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Shelter from the storm: Gulf Coast students, faculty find temporary home at Dartmouth

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, Loyola University sophomore André Breaux was at home in Lafayette, La., fully expecting to start school after the storm passed. Even in the immediate aftermath he remained optimistic. "My friends and I, we all thought we'd be going back to school in a few weeks," he said. "And then the levees broke."

Christopher West, Thomas Sherry '73v, Kristan Saubert and André Breaux
Left to right: Christopher West, Thomas Sherry '73v, Kristan Saubert and André Breaux all spent the fall term at Dartmouth as their home institutions in the Gulf Coast region recovered from the hurricanes. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

As the water rose and the scope of the damage to New Orleans became evident, Breaux and thousands of other college students received word that their home institutions - Tulane, Loyola, Xavier, Dillard, the University of New Orleans and many more - would not be opening as planned for the fall semester. In response, colleges and universities across the country, including Dartmouth, offered enrollment to qualified students and temporary appointments to faculty from Gulf Coast institutions. Instead of paying tuition to Dartmouth, displaced students paid regular tuition to their home institutions. Over 30 students, including Breaux, were admitted to Dartmouth for the fall term and four faculty members from Gulf Coast institutions accepted temporary appointments.

Coming to Dartmouth brought Tulane University sophomore Christopher West back to his hometown of Lyme, N.H. "I can't even express how grateful I am," said West. "I wouldn't have gone back to school this semester if it hadn't been for this opportunity."

He was impressed by how quickly the College responded. "Dartmouth was offering admission before most of my friends had called to make sure I was OK," said West, who was on his way to New Orleans when Katrina struck.

"I can't even express how grateful I am. I wouldn't have gone back to school this semester if it hadn't been for this opportunity."

- Christopher West

"Dartmouth has really rolled out the red carpet."

- Thomas Sherry '73

Hurricane Katrina also prompted a return to New Hampshire for Tulane Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Thomas Sherry '73. Sherry also earned his master's degree in biological sciences at Dartmouth and was a post-doctoral fellow from 1981 to 1988.

Sherry was offered a temporary appointment by Andrew Friedland, Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies. "Dartmouth has really rolled out the red carpet," Sherry said. "I was on sabbatical leave last year, getting back into research in a way I hadn't been able to in years. This term is like an extension of that sabbatical."

The time at Dartmouth has enabled Sherry to continue his research on the population ecology and conservation of migratory birds, audit a course, guest lecture and exchange ideas with regular Dartmouth faculty members. He also participated in the College's relief efforts and volunteered as a contact for displaced students.

Still, Sherry and his family, who have been staying with friends in East Thetford, Vt., are looking forward to returning to New Orleans. "We have strong ties to the university and the city," he said. Sherry's home and Algiers neighborhood sustained only minor damage but, he said, "I still get emotional thinking about it. I know so many people - my colleagues and students - who rode out the storm and were flooded."

Other Gulf Coast faculty with temporary appointments are Tae Hong (Tulane) in music, Aaron Konopasky (Tulane) in philosophy and Abigail Wildman Konopasky (University of New Orleans) in linguistics and cognitive science.

Dartmouth's year-round calendar system, or "D Plan," gave displaced students the advantage of starting the term on time, instead of weeks behind. The D Plan did require some adjustment for students used to a semester system, however. "The workload isn't that much harder, but you have to get it done in four weeks less," noted Tulane junior Kristan Saubert.

Saubert's father, William Saubert '76, was pleased with his daughter's decision to spend the fall term at Dartmouth. Saubert has been staying with fellow Tulane student Amanda Wilson in the Hanover home of John Heston '54 and his wife, Betty. Because campus housing is tight, members of the local community opened their doors and Dartmouth students offered to share dorm rooms.

Saubert made an extra effort to meet Dartmouth students this term. "Not living in the dorms, it's more difficult. You need to get involved in an activity," she said. Saubert made connections by joining the theater department's fall Mainstage Production, The Cripple of Inishmaan.

Breaux, a communications major at Loyola, used his term at Dartmouth as an opportunity to take electives. "I'm just trying to learn all I can while I'm here," he said.

Like Sherry, the students plan to return to their home institutions for the spring semester. "In some ways I'd really like to stay, but I'm definitely going back to Tulane," said West. "I feel an obligation - without Tulane, New Orleans wouldn't be the same. I've never been much of an activist, but I know that just by going back I'll be making a difference."

By SARAH BENELLI 

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Last Updated: 5/30/08