.

Conclusion “Facilitative leadership” practices focus on analyzing the success of any initiative not just through results (i.e., the accomplishment of the task or achievement of the goal), but through an analysis of results, process (i.e., how the work gets done, how it is designed and managed, and how it is measured and evaluated), and relationships (i.e., the quality of one’s experience in relating to colleagues, customers, and the organization, including the level of trust and respect).42 This model does well in illustrating the components of disaster response illuminated in these qualitative interviews. Disaster planning and response can be more successful if designed and evaluated not only based on the tasks- or results-oriented concerns, but also on how such tasks are performed (process), and on developing collaborative and trusting relationships that will 67

Higher Education as Partner in Disaster Response

make effective response possible. The most relevant transferable practices illuminated by this research are summarized in Table 1 according to these categories. Many campuses in the United States and around the globe are located in regions where natural disasters are quite frequent. Others are located in regions where natural disasters are rare, but will likely be on the increase as global climate change impacts weather patterns and events.43 In addition, the ability to respond to a local disaster is not limited to natural disasters; campuses may just as likely find themselves in close proximity to man-made disasters. As such, I believe that any campus wanting to improve its ability to serve its community needs to engage in an exploration of its ability to contribute to local disaster response. Responding to disasters must include an equal focus on helping the community and keeping students, faculty, and staff safe; campuses may in fact decide that some forms of response are not feasible, and that is perfectly acceptable. However, decisions about what actions to take will only be improved with preparation, individual and institutional reflection, and built infrastructure. This study presents a set of promising practices that should help to support an exploration of campus readiness for disaster response. I hope that it can serve as a starting point for continued dialogue and a tool that campuses and communities can utilize in collaboration.



1. FEMA: More Than 7,200 Vermonters Registered for FEMA Irene Aid. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2011 from 2. O’Steen, Billy, and Lane Perry, “Service-Learning as a Responsive and Engaging Curriculum: A Higher Education Institution’s Response to Natural Disaster,” Curriculum Matters 8 (2012): 171–185. 3. Fields, Joyce, Ned Scott Laff. (Co-Editors): Billy O’Steen, and Lane Perry (Special Editors). Special Edition: The International Undergraduate Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change, Fall 2012, Columbia College. 4. Pennsylvania Campus Compact, College Misericordia, Ready Campus Manual, Grantham, PA, 2005. 5. Ibid., 2. 6. Ibid., 2. Helen Streubert, formerly of College Misericordia, personal communication, 2011. 7. Stuart Stewart, Louisiana Campus Compact, personal communication, December 2011. 8. Quarantelli, Enrico, “Ten Criteria for Evaluating the Management of Community Disasters,” Disasters, 21(1) (1997), 39–56. 9. Wachtendorf, Tricia, “Improvising 9/11: Organizational Improvisation Following the World Trade Center Disaster,” Dissertation, University of Delaware, 2004. 10. Ibid., 65, 114, 155. 11. Rodríguez, Havidan, Joseph Trainor, and Enrico Quarantelli, “Rising to the Challenges of a Catastrophe: The Emergent and Prosocial Behavior Following Hurricane Katrina,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 604(1) (2006), 82–101. 12. Ibid., 85. 13. Ibid., 85. 14. Marshall, Catherine and Gretchen B. Rossman, Designing Qualitative Research, 5th ed. (SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011). 15. Thomas, Gary, “A Typology for the Case Study in Social Science Following a Review of Definition, Discourse, and Structure,” Qualitative Inquiry, 17(6) (2011), 518. 16. Marshall and Rossman, Designing Qualitative Research, 153. 17. Miles, Matthew and Micahel A. Huberman, Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook, 2nd ed. (SAGE Publications, Inc., 1994). 18. Guest, Greg and Kathleen MacQueen, Handbook for Team-Based Qualitative Research (AltaMira Press, 2008). 19. Corbin, Juliet and Anselm Strauss, Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory, 3rd ed. (SAGE Publications, Inc., 2007). 20. Marshall and Rossman, Designing Qualitative Research, 253. 21. 22. Thomas, “A Typology for the Case Study in Social Science Following a Review of Definition, Discourse, and Structure,” 514. 23. Quarantelli, “Ten Criteria for Evaluating the Management of Community Disasters,” 44. 24. Ibid. 25. Ibid., 43. 26. Wachtendorf, “Improvising 9/11: Organizational Improvisation Following the World Trade Center Disaster.” 27. Ibid., 155. 28. Rodríguez, Trainor, and Quarantelli, “Rising to the Challenges of a Catastrophe: The Emergent and Prosocial Behavior Following Hurricane Katrina,” 82–101. 29. Quarantelli, “Ten Criteria for Evaluating the Management of Community Disasters,” 46. 30. Ibid., 47. 31. Wachtendorf, “Improvising 9/11: Organizational Improvisation Following the World Trade Center Disaster.” 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. For more information, see Caleb Brabant et al.,“Rebuilding Vermont: Living and Learning Disaster Response after Tropical Storm Irene. The International Undergraduate Journal for Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change,” Fall 2012, Columbia College. 35. Ready Campus Manual, College Misericordia, 2005. 36. Ibid., 12–14. 37. Ibid., 14. 38. Ibid., 13–14. 39. Ibid., 17. 40. Ibid., 28. 41. Helen Streubert, College Misericordia, personal communication, December 2011. 42. Interaction Associates. (n.d.). Results, Process, Relationship. Retrieved December 8, 2011, from http:// 43. USGCRP (2009). Global climate change impacts in the United States. Karl, T.R., J.M. Melillo, and T.C. Peterson (eds.). United States Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA. Retrieved October 2012 from: scientific-assessments/us-impacts.

C A L L F O R PA P E R S 2 0 1 4 ! The Office of Engaged Scholarship at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership seeks papers for upcoming collections of Issues in Engaged Scholarship. Contributors from The NYMAPS Collaborative are encouraged to submit papers under the 2014 Symposium theme: “Advocacy in Practice: Engaged Teaching and Research for Social Change.”


• Proposals for the 2014 themed edition on Advocacy in Practice: July 18, 2014 • Proposals on other themes accepted on a rolling basis.

TO SUBMIT Email an article proposal of 300-500 words outlining the title of the paper, the focus of the investigation, the rationale, and the approach to

Goals of Issues in Engaged Scholarship • To increase understanding of processes, practices, and outcomes associated with service-learning pedagogy, community-based research, and community-campus collaborations. • To disseminate high-quality research and analysis related to engaged scholarship. • To build a community of engaged scholars. • To document how service-learning, community-based research, and community-campus collaborations are addressing issues within the NYMAPS areas of focus: arts and culture, community revitalization, crime and policing, education reform, environmental sustainability, health and immigration. • To fulfill a part of the Colin Powell School’s mission to build a strong culture of civic engagement and to mobilize campus resources to meet pressing community needs and serve the common good.

The Office of Engaged Scholarship at Colin Powell School invites works that extend knowledge in the field and that move beyond description to encompass lessons, application, insights, or recommendations. Research highlighted in the series must reflect careful design, methodology, and analysis. Subject matter may encompass the following aspects of engaged scholarship: • service-learning, including questions of student-learning outcomes, community impact, and leadership development. • community-based research, collaborative research through which faculty and community organizations jointly address a specific community problem or policy dilemma or share knowledge and expertise with community and public audiences. • campus-community collaborations between campus individuals or entities and community entities, including a wide range of reciprocal relationships such as internships, fieldwork, sharing of faculty expertise, community development initiatives, college-access programs, and others.

Thank you, The Editors

The Colin Powell School invites works that extend knowledge in the field of engaged scholarship.

GenĂŠa Stewart Director, Office of Engaged Scholarship Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership 160 Convent Avenue NAC 4/146C New York, NY 10031

Phone 212-650-6335

Website Email

Issues In Engaged Scholarship: "Community-Campus Readiness: Approaches to Disaster Preparedness"  

Issues In Engaged Scholarship, Vol. III of the annual working papers series of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership: "Com...

Issues In Engaged Scholarship: "Community-Campus Readiness: Approaches to Disaster Preparedness"  

Issues In Engaged Scholarship, Vol. III of the annual working papers series of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership: "Com...