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Katrina Hits Pomona
Though Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing chaos on the Gulf Coast struck
more than 2,000 miles away from Claremont, Pomona College students felt
the impact. “I’ve been really deeply psychologically and emotionally
affected by the disaster and the subsequent reactions and inactions to
it,” said Kaneisha Grayson ’06. “Being from Texas, and working class,
and black, and a black studies major, I felt this very deep connection
and obligation to do something.”
Grayson was not alone. Students across campus immediately began
brainstorming plans for action, ranging from knocking on doors in the
residence halls asking for spare change to planning large-scale social
events with ticket sales donated to relief funds. Students collected
more than $3,000 to donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief
Fund and gave more than 100 pints of blood through a blood drive
sponsored by the Claremont University Consortium’s Office of the
Chaplains. One enterprising first-year student, Melissa Hanna ’09,
organized a charity event called “Rock for Relief” that brought four
bands to Edmunds Ballroom and raised more than $2,000.
“Every time I read the (Student) Digester, there was a different
organization announcing their plans,” said Dean of Students Ann Quinley.
“There were many students who were touched by these events.”
In a show of support, President David Oxtoby announced that the College
would be accepting up to 16 visiting students from Tulane University and
other schools that were affected by the hurricane. Although students and
administrators alike were disappointed with the low number of students
who ended up applying, the College eagerly welcomed Sara Silvestri and
Neema Nazem from Tulane near the second week of the semester.
“Everyone has been so nice to me here,” said Nazem, although he admitted
that catching up in Pomona classes meant reading nearly a book a day for
the first couple of weeks. The Chicago native hadn’t even left for
school yet when he heard that Tulane had closed down for the semester.
His girlfriend of three years, Pomona sophomore Hai-Minh Nguyen ’08,
informed him that Pomona was accepting applications, and a week later he
was moving into his room in the basement of Mudd-Blaisdell.
Silvestri’s story was more heart-wrenching, as her entire family lives
in New Orleans and waited until the last minute before deciding to pack
up and head out of town to avoid the storm. Evacuation warnings are an
annual event for New Orleans residents, she explained, and no one
imagined how bad the devastation would be.
“I feel luckier than most that I got out OK, and I know where my family
is,” said Silvestri.
While both Silvestri and Nazem said that adjusting to life at Pomona was
an easy transition for them, the call to return home and help with
rebuilding the city was equally strong.
“A large part of my days here are spent wondering why I’m here and not
there,” said Nazem. “I’m getting educated 2,000 miles away from the
problems in our country.” In mid-October, Silvestri decided to leave
Pomona and return home.
“The thing I miss most is having people to talk to about Louisiana.
People who get it,” she said. “We’re very attached to our culture. We’re
all stubborn, and we’re all proud of being stubborn.”
While Silvestri’s Pomona friends were sad to see her leave, they
realized the importance of her return. In the meantime, relief
efforts—including the earthquake victims in Pakistan—continue across
“We don’t want to keep asking for more money, we want to reach into our
hearts,” said Jamie Johnson, advisor of the Volunteer Center. “Our goal
is to bring everyone together to make the most of this situation.”
—Lori DesRochers ’06