September 02, 2005

Student reactions

Usually during the first week of classes, the campus is filled with high spirits and lots of energy, but this week has been pretty somber. Here in the northeast, few of my students have any connection to New Orleans, but the media images have for many of them stirred up memories of September 11th. Many of them remember what it was like to have missing family, to lose contact with friends, to wait and hope desperately for a phone call that would tell them that someone they loved was still alive.

Many of my scientist students keep shaking their heads in disbelief, their logical minds trying to comprehend what is happening. "But everyone knew that this was coming, that a storm like this was inevitable. How is that the government had no plan to evacuate the poor, the elderly, the children? How could this happen? We had all the data we needed years ahead of time."

Even as my New York City students make the comparison to the World Trade Center coming down, the rural students express their frustration at how helpless they feel. "In a small town, you can help out when something happens. You let people sleep on your couch, you cook them up some good food, you let them chill at your house," said one of my small town students. "But all this is so far away. There is so little we can do."

And as the week went on, the anger was building - anger at the Bush administration. "Last November was so depressing," said one student, "but now .... this is even worse. Maybe it's because he is no longer running for election, but he is not even pretending to care. I am so angry I could puke."

Several times I heard: "I cannot believe this is happening here, in this country." Other students are not surprised. They seem resigned.

In one class, I had a student who said something like, "Well, people were stupid not to evacuate." I didn't even say anything; classmates were quick to question his statement. "How would you evacuate if you didn't own a car? What if you couldn't afford a hotel? What if you were elderly or sick? Yeah, you say just walk, but where would you walk to? And who can afford to evacuate every single time a storm comes?" Students were pretty quick to point out the privileges that come with race and class in this country, privileges that could mean life or death in a hurricane.

These conversations were the undercurrent of the week, during slow times in my office, during the sunny weather out on the quad, in the snack bar where I have breakfast, or during the ten minutes before class when I chat with the students as they arrive. Sadness, anger, disbelief. That is how this semester is beginning.

12 comments:

Running2Ks said...

Some things just don't come in a book. These conversations are important. You can inspire more action with these young minds.

peripateticpolarbear said...

wow.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Students and faculty of the local law school are opening their homes to some refugees from New Orleans. I sometimes feel that Americans can do so much more than the 'government' can.

Have a great weekend, jo(e)!

Psycho Kitty said...

Oh, Jo(e). Thank god they don't all feel resigned.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Do you even need to teach the students there at Snowstorm U? They seem like they already have all the thinking skills they need to teach themselves.

After 9/11 I tried to talk to my Alabama students about terrorism. I had to stop when I student (one I liked!) said "we should kill them all, even the little kids who were dancing in the streets after the towers went down."

Julie said...

Sadness, anger, disbelief...that about sums it up. I'm glad your students are talking about it.

ccw said...

Good for those students who understood why some people could not leave.

So many people just don't understand that w/o any resources, you are simply stuck. I grew up without a car, phone, TV, etc if something like this had happened where we had lived we would have been "one of those idiots" that did not leave. To place any blame on those who could not leave is maddening to me.

Danny said...

Like your students, I've also read about how New Orleans' devestation was inevitable. Yet the other day, President Bush said that "no one could have foreseen" it. Go figure.

Nels said...

What smart students you have!

RussianViolets said...

I'm glad that not all students are clueless and ... just clueless.

Rana said...

I am grateful, in some ways, to not be teaching right now. I remember how hard it was after 9/11, and how some days it just seemed to keep going on and on... But I do miss having the space to talk things out with people, to reconnect with other human beings, to be part of a larger shared community. (Blogging is wonderful, but it does have its limits.) My classes grew closer as a result of the tragedy; I hope that you will have that happen with yours -- some small good out of the larger nightmare.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I am so glad you are having these conversations and in a way, I miss being a part of a community. I feel so isolated and helpless.

The things you are saying to those students and the things youa re saying here in this blog are so important. I wish more people were listening! Mary