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Riders from the Storm: Disaster Narratives of Relocated New Orleans College Students in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

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Riders from the Storm: Disaster
Narratives of Relocated New
Orleans College Students in the
Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Anthony E. Ladd
Loyola University New Orleans
Duane A. Gill
Mississippi State University
John Marszalek
Mississippi State University
Hurricane Katrina forced the evacuation of some 50,000 college students from New
Orleans, as well as the closing of universities and the relocation of over 18,000 of these
students to new colleges and universities around the country. While qualitative studies
and oral histories of Katrina survivors have recently begun to appear, no research to
date has examined the narrative accounts and experiences of college students who
evacuated from New Orleans in the wake of this historic disaster. Utilizing qualitative
data drawn from a web-based survey of college students (N=7,100) displaced from their
universities in the aftermath of the storm, we analyze a diverse array of individual
narratives that illustrate the disaster’s salient impacts on their lives and education. These
accounts thematically highlight traumatic events associated with students’ evacuation
and relocation, personal and financial loss, psychological stress, perceptions of
recreancy, satisfaction with official disaster responses, educational impacts, and feelings
about returning to New Orleans. We conclude by discussing the implications of our work
for current disaster research, as well as the value of qualitative research for
understanding the “voices of Katrina.”
By most accounts, Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest and most expensive
disasters in U.S. history, creating widespread devastation to New Orleans and the
Mississippi Gulf coast, with potentially $200 billion in economic losses, more than
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260,000 destroyed homes, and over 1,800 people dead (Brinkley 2006; National
Geographic 2005). The storm displaced over one million residents of the Gulf region,
including more than 50,000 New Orleans college students whose wind and flood-
damaged campuses were forced to close for the fall semester. As colleges and universities
nationwide responded to the catastrophe by opening their admission doors to any student
forced to evacuate from the hurricane, tens of thousands of these survivors quickly
relocated to hundreds of new institutions outside the impacted area to enroll in classes for
the fall 2005 term (Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006; Marszalek et al. 2006).
Communicating with their displaced New Orleans universities’ administrators, faculty,
and friends through emergency remote websites and other emergent telecommunication
systems, these student evacuees constituted a new, nationally linked Internet community
within the larger Katrina Diaspora (Foster and Young 2005). Meanwhile, New Orleans
universities found themselves facing a severe economic crisis due to over $1.5 billion in
building and infrastructure repairs, lost tuition funds, and payroll outlays (Ferrell and
Hoover 2005; Mangan 2005).
Despite the increasing effects of hurricanes and other hazards on university and
college campuses over the past decade (FEMA 2003), little attention has been paid to the
impacts on and disaster-related experiences of college students in the aftermath of a
regionally catastrophic hurricane (Gill et al. 2006). Although existing studies suggest that
college students’ socioeconomic resources and social roles usually protect them from
many of the direct impacts and suffering caused by disasters (Gutierrez, Hollister and
Beninati 2005; Pickens et al. 1995; Sattler et al. 2002; Van Willigen et al. 2005), recent
research by the authors indicates that Hurricane Katrina and the historic Gulf Coast
exodus that followed created significant psychological, economic, and social impacts for
the college students of New Orleans (Gill, Ladd and Marszalek 2007a; Gill, Ladd, and
Marszalek 2007b; Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006; Marszalek et al. 2006). While
qualitative studies and oral histories of Katrina survivors have recently begun to appear in
the literature (e.g., Brinkley 2006; Deichmann 2006; Rose 2005; Smallwood 2006; Stein
and Preuss 2006; Thomas 2005; Walker 2006), no research to date has examined the
narrative accounts and experiences of college students who evacuated from New Orleans
in the wake of this historic disaster.
Utilizing qualitative data drawn from a web-based survey of college students
(N=7,100) displaced from their New Orleans universities by Katrina during the fall 2005
semester, we examine a diverse array of personal narratives and reflections that illustrate
the disaster’s most salient impacts on their lives and education. In particular, we focus on
student accounts that document many of these survivors’ key experiences, including
traumatic events associated with their storm evacuation and relocation, personal and
financial loss, psychological stress and anxiety, perceptions of recreancy, satisfaction
with the disaster response of government and other social/relief organizations,
educational impacts, and feelings about returning to New Orleans. We conclude by
discussing the implications of our work for current disaster research, as well as the value
of qualitative accounts for understanding the “voices of Katrina.”
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Conceptual Framework
Social science research has produced an extensive literature focused on
assessing the multiple impacts, stressors, dislocations, and life-altering changes
surrounding both natural and technological disasters (see, for example, Alexander 1993;
Baum and Fleming 1993; Clarke 2005; Couch and Kroll-Smith 1991; Drabek 1986; Gill
and Picou 1991, 1998; Freudenberg 1993; Tierney et al. 2001; Norris 2002; Quarentelli
and Dynes 1978). While the majority of works in the field tend to be essentially
quantitative or theoretical, many of the most compelling studies have employed largely
qualitative methods to illuminate some of the more interpersonal and descriptive aspects
of disaster experiences (see Couch and Mercuri 2007; Edelstein 1988; Erikson 1976,
1994; Gibbs 1982; Gill and Picou 1997; 2001; Kroll-Smith and Couch 1990; Levine
1982; Picou 2000; Ritchie 2004). By definition, disasters, like any anthropogenic
phenomena, involve complicated layers of cognitive meaning, interpretation, and social
construction by impacted individuals and communities (Hannigan 1995; Scarce 2000).
As a result, employing narrative accounts, testimonies, and oral histories in research can
contribute immensely to a greater multidimensional understanding of how disasters can
not only disrupt survivors’ lifescapes, but also diminish trust, generate feelings of
recreancy, create resource loss, and produce psychological stress and trauma (Erikson
1994; Edelstein 1988; Freudenberg 1993; 2000; Hobfoll 1988; 1989).
Edelstein (1988) suggests that all disasters disrupt “normal” patterns of everyday
lifestyle behaviors, but technological disasters are more likely to challenge deep-rooted,
fundamental, taken-for-granted assumptions about life and people’s relationships to
others, their community, and the environment. This challenge to ontological security can
result in a lifescape change. Further, threats to ontological security may be accompanied
by feelings of isolation and abandonment, distrust of others, perceived loss of control,
and anxiety.
Freudenberg posits that issues of blame and responsibility for disasters
increasingly involve issues of recreancy, that is, a collective perception that some
person(s) and/or organization(s) did not fulfill their normative obligations in relation to
the disaster. Recreancy contributes to a loss of trust in social systems, further challenges
ontological security, and contributes to lifescape changes.
In his conservation of resources (COR) model of stress, Hobfoll (1988, 1989)
states that stress occurs when resources are lost, threatened, or invested without gain.
Under conditions of disasters, various tangible and intangible resources are sacrificed and
expended. Such losses contribute to social and psychological stress.
Erikson (1976, 1994) argues that all disasters produce trauma to individuals,
groups, and communities, but trauma resulting from disasters that involve recreancy and
challenge lifescapes is unique and “collective.” For example, collective trauma from
disasters characterized by feelings of recreancy and changes in lifescape may emerge as
social disruption and result in a corrosive, rather than a therapeutic community.
Moreover, perceptions of recreancy heighten anger, frustration, and stress that typically
accompany all disasters. In such cases, psychosocial stress tends to be chronic—it takes a
long time to get over the hurt caused by another person or agency, especially when blame
and responsibility are challenged by the offending parties (e.g., through litigation).
These conceptual considerations guided our data analysis and identification of
recurring themes in the narratives reflecting students' experiences in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina.
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Research Design and Sample
In the weeks following the Katrina disaster, a research team of sociology and
counseling education faculty, including the authors, formed at the Social Science
Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University to assess the hurricane’s impact
on New Orleans college students. This historic tragedy provided a unique opportunity to
study these students via the Internet during the period of their relocation to hundreds of
temporary campuses and homes across the country. Consequently, we developed a web-
based survey that collected quantitative and qualitative data on students’ storm
experiences, impacts, and needs following the disaster.
We attempted to include as many New Orleans universities in our study as we
could, but logistics and disaster response priorities precluded many institutions from
participating. We received approval, however, to conduct a web-based survey of three
major New Orleans universities that were representative of the city’s college student
population: Loyola University New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana, and
University of New Orleans (UNO). The sampling frame consisted of all the
undergraduate and graduate students from each university who were officially registered
for at least one class in the fall semester prior to August 29, 2005, when the disaster
struck. Loyola University reported a fall enrollment of 5,644 students, Xavier University
reported an enrollment of 4,190 students, and the University of New Orleans reported an
enrollment of 17, 251 students (Pope 2006b).
Administrators from all three institutions provided computer files listing their
students' email addresses as of November 1, 2005. The files included students’ existing
New Orleans university email accounts, personal email accounts, and/or newly reported
email addresses from whatever college or university they were attending during the fall
semester. We could not determine through which email address inquiries were most
likely to reach students in a timely fashion so some students were sent email/survey links
to each of their email accounts inviting them to participate in the study. Returned surveys
were checked, however, to ensure that only one questionnaire per student was completed.
Emails containing a link to our web-based questionnaire were sent to all student
email lists between November 10 and November 23, 2005. Initial emails were sent to 7,
574 Loyola student accounts, 7,091 Xavier student accounts, and 27,023 UNO student
accounts. Two reminder emails were sent at one week intervals to those who had not yet
responded to the study. We stopped collecting surveys on December 16. A total of 7,100
students responded with usable surveys, resulting in an effective response rate of 38%.
Overall, the sample characteristics were found to be roughly proportionate to
demographic profiles of each respective university (see Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006;
Marszalek et al. 2006).
Storm Stories: Student Accounts of Hurricane Katrina
The qualitative findings of this research were derived from written responses to
one of four open-ended items included on the survey instrument. Given past research
suggesting that disasters can produce both therapeutic (positive) and corrosive (negative)
impacts on communities, we asked students the following question: Please describe an
event related to the disaster that has greatly impacted you (either positively or
negatively). A total of 3,476 written narratives were recorded and analyzed for salient
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themes based on recurring comments illustrating a diversity of disaster impacts
experienced by students.
In general, these hurricane accounts tended to reflect the following six thematic
issues: (1) storm evacuation and relocation experiences; (2) personal and financial loss;
(3) psychological stress and anxiety; (4) perceptions of recreancy and satisfaction with
disaster responses of government agencies and other relief/social organizations; (5)
educational impacts; and (6) feelings about returning to New Orleans. For each of these
themes, we provide representative accounts that amplify how students viewed both
positive and negative aspects of their disaster experiences. Where appropriate, we include
descriptive quantitative data from our survey to frame and focus the thematic responses
(see Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006). Finally, minor punctuation, spelling, and
typographical errors have been corrected in the narratives to enhance readability and
Storm Evacuation and Relocation Experiences
While the vast majority of student respondents (84%) were able to successfully
evacuate New Orleans before the storm winds or levee flooding devastated the city, the
events surrounding the evacuation exodus were painfully slow and stressful:
We were in a car for 21 hours straight driving from New Orleans
to San Antonio, TX. We almost got mugged because we were the
only ones in a gas station who had food in our car. There were no
bathrooms, there was no food to be bought.
Because I evacuated at the last moment, I had to leave a friend in
town because I couldn’t talk her into leaving. She had no car of her
The evacuation process was a very stressful situation both
emotionally and physically.
The evacuation process is one bad memory as a whole and was
incredibly frustrating for most students on campus. More
organization among the campus administrators and communication
with students would have made this a less negative experience.
A few individuals even tried to reenter the city after evacuating to help others, but were
turned away by authorities:
My boyfriend and I decided about 5 days after the storm that we
should try to go back and help in any way that we could. We were
turned away at the foot of the I-55 bridge by a blockade of state
troopers. When we told the trooper we just wanted to help and that
we had food and water for people, I could see the tears well up in
his eyes. He told us to turn around. That was the most heart
breaking thing for me—knowing that I wanted to help, had the
ability to help, yet couldn’t because I had decided to evacuate.
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Students frequently cited a range of negative experiences surrounding issues of
relocation. Indeed, over one-third (36%) of the respondents found themselves being
displaced three or more times since evacuating New Orleans, especially when Hurricane
Rita hit the Texas/Louisiana coastline only three weeks after Katrina:
I have moved 5 times and traveled thousands of miles. I left my
boyfriend, then had nowhere to go but a hotel. I experienced other
people who took advantage of my situation and treated me unfairly
and unkindly. It has been a true nightmare.
I’ve had to relocate 3 times before settling in where I am now. It
was hell to drive so far everyday, wait in line for gas, take cold
showers, share your tiny home with ten other people, and still keep
peace of mind.
We moved 7 times since Katrina. While in Carencro, LA we had to
evacuate for Rita too. Moving all around and having to evacuate
twice was really stressful!
An event related to the disaster that has greatly affected me was
having to stay in a shelter for nearly a month. I’m in the North
freezing my butt off.
Due to the mandatory evacuation and the fact that Loyola closed
for the semester, I have relocated to LSU for the fall semester. I am
renting an apartment in Baton Rouge for the semester. Last week,
my Baton Rouge apartment was broken into and ROBBED. I lost
my last few major possessions that I had managed to salvage from
my parent’s flooded New Orleans home.
Having to completely relocate to Chicago where I don’t know the
city, have any friends, or family. It’s cold here and the people
aren’t kind.
Living with In-Laws has been the worst experience of my life!
Since the storm I have relocated 6 times. I have stayed in shelters,
been refused by shelters and forced to sleep in the back of a truck
in a Wal-Mart parking lot, lived with a stranger in a home with no
running water above an abandoned funeral home, stayed in a motel
for a month with no money or transportation, traveled back and
forth to New Orleans in hope of salvaging something, anything
from my 19 years of life there, walked through the home that my
father built and cried my eyes out looking at the devastation that
thirteen feet of water can do.
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For some, however, there were also positive outcomes that came from their forced
relocation to new communities and universities:
I volunteered with the Red Cross on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for
a month in the aftermath. The experience was highly positive; it
helped me make sense of the situation and focus my energy in a
positive direction.
All the outpouring of support from strangers that I met along my
evacuation traveling has made a huge impact on me. People [who]
don’t know me, but feel compassion for all I’ve been through, have
given me things and helped me in ways I never thought I could
count on strangers to do.
Strangers coming up to me and my family and offering help just
because of our LA license plate.
Because of the hurricane I was relocated to another university
where I have met new people and made new friends that have
impacted my life positively.
I was sitting on the grass waiting for my number to be called at the
Red Cross service center and a complete stranger walked up to me
a gave me a $100 and told me that everything was going to be
Due to Hurricane Katrina, I was relocated to Houston, Texas where
I met the love of my life.
Positive: A family took care of us without even knowing us.
One traumatic aspect for many students involved not being able to contact
family members or friends in the hours and days after the hurricane. Indeed, over one-
fourth of the students (26%) had a family member, significant other, or close friend who
was “missing” during or after the storm. The following narratives illustrate this situation:
I was unable to locate my parents for approximately six days after
Katrina. They were safe and secure, but we did not know that.
Those six days were very stressful on all of us.
I was separated from my husband and was not able to speak to him
or know if he was safe for several days.
Not knowing where my friends were and how to contact them was
difficult. I never realized how much New Orleans and its culture
meant to me until it was washed away.
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Some students who evacuated were angered and traumatized by witnessing the
suffering of New Orleanians on television, particularly in the context of the weak
governmental response and rescue efforts seemingly shaped by discriminatory policies
based on race and class:
Seeing the victims of the storm and how they were treated makes
me cry even to this very moment. The images that were on the
news day after day will NEVER leave my mind. I was thinking to
myself that could have been me.
I witnessed an entire nation leave the people it claimed to care
about on rooftops, freeways, and street corners. It was crushing to
see people with nothing but hope and struggling to survive.
The news coverage on Hurricane Katrina had me in tears. It
bothers me that at times like this, the storm brought out the worst
in people. People, even police officers, were looting. Rescue came
so slow. It seemed like images from a third world country.
Watching the people at the Convention Center not being rescued
for 5 days has been devastating to me. The words “5 days”
resonate in my mind as an indication of the disrespect and lack of
concern that the U.S. government has for African-Americans. It
has never taken them 5 days to respond to any disaster, anywhere
in the world, and Black people sat for 5 days with no assistance.
The reports of racism and how it effected the saving of people’s
lives has made me hate white people, especially those in all levels
of government and the national media.
I’ve had to deal with a lot of ignorant people at work who make
crude jokes and remarks about the storm and the poverty level and
how it was all “justification.”
This event has shattered the “American” view of a rich society.
There is poverty everywhere in America, but there is no
acknowledgement of people who are poor. The event removed the
rose colored lens from the glasses of the majority of Americans.
This is a positive impact that will hopefully make law makers and
communities work to help and assist people of poverty.
A few, however, interpreted some media-reported events in the aftermath of the disaster
from perspectives that accentuated racism and victim blaming:
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I am fucking furious over all those stupid-ass ignorant niggers
down in the Superdome acting like barbarians and animals. All
those motherfuckers are leeches of society. Everyone is bitching
about how FEMA acted too slow, I feel they acted too fast!...THIS
Seeing the blacks of New Orleans loot and create chaos has made
me a racist.
Some New Orleans students were slow or never able to evacuate the city and
thus experienced the disaster firsthand, physically witnessing the death and suffering of
many citizens around them:
When I was leaving New Orleans I witnessed bodies in the waters
while we swam. Living through that experience had made me more
determined to do the best I can so that I can help other survivors.
Being trapped in a hotel surrounded by water was the worst
experience ever.
I had to sleep on the bridge and seeing all those dead bodies
around me was very depressing and I still have flashbacks now.
Seeing people passing out and catching heat strokes and seeing my
whole city that I have lived in for 19 years under water will always
be a hurtful memory to me.
I was one of the 400 students left on Xavier’s campus. The event
that affected me most was the looking out on Xavier’s campus and
seeing all the damage and water.
Watching an elderly man lying dead in his wheelchair outside the
Convention Center has GREATLY affected me...I think about it
often, and it is a constant reminder of what didn’t have to happen.
The image will haunt me, and the reality of it will forever haunt
our city.
A few New Orleans students and their family members were also trapped in the unfolding
disaster events:
I had to live in my attic in Slidell for five weeks because the LSU
animal shelter shut down on October 3 and I had no other care for
my Staffordshire terriers.
We lived without electricity for three weeks. We took cold
showers in a make-shift shower my husband built out of a garden
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hose and blue tarp. We finally obtained a generator from a church
so we could run 2 box fans and sprayed ourselves with bug spray
to stay somewhat comfortable at night. We ate food that the Red
Cross brought around daily. I felt like I was in a third world
My husband is in the National Guard and had to stay in New
Orleans for the hurricane. I was very stressed out when I heard the
horrible events of looting that were going on in the city and feared
for his life and was very scared that my 10-month old son would
never see his father again. I seldom was able to speak with him
which made it worse. I believe that the monsters that destroyed
New Orleans were the worst part of the hurricane. Why did they
have to loot the D-Day museum? MONSTERS. They would never
understand what it is like to do something good for their country.
When my husband told me that being in the city was worse than
being in Iraq, I was astonished.
As expected, students’ evacuation and relocation experiences were filled with
lifestyle changes wrought with frustration, anger, anxiety, and stress. The stress would be
heightened as students and other survivors began to assess resource losses.
Personal and Financial Loss
Hurricane Katrina created a staggering amount of personal and economic loss
for residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Like other survivors, many New
Orleans college students lost family members, friends, and pets in the aftermath of the
storm’s devastation and flooding. Indeed, almost one out of 10 students (9%) indicated
that a family member or close friend had died in the disaster. Some of the students
expressed the trauma they felt; others expressed their loss in a matter-of-fact manner:
Because of the storm my uncle was stuck in University Hospital.
He really needed help. Because the electricity went out, the faculty
was unable to revive him and he died.
My Mother was evacuated to the Superdome and had all her
luggage and all her medicine stolen. She was alone, very sick, and
unable to evacuate or communicate with anyone. As a result, her
health deteriorated and she was [taken] to four different medical
My best friend drowned during the storm. She lived in the lower
9th ward and she’d stayed behind with her grandfather because he
didn’t want to leave.
I experienced a death in the family due to Hurricane Katrina.
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I had a colleague die. He stayed and died of asthma. I also had a
friend who died of thirst.
My family and I have been displaced from our home. A close
friend has committed suicide because he lost the business he had
built in the storm.
Many students lost their apartments, family homes, jobs, vehicles, and possessions.
Survey findings revealed that eight out of 10 students (81%) reported damage to their
residences and one-half of those (41% overall) indicated their residences were
uninhabitable. Moreover, about one-fifth of students (22%) lost a vehicle in the storm and
over one-third (39%) lost their job. The following narratives reflect this type of loss:
I lost everything I owned, and the city I grew up in is destroyed.
Both of my homes were destroyed, one got 11 feet of water and the
other got 5 feet. My mother was in the hospital receiving cancer
treatment during the storm and then had to be evacuated for
security/treatment reasons. My uncle was mugged and beaten to
death during the hurricane.
My entire family lost everything they owned on the Gulf Coast.
I lost my job and I was forced to move to a new city and leave my
family and friends behind. This is especially tragic to me because
EVERY one of my family members lost their homes and most lost
their jobs. Sometimes I feel broken by the massive amount of loss
suffered by myself, my family and friends, and my city.
I lost my house, car, and cats. My family in Mississippi lost all of
their houses as well.
My wife ended our marriage and moved to Seattle.
I had to leave my dog, Soby, behind when I was rescued and Soby
died soon after. This has affected my mental health very
The flooding of St. Bernard Parish as a result of the storm surge
caused by Hurricane Katrina has greatly affected me in a negative
way. The storm totally devastated my entire parish. No house was
left untouched [and] well over half of the homes in the parish were
completely inundated with water. I lost my house, all my clothes,
my pictures, home movies, yearbooks, jewelry, inherited items
from my aunt etc. I worked at the same place for five years and it
was destroyed. My sister and brother both lost their vehicles. When
we evacuated for the storm my mom went to work at one of the
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local hospitals and she was missing for several days. My boyfriend
was a Sheriff’s Deputy and was stranded in the Parish for over
three weeks...My mom, a single mother of 3, is now unemployed.
Our insurance is giving us nothing but trouble. Soon I will live in a
FEMA trailer because I can’t afford rent to live anywhere else.
Financial losses stemming from evacuation and displacement expenses, including crime
victimization, were also a prominent theme in many student accounts:
After losing possessions, employment, and residence because of
the hurricane, my girlfriend and I were robbed of all of our
remaining valuable possessions when our apartment was broken
into and looted. We were forced to move into a slum in a neglected
neighborhood...When there was no one in our apartment or the
apartments immediately surrounding ours, people kicked in the
door and stole everything and anything of value and everything
they wanted...In addition, just before this robbery, my car broke
down between New Orleans and Baton Rouge on the last of many
trips between the two cities. The amount to fix it makes paying for
its repair impossible. I do not know how I will be able to pay my
living expenses or my tuition.
The College I am at originally told me that all the fees were being
waived; now they are telling me I owe them money and I have
I didn’t get paid for two months.
After evacuation, I fell into the snare that millions of college
students do every year: I spent TONS of money on credit. The
difference is, it was on survival. My parents are not wealthy. In
fact I have (had) more monetary means to support the family than
they do (did), and so I’m left with [an] unbelievable amount of
debt that will make my life much more difficult, even in obtaining
my education.
Four types of resources are identified in the COR model of stress: objects (e.g.,
physical possessions and transportation); conditions (e.g., good marriage and/or other
relationships); personal characteristics (e.g., positive self concept, efficacy, and
competence); and energies (e.g., money, knowledge, experience). Like other New
Orleans survivors, college students experienced loss and the threat of loss for all four
types of resources. Accordingly, social and psychological stress is heightened as resource
loss is experienced.
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Psychological Stress
One of the most consistent findings of disaster researchers is that pronounced
levels of psychological stress typically emerge after hurricanes (e.g., Adeola 1999;
Faupel and Styles 1993; Norris et al. 1999; Norris 2002, 2005; Van Willigen 2001).
Katrina survivors from New Orleans are no exception to this pattern (Hunter and Pope
2006; Johnson 2006; Pope 2006a; Saulny 2006). Likewise, our survey data indicated that
New Orleans students experienced significant levels of psychological stress, as well as a
variety of storm-related physical and medical symptoms (Gill, Ladd, and Marszalek
2007a; Gill, Ladd, and Marszalek 2007b; Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006; Marszalek et
al. 2006). Specifically, over one-half (55%) of the students reported being depressed and
over one-fifth (22%) reported symptoms that could be classified as indicative of
“clinical” depression. Further, over one-half (52%) were in the moderate and severe
range on the Impact of Event Scale. These mental health impacts were amplified in a
number of revealing accounts:
I have to say that this whole disaster has helped me to realize that
everything can change in a day. All your plans can just wash away
with the city. I thought I had everything set up; I had a nice job, a
plan for what I wanted to do with my life. Now I have to
reevaluate all of it. I have to find out how to get back on track with
my life. This entire experience has caused me to fall into a really
deep depression, and it’s killing me.
This whole disaster has affected my mental health. I can’t get
motivated to do things. I feel numb all the time and I can’t enjoy
everyday things anymore.
I have been constantly dejected from society, depressed, stressed,
and not well since the hurricane.
Watching TV after the hurricane put me into a depressed state that
I am still coping with today.
I don’t really feel well anymore. I’m not doing as well at my host
university as I would like. This stresses me out but whenever I sit
down to do work, I feel really tired, and I’ve been procrastinating a
lot. I’m not sure whether I’ve been psychologically affected by the
storm, as my apartment building and my school are still standing,
but some of my friends have it rough. I don’t, though. I’m not
really sure what’s going on. I’ve been trying to lose weight too, but
I’m always hungry. I always feel really tired and sluggish, but this
could be because I’ve gained some weight and have trouble
sleeping. Something’s off, but I just don’t know what it is...
Nothing positive has happened since the storm.
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During the summer of 2005, I had gone on a diet, lost 20 pounds,
and quit smoking. Since the hurricane, I have put almost all the
weight back on and started smoking again.
I originally had PTSD, and the stress worsened it. Memory loss,
motor functions, and sleep have severely decreased to the point of
[I] choose not to speak about it; [it’s] too painful to [relive] the
The stress made me have sexual relations with a foreign student in
the shelter and now I feel horrible about it and disgusted with
myself for resorting to sexual means to resolve my stress.
Being out of school for the past few months has truly made me feel
depressed and like I had no direction in life.
As a result of the emotional trauma caused by the storm, my best
friend and I decided not to be friends anymore. Neither of us could
handle the stress of losing everything and so we parted ways.
These narratives provide substance to existing disaster research on psychological stress.
Storm experiences and loss of resources were major stressors for all New Orleans
residents, including college students. Like other Katrina survivors, New Orleans college
students also experienced the additional stress associated with feelings of recreancy.
Satisfaction and Recreancy Surrounding Disaster Response
For most observers, the devastation of New Orleans (as opposed to the
Mississippi Gulf Coast) was defined less by the acute, primary impacts of the hurricane
than it was by the slow and inefficient response of government and other social
institutions to the storm’s aftermath. Indeed, some researchers have applied Showalter
and Meyer’s (1994) concept of a “Na-Tech” disaster to Katrina, conceptualizing it as a
catastrophe produced more by human and technological error than the forces of nature
(Picou and Marshall 2006). As a result, the disaster response of the Bush Administration,
FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Governor of Louisiana, the Mayor of New
Orleans, as well as the actions of many private corporations, came under scathing attack
by citizens and commentators from across the Gulf Coast and nation (Brinkley 2006;
Houck 2006). The essence of these criticisms was that various government officials and
relief agencies failed to fulfill the duties and obligations the public relied upon them to
perform. Our survey data revealed that over two-thirds of the students expressed
dissatisfaction with President Bush, FEMA, and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco,
while over one-third expressed dissatisfaction with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, local
government officials, and the national media. Likewise, about six out of 10 students
stated that, based on their disaster experiences, they did not trust President Bush, FEMA,
the federal government, or the Louisiana state government. Almost one-half reported a
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loss of trust in their local government and the national media (Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill
Paralleling the attitudes of many residents and observers, New Orleans college
students similarly tended to view the disaster in largely human and institutional terms and
were particularly critical of the way in which various levels of government inadequately
responded to citizens’ needs:
I am dismayed by the lack of initiatives coming from our local,
state and federal government. By now (December 1st) I would
have liked to have seen at least one step in a direction that would
move New Orleans forward. My personal grief is that this city may
end up being no better, and possibly worse, than it was.
Seeing the screaming people outside the New Orleans Convention
Center without food or water for days, then having that enormous
earthquake overseas and the federal government donating 30
million dollars in help and food while the people of New Orleans
died because of malnutrition—the whole experience has just
solidified my distrust in the presidency.
The Federal response should have been better, but the total failure
of the state and city officials to get the poor out of the city was the
true disaster. I already knew that the city was corrupt and the state
poor, but this event proved that the seeds of this disaster were sewn
long ago when the city and community chose to ignore the poor.
I continue to be shocked and angered by the depth of corruption,
stupidity and cluelessness exhibited by Louisiana’s “leaders.”
Katrina exposed this to the entire world. I’m ashamed that my state
and city elected these people.
I feel betrayed by how unprepared government officials were in
dealing with this event.
My house is completely destroyed from the levee breech. We
would not have had any damage if the levee would not have
I personally witnessed the failure of leadership in Jefferson Parish.
It is disheartening that our elected leadership abandons the post
when most needed.
I was angered and saddened to see the disaster play itself out on
national television and the city officials and leaders were not doing
their job of insuring the safety of their residents. Why did the
Mayor of New Orleans order a mandatory evacuation and then not
provide any means of transportation to its residents that had no
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access to evacuate? It saddens me to this day when I think about
the anguish and fear that the residents were subject to. I do not
believe I will return to live in New Orleans for a very long time.
Witnessing how our government and media failed the people. I
doubt I’m the only one who has been sickened by the actions, or
lack of action, taken by our leaders.
It was discouraging to find out that in this day and age, we citizens
are being left to “hang out to dry” by self-centered politicians with
no souls.
It makes you think the government really does not care for its
citizens because they left us there for dead.
Virtually every student who mentioned the role of FEMA in the disaster rated
the agency negatively in terms of his or her own experience with the agency or how he or
she viewed its treatment of others:
I was unable to receive assistance from FEMA for whatever
reason. I applied and they told me I was not eligible, even though I
left and came up to Chicago with my roommate from New
Orleans... She received $4000 assistance [and] is in the same boat
as I am. Everyone else I’ve talked to received at least $2000 but for
some reason I’m just not eligible and I am not nearly as wealthy as
many of the other people who received assistance.
FEMA was terrible everytime I called them on the phone. Impolite,
inflexible, and incompetent. Sometimes representatives were even
sarcastic. This is the last thing the traumatized masses wanted to
I was greatly affected by…FEMA’s lack of concern during the
rescue efforts of the poorer citizens of the city. Too many people
died and not enough was done to help.
FEMA is a joke! The organization provides assistance to so many
people who are already back in their homes with all the essential
services and they let others (like me) who are still
displaced/homeless slip through the cracks without providing any
assistance or explanation as to why they aren’t helping. I don’t so
much care about the money as the lack of a solid explanation as to
why needy folks aren’t being helped.
I am greatly disturbed by how the number of wealthy college
students who lost nothing and yet have applied for and received
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money from FEMA and the Red Cross when there are many
people who need it more.
My best friend and boyfriend both lost their homes and now my
boyfriend is living with me because he has not received any
assistance from FEMA. This has given me a negative outlook
towards FEMA because he needs the money and still hasn’t
received any.
A number of students remarked how these disaster experiences generated
feelings of recreancy or institutional distrust toward the government and relief agencies
that people depended on for disaster assistance:
I lost all of my clothing, food, and basically my life in the disaster,
but for some unknown reason FEMA says that I am not eligible for
assistance. That made me distrust the federal government even
more than before.
Everything about this “event” has been negative for me and my
immediate family. We have gotten very little help from any
governmental agency or charitable organization and I have little
trust in either of those now. I will NEVER donate to the American
Red Cross EVER AGAIN in my life. They denied my family
assistance and referred me to other organizations for help with
food and clothes. Of course, me & my immediate family stayed in
Louisiana. I have heard stories from those who went to other states
where the help was plentiful. We stayed here and were not helped.
I lost everything—my home, my job, my “life” as it was.
[I] lost everything and the government hasn’t helped us at all—not
a cent except for Red Cross and Catholic charities. I didn’t trust
them before, and now I’m thinking of immigrating.
I cannot count on any politician. Only a regular genuine person
who acts unselfishly with their heart can be trusted.
There were also a number of narratives that criticized the response of other
social institutions for not providing for the needs of survivors after Katrina. Feelings of
being “revictimized” were implicitly expressed in many comments:
As a former resident of St. Bernard Parish, the failure of the levee
system has affected my family the most. However, the delay and
refusal of payment of insurance claims has prevented my family
from moving on from this disaster. These delays should not have
been allowed by the federal and state governments. Insurance
companies should have been forced to pay out claims immediately.
Although our home was fully insured with homeowner’s and flood
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insurance, we have still not received a penny despite the 13 feet of
flood water our home received.
We had no food and no money to buy food before the storm. My
grandmother is a diabetic and my uncle is mentally retarded. We
were starving. Police officers told us that we could get food only
from a Family Dollar located nearby. When we (there were about
20 people) entered the store (someone had already broken into it),
we shopped civilly for what we needed because we had police
permission to be there. But when we came out of the store, some
other officers put guns in our faces and made all of us lay face
down on the ground in broken glass. They cursed at us, they
pointed their guns in our faces, and they took our IDs, and worse
of all, they took the food we had. Fortunately, I was able to get my
license back without getting a citation or ticket but it was a horrible
event and I no longer believe in the people who are supposed to
“protect and serve” us.
I also did not appreciate the media’s opportunistic attitude towards
this disaster. They played a large part in my depression. I couldn’t
turn on the television or play the radio without hearing the media
go on and on about how I’m a refugee and my home was totally
destroyed. I’m not a refugee because I am an American citizen and
I’m still in America. If I evacuated to Mexico then I would be a
refugee. They were totally reckless in their reporting.
I had a seizure about a month after the hurricane due to
complications with a medication that I take for depression.
Because of Katrina, I was unable to refill my prescription for
several days. Abruptly stopping and restarting my medication
caused me to have a grand mal seizure. I had to go to the ER, the
bills for which are nearing three thousand dollars. I was instructed
by the ER doctor to discontinue taking the medication altogether.
Without medication or therapy, I have relapsed into a deep
depression. My regular doctor evacuated and has not returned to
the city. I have not yet seen a specialist for treatment.
Freudenberg argues that technological disasters produce feelings of anger and
demands for accountability that he terms recreancy (1993, 2000). Defined as “the failure
of experts or specialized organizations to execute properly responsibilities to the broader
collectivity with which they have been implicitly or explicitly entrusted” (2000, 16),
recreancy involves issues of institutional blame and is accompanied by public
dissatisfaction with and diminished trust in those criticized for not carrying out their civic
responsibilities. As the preceding narratives demonstrate, feelings of recreancy permeated
the views of many students and probably contributed to their stress.
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Educational Impacts
One of the most distressful aspects of the post-evacuation period for the vast
majority of students involved their having to quickly relocate to other colleges and
universities to enroll in fall classes after learning that New Orleans campuses were closed
for the semester. This proved an extremely difficult transition for a number of reasons.
First, before the storm struck, many students had not unpacked their belongings or
attended a single class when the mandatory evacuation order was issued. Students new to
the region were particularly caught by surprise and had received little guidance from their
universities as to how to prepare and respond. Others had never been through an
evacuation, had no destination plan, lacked access to transportation, or knew no
classmates to whom to turn for help. Given the inability to anticipate the scope of damage
the disaster would do to New Orleans, as well as the amount of time they would remain
displaced, few students left their campuses with enough clothes, possessions, or
educational records necessary to facilitate easy enrollment in another university. Second,
in the weeks that followed Katrina, many students felt too traumatized by their disaster
experiences to decide whether they were emotionally capable of taking courses at another
university on such short notice, despite the open door admission policy that thousands of
schools around the nation offered displaced Gulf Coast students. Third, due to the storm’s
disruption of city and campus telecommunication systems, most students were unable to
contact their university administrators or advisors (most of whom were also displaced)
for information on how to register at other schools, how their New Orleans tuition,
financial aid, or scholarships would be applied, or what courses would transfer back
toward their graduation requirements. With many universities already in session or about
to begin their fall semesters in mid-September, students were often forced to enroll in
classes without adequate knowledge of what the financial or educational impact of
attending another school would be.
Uprooted from their friends, university programs, campuses, jobs, and
communities, some students who relocated to another college or university expressed
dissatisfaction with their educational experiences during the fall semester. Our survey
findings show that almost three-fourths of students (74%) believed that their academic
performance had been negatively affected by their disaster experiences and over one-
third (36%) stated that they withdrew from classes for which they had signed up after
Hurricane Katrina. Many students reported being too stressed-out to concentrate on their
studies or were unhappy with their courses, the university, housing arrangements, or the
students around them. Others were simply anxious to return to their New Orleans
universities to try and resume the life they had known. Some of the negative aspects of
relocating to other educational institutions and communities around the nation were
captured in the following student accounts:
I had to go to a different school and they had no courses for my
I’ve wasted a full semester of my life and I hate it here.
Being thrown into a different school it was impossible to make
friends. It was impossible to concentrate. All my classes are
pass/fail and I am finding it difficult to prepare enough to just pass.
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Going to another university in the midst of all this drama. Also,
going into classes and having to catch up on all of the extra work.
I just haven’t adjusted well to my school here. I am very lonely and
unhappy where I am now.
The most difficult thing was when my parents and siblings got to
return to New Orleans to live because our house was fine, but I had
to stay in Baton Rouge to attend school because Loyola was
closed. Transferring to a new school was the worse part about the
storm for me.
I hate my new university and don’t like living back at home.
I’m attending an institution presently where Caucasian students are
somewhat ignorant in regards to African American culture and
society. I constantly have to speak out against their stereotypes.
They show no real concern for the Katrina issue because they were
not affected by it. I feel as if I really do not belong at this school. I
can’t wait to get back to Xavier!!!
I’m attending a Jesuit university in my hometown. I have been
treated terribly by many of the students on campus, and have found
very little empathy from faculty members of this institution with
regard to my need to travel and recover my property in New
Orleans, as well as the stress that comes with having a life in a
separate city that also has to continue despite my current physical
location. I find it ironic that this school’s sister institution is said to
be a school that promotes “social justice,” when in fact there is
nothing of the sort here.
My grades have suffered because I’m not focused at my other
The new university was a disaster. No one knew ANYTHING.
And I STILL don’t know what’s happening with tuition.
I don’t feel capable of going back to school in the spring. My mind
is totally blown.
On the other hand, many students reported positive educational experiences at
their new schools and saw their relocation period as an opportunity for personal growth
and broadening their horizons:
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I am attending Loyola University Marymount in Los Angeles, CA
and everyone here has been so welcoming and friendly. I have had
a wonderful experience here.
This is a painful yet unique experience. Because of this, I have
received more confidence in myself.
I came to Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and it’s been one of the
best things that ever happened to me in my entire life.
Going to another college has broadened my perspective of the
world and the differences that reside [in] separate regions of the
country. It has been an overall enjoyable experience in that respect.
I am glad that the Law School relocated to Houston. It is a great
city and everyone has been wonderful here. I wouldn’t have gotten
the opportunity to discover this had Loyola not relocated here for
the semester.
The educational turmoil experienced by New Orleans university students was an
additional source of stress. There was potential investment without gain with regard to
paid tuition and other financial aid that was jeopardized by the disaster. There was an
additional loss of “conditions resources” as normal social networks of advisors,
university staff, and administrators were severed. Although some gained positive
experiences from their educational relocation, other students had more negative
experiences that likely contributed to their psychological stress.
Returning to New Orleans
Despite being displaced to hundreds of distant colleges and communities across
the country, many students returned to New Orleans once the flood waters receded to
view the devastation, locate friends and family, and try to retrieve what personal property
they could salvage from their residences, campus dorm rooms, or neighborhoods. Many
who were able to return during the initial storm recovery phase expressed shock and
dismay about the destruction they saw. Yet, like most New Orleanians, students were
excited about the prospects of “coming home” to their city and universities, despite
feeling extremely anxious about what they would encounter when they arrived. Others,
however, had no desire to return to the city or university for the Spring 2006 semester
and planned only to collect what they could from their former lives and move on. The
following narratives illustrate many of the mixed feelings and experiences surrounding
students’ post-disaster reentry into New Orleans:
When I walked back into my house for the first time after the
disaster there was a foot of mud inside and everything I owned had
been floating in my house because I could see the marks where it
pressed against the ceiling. I had been looted and vandalized
before I could get there to salvage.
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When I was finally able to go back to my home in St. Bernard
Parish, I thought I would be upset [and] and I thought it would
finally hit me that I had lost everything I owned. Amazingly, when
I saw my home destroyed and everything in it destroyed, I did not
cry. I was actually in wonder at how water and wind could do this.
I took pictures and looking at the pictures even now, I do not get
upset and it makes me feel good that I do not hold onto worldly
possessions. My husband and children were with me throughout all
of this and they are OK, along with all my family and that is what
really matters. I can always replace everything I lost over time but
I could never replace them.
Everything has been awful. Returning home after the hurricane to
try to get some stuff with soldiers with machine guns in my face.
That was unforgettable.
I came back to New Orleans the Thursday after Katrina. It had a
very negative impact on me having to live in fear for my life and
possessions. The crime and the looting were very disturbing to see.
Along with the sounds of the helicopters flying overhead all night
long and the un-comfort of having to sleep in your own home with
a loaded gun in your hand waiting for someone to try to break in
and either take your life, valuables, or both. I still keep a gun next
to my bed at night and in my truck during the day. Katrina has
stolen my feeling of being safe and what is left of the place I call
After living in a cosmopolitan city for 2 months, I had to return to
N.O. because of my husband’s job. When I got there and saw all
the devastation around me, I compulsively drove around the
decimated city further traumatizing myself. Though I HATE New
Orleans with a capital H, I felt as though a murder had occurred, a
The housing situation in New Orleans is horrible. The landlords
are doubling, tripling and in some case quadrupling the rent for
apartments that were not worth what was being charged pre-
Katrina. There is a situation now that prohibits people who do not
own property in New Orleans from returning. We simply cannot
afford to live in the city now. I would like greatly to return to UNO
for the spring semester but cannot afford to live there.
Driving through Lakeview, New Orleans East, and Chalmette, it
was the most traumatizing, horrific thing I’ve ever seen in my
entire life. Seeing things that I’ve grown up seeing and visiting
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completely destroyed, seeing my high school filled with mold and
ruined brought feelings that one could never describe.
I guess the thing that affected me may seem trivial to others. When
I got home and saw the damage to my new home, I cried, because
all of the things that my husband and I had worked so hard for
were gone. My little boy’s room was destroyed and not just that,
even though everything was ruined, someone had broken into our
home and took his toy box, his TV and our computer. Why?
Anyway, I cried because I had “nothing.” My little boy grabbed
my hand and said “Don’t cry Mommy, you still have me.” That
made me cry even more because it took a 4 year old to make me
realize that even though we lost all of our stuff, we still had each
other, and he made me realize just how lucky I really am.
Many students were especially apprehensive about having to return to New
Orleans, while some vowed never to reside there again. As one student wrote, “I remain
uneasy about returning to New Orleans given my stressful departure.” Another said, “I
have a small fear of traveling into the New Orleans area at the moment.” With regard to
stress, one student indicated problems with “having to come back home where there is
plenty of stress.” Finally, one student summarized the perspective of many, writing, “I
will never live in New Orleans again!”
Other students, in retrospect, reported that their experiences with the Katrina
Diaspora had helped them see themselves and the events around them in a new and more
positive light. In particular, the disaster made many students more appreciative of New
Orleans, their universities, and the importance of other people in their lives:
I have gotten to experience one of the greatest disasters in United
States history and lived to tell about it. This has made me a
stronger person.
I had to rely on the kindness of strangers... I discovered some faith
in humanity.
Being alone in a new place made me realize that New Orleans is
my hometown. I miss everything about NOLA, even the smell. We
love it here but my kids were born there and we will always be
returning to visit so they never forget where they were born and
raised their first years. I listen to Jazz music more than ever and it
helps me relax and think the day I return home is coming soon.
I have noticed how many friends and acquaintances of mine are
dedicated to returning to their city and school. I think this disaster
has made everyone appreciate New Orleans much more than
he/she did.
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I feel more confident in what I am capable of and what I can
endure. I am a stronger person from this disaster.
Hurricane Katrina itself let me know that many people cared about
Finally, still other students experienced a heightened environmental
consciousness in regard to understanding the origins and impacts of the disaster:
I am thankful for how lucky and blessed I have been throughout
these events, although I feel as though these violent natural
disasters are becoming more frequent because of how we are
treating our environment. I hope people realize that global
warming is no joke and if we don’t start taking better care of our
earth we won’t be on it much longer.
I had to face the reality that Mother Nature can and will someday
come knocking at your front door...just like it did to me.
Seeing the place where I grew up completely destroyed, leaving
only memories of what was impressed upon me the power of
Mother Nature. We will never be able to control her and we need
to learn to live with her because in a fight, she will always win.
Narratives about returning to New Orleans reflect various lifescape changes
among the students. For some, lifescape changes meant a decline in ontological security,
a loss of trust in social institutions such as the city of New Orleans, and apprehension
about returning. Others experienced positive lifescape changes as they saw themselves
more empowered and committed to understanding the events in a larger socio-
environmental context.
Summary and Conclusions
Our qualitative findings reveal how Hurricane Katrina produced profound
psychosocial impacts for New Orleans college students. Uprooted from their campus
communities and forced to relocate to new universities and residences across the nation
during the fall of 2005, many students experienced social and educational disruption,
personal loss, psychological stress, feelings of institutional mistrust, and anxiety about
returning to their devastated city. Moreover, Katrina seriously impacted the institutional
health of the university community itself. Despite the fact that between 70% to 90% of
the students returned to their reopened campuses for the spring 2006 semester, each of
the universities in our sample (and other colleges and universities in New Orleans)
continue to face substantial operating debts, as well as a host of financial and institutional
uncertainties regarding future enrollments. Summarizing the situation, a recent AAUP
study concluded that Katrina inflicted enormous devastation on New Orleans’
universities, creating “undoubtedly the most serious disruption of American higher
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education in the nation’s history” (American Association of University Professors 2007,
Narratives about these experiences add substance to social science concepts that
have emerged to increase our understanding of disasters. Students who evacuated from
New Orleans and relocated to new residences and schools experienced substantial
changes in lifestyles—both positive and negative. Narratives revealed the many
difficulties and hardships students encountered at their new schools and which they
believed negatively affected their grades. This dislocation in turn contributed to their
psychosocial stress. At the same time, some narratives described very positive
experiences as students adjusted to their new surroundings.
As expected from a Conservation of Resources perspective (Hobfoll 1988,
1989), narratives reflected the many resources students lost in the disaster. Students
recounted these losses and provided compelling accounts of linkages between resource
loss and psychosocial stress. Our quantitative findings also reinforce the fact that
Hurricane Katrina caused significant psychological impacts among students (Gill, Ladd,
and Marszalek 2007b). Their narratives on this subject deepen our understanding beyond
the numbers and statistics.
These narratives also provide insight into students’ lack of trust in the various
agencies and organizations involved with disaster response and their levels of satisfaction
with that response. Although there are numerous positive narratives for most relief
organizations, severe criticism characterizes narratives about FEMA, the Army Corps of
Engineers, and certain government officials. These narratives demonstrate clear feelings
of recreancy—that is, the anger, frustration, and despair that follow perceptions that these
agencies failed to do their job. Finally, although some narratives reflect students’
increased appreciation and awareness of their experiences and surroundings, many
narratives reveal apprehension and uncertainty about returning to New Orleans and about
getting back to “normal.” These patterns are indicative of potential lifescape changes.
College students are usually considered a relatively unique group that is not
representative of the U.S. population, or those typically victimized by disasters. Indeed,
some have suggested that students are less likely than local residents to be affected by the
direct impacts of hurricanes due to their greater socioeconomic resources and fewer
obligations to family and the community (Van Willigen et al. 2005). In our research,
however, we find that key elements of these student narratives—their lifestyle and
lifescape change, loss of resources, psychosocial stress, and feelings of recreancy—
resonate closely with the accounts of other disaster survivors (e.g., Edelstein 1988;
Erikson 1976), as well as many Katrina evacuees from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast
(e.g., see Brinkley 2006; Deichmann 2006; Rose 2005; Smallwood 2006; Stein and
Preuss 2006; Thomas 2005; Walker 2006). Like most of the citizenry of New Orleans,
these students will bear the mark of this historic storm for the rest of their lives, no doubt
remembering Hurricane Katrina the way older New Orleanians remember Hurricanes
Betsy and Camille from the 1960s.
We believe the disaster experiences and impacts captured in these student
narratives constitute a rich and important contribution to the emerging literature on the
“voices of Katrina.” Collected in the post-disaster period when many displaced residents
were struggling to make sense of the tragedy through a lens of personal grief and
collective national trauma, these accounts show students similarly in the midst of their
own “storm story” and without adequate time yet to reflect on what had happened to
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them or how it might affect their education and future. Just as the Gulf Coast recently
commemorated the second anniversary of the storm, it seems clear that the magnitude of
the catastrophic events surrounding Katrina and how they changed the lives of a region
and nation continue to unfold. Toward that end, qualitative accounts and personal
narratives serve as a powerful methodological tool in the study of disasters like Katrina,
helping us understand not only its impacts and aftermath, but its enduring legacy.
Major support for this project was provided by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry
Experiment Station (MIS-605270) and the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at
Mississippi State University. Additional support was provided by the SSRC’s Societal
Risk Unit and Decision Support Laboratory. The authors would like to acknowledge the
contributions of Dr. Art Cosby, Dr. Dennis McSeveney, Dr. Virginia Fee, Angela
Maggard, and Katie Lynch. This research was approved by Mississippi State University’s
Institutional Review Board (IRB #05-293).
Anthony E. Ladd is an associate professor of sociology at Loyola University New
Orleans. His major research interests involve the study of stakeholder conflict and social
movement protest surrounding environmental controversies. In addition to his current
collaborative work on the psychosocial impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the college
students of Mississippi and New Orleans, he is also conducting research on the socio-
environmental impacts of salmon farming and aquaculture in the Pacific Northwest.
Duane A. Gill is professor of sociology at Mississippi State University (MSU) where he
serves on the faculty of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work
and as associate director of the Social Science Research Center (SSRC). He has devoted
much of his academic career to the sociology of disasters and has published work on the
Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Selendang Ayu shipwreck and oil spill, the Livingston (LA)
train derailment and toxic spill, and other disasters. He was part of a SSRC research team,
which included displaced New Orleans social scientists, that examined how Hurricane
Katrina affected MSU and New Orleans university students. He recently served as a guest
editor of a special issue of Sociological Spectrum devoted to Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Gill
is currently conducting research on tsunami preparedness, community resilience, and
cumulative impacts of disasters and risks.
John Marszalek, Ph.D., LPC, is a staff counselor at Student Counseling Services,
Mississippi State University and a counselor in private practice in Columbus, MS.
Previously he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Social Science Research Center at
Mississippi State University and an assistant professor of counseling at Xavier University
in New Orleans.
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... In addition to its impact on infrastructure, hurricanes can have both short-and long-term impacts on the mental health of affected areas (Freedy, Shaw, Jarrell, & Masters, 1992;Gill, 2007;Gill et al., 2006;Ladd, Gill, & Marszalek, 2007;Morss & Hayden, 2010;Neria & Shultz, 2012;Rhodes et al., 2010;Weems et al., 2007Weems et al., , 2010. The most prominent short-term impact includes increases in psychological distresses, such as anxiety and depression. ...
... Scholarly research, articles, and presentations related to disasters, once considered opportunistic, have enhanced our understanding of specific events and "demonstrate how social scientists can interject knowledge from their respective areas of expertise" (Gill, 2007, p. 615). Research on Hurricanes Iniki (Coffman & Noy, 2012;Pagel, Vann, & Altomare, 1995), Ike (Morss & Hayden, 2010), Katrina Ladd et al., 2007;Vigdor, 2008), and Sandy (Neria & Shultz, 2012) have produced substantial insights and revised ideas regarding short-and long-term psychosocial impacts of natural disasters and systemic policies relating to community resilience and (in)formal mental health services. The impacts of Hurricane Harvey, like other natural disasters, go beyond discussions of statistics, infrastructure, and cost analyses. ...
... Disasters are life-altering events that can leave multiple and multi-level impacts, dislocations, and stressors on individuals' psyche (Erikson, 1976(Erikson, , 1994Freedy et al., 1992;Hobfoll, 1988Hobfoll, , 1989Pysczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997). In their study of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on relocated college students, Ladd et al. (2007) explain that "by definition, disasters…involve complicated layers of cognitive meaning, interpretation, and social construction by impacted individuals and communities" (p. 53). ...
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On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey's landfall brought the first-year students’ first semester at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) to a standstill after only a week of classes. This natural disaster provided an opportunity to explore Hurricane Harvey’s impacts phenomenologically with the 11 undergraduate participants. This phenomenological study used narrative analysis in order to explore the participants’ Harvey-related experiences and themes that emerged through interviews about Hurricane Harvey. Participants experienced both the corrosive and therapeutic impacts of Hurricane Harvey. Corrosive impacts were stress and anxiety above and beyond normal academic stressors and “survivor’s guilt.” Conversely, the therapeutic impacts included increased altruism, appreciation of returning to normalcy, and improved academic support immediately before, during, and after the disaster. These findings add to the body of higher education research on the impacts of natural disasters, guide future discussions regarding emergency preparedness and disaster management, and support departmental, college, and institutional efforts to support students during crises.
... For example, Davis et al. (2010) found that college students displaced by Hurricane Katrina experienced significant levels of depression and PTSD when compared to non-displaced peers. Similarly, Ladd et al. (2007) discovered that college students endured psychological and emotional stress after relocating during Hurricane Katrina. Many of these students suffered significant financial losses and multiple relocations after learning they could not return to New Orleans immediately after the storm (Ladd et al., 2007). ...
... Similarly, Ladd et al. (2007) discovered that college students endured psychological and emotional stress after relocating during Hurricane Katrina. Many of these students suffered significant financial losses and multiple relocations after learning they could not return to New Orleans immediately after the storm (Ladd et al., 2007). Another study focused on the psychological reactions of 193 undergraduate college students in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. ...
... It is also important to note that all of the studies highlighted above included students who attended four-year institutions. With the exception of the Ladd et al. (2007) study, these studies were primarily quantitative and used basic descriptive statistics from survey responses for data analysis (see also Lemieux et al., 2010;Piotrowski, 2015;Sattler et al., 2002;Watson et al., 2011). While this research gives us some knowledge on how these events can impact four-year college students, a qualitative approach that examines the student perspective in depth helped us understand how community college students were impacted and, more importantly, how they responded to these types of disasters with the support of their institutions. ...
Hurricane Harvey devastated the state of Texas in August 2017, with the city of Houston and surrounding areas being heavily impacted. Over 30,000 people were displaced from their homes as flooding ravaged the Gulf Coast during this natural disaster. This qualitative study examined the impact of Hurricane Harvey through the voices of 15 community college students. We highlight the ways they were impacted by the hurricane, how they persisted in college after experiencing a major natural disaster, and the support they received from the institution. Some participants also shared about their challenges navigating access to institutional resources after the hurricane. Findings revealed that participants relied on campus resources as well as institutional agents, such as faculty and advisors, to navigate their academics post-Harvey. We conclude with a discussion of implications for community college stakeholders to consider when supporting students before, during, and after natural disasters or other types of crises.
... However, relocating, albeit temporarily, has different consequences for different groups of people. Therefore, over 50,000 students were forced to leave their New Orleans college campuses, despite shortage of their financial resources during the evacuation process (Ladd et al., 2006(Ladd et al., , 2007, creating another disastrous situation. According to a post-Hurricane Katrina study on displaced students from various campuses in New Orleans (see Ladd et al., 2006Ladd et al., , 2007, over 60 percent of students stated that their institutions did not offer any type of evacuation assistance. ...
... Therefore, over 50,000 students were forced to leave their New Orleans college campuses, despite shortage of their financial resources during the evacuation process (Ladd et al., 2006(Ladd et al., , 2007, creating another disastrous situation. According to a post-Hurricane Katrina study on displaced students from various campuses in New Orleans (see Ladd et al., 2006Ladd et al., , 2007, over 60 percent of students stated that their institutions did not offer any type of evacuation assistance. Another 75 percent of students also avowed that they had to rely solely on family members for basic needs and guidance. ...
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International students have contributed to the internationalization and diversification of U.S. higher education; yet, when COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus) struck, it became evident that this subset of the U.S. higher education student population was left unaccounted for and unprotected. This manuscript underscores the unimaginable damage and disruption that can occur when a global crisis of the highest magnitude meets under preparedness, pre-existing discrimination, and impulsive policy-making. It also highlights, for context, past crises and their impacts on international students, thus establishing a trend which places international students at the epicenter of the blow’s concomitant with crises of different nature. Moreover, the manuscript provides considerations higher education stakeholders should reflect upon, as well as the following implications for higher education institutions: a) Establish support systems, b) create a sustainable emergency/crisis relief fund, c) seek and maintain non-local partnerships, d) get in good trouble, and e) develop intervention programs. In enacting these tangible solutions, institutions would be able to guide, serve, and support international students more effectively during and after crises.
... One notable exception is research by Ladd et al. [(28); see also (29)] into the relocation of nearly 50,000 New Orleans college students during Hurricane Katrina, a large Category 5 hurricane that struck southeastern United States in August 2005. Ladd et al. (28) discovered that students were filled with perceptions of recreancy, especially in relation to the government's response to the disaster. As the researchers report, "about six out of 10 students stated, based on their disaster experiences, they did not trust President Bush, FEMA (i.e., Federal Emergency Management Agency), the federal government, or the Louisiana state government" [(28), p. 64], with one university student summing up their feelings of recreancy as follows: "FEMA is a joke!" (p. ...
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This paper draws upon the concept of recreancy to examine the mental well-being of university students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Briefly, recreancy is loss of societal trust that results when institutional actors can no longer be counted on to perform their responsibilities. Our study of mental well-being and recreancy focuses on the role of universities and government regulators within the education sector. We surveyed 600 UK students attending 161 different public higher education providers in October 2020 during a time when many UK students were isolated in their residences and engaged in online learning. We assessed student well-being using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (scored 7–35) and found the mean score to be 19.9 [95% confidence interval (CI) 19.6, 20.2]. This level of well-being indicates that a significant proportion of UK students face low levels of mental well-being. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis indicates that high recreancy—measured as a low trust in universities and the government—is associated with low levels of mental well-being across the student sample. While these findings are suggestive, they are also important and we suggest that government and university leaders should not only work to increase food and housing security during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also consider how to combat various sector trends that might intensify recreancy.
... The third and final step was to remove items not associated with IHE preparedness for flu outbreak from the original matrix and substitute them with similar items that can be adopted by IHEs. Examples of similar items are those related to risks or disasters affecting a campus such as floods (Tkachuck et al., 2018;Zhong et al., 2013), earthquake (Magni et al., 2017), hurricanes (Ladd et al., 2007) and accidents such as radiation leaks (Osburn, 2008). In the final matrix, each cell represents specific task-oriented items that can be designated to the suitable IHE personnel to solve a particular challenge, a method similar to that used by Runyan (2003). ...
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Managing education and research during pandemics has increased in importance since the onset of epidemics such as avian flu, SARS and now CoViD-19. Successful management in times of crisis ensures business continuity and institutional survival, making preparedness preceding an impending pandemic essential. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) must maintain balance between academic continuity and preventing morbidity during a pandemic crisis. To date, however, no general pandemic preparedness frameworks exist for IHEs. The aim of this paper is to report on the development of a Haddon matrix framework for IHE pandemic preparedness based on a scoping literature review of past IHE responses including pre-, during and post-pandemic phases. First, a review of previous global responses by IHEs during past pandemics was carried out. The review findings were then collated into a new IHE-centric Haddon matrix for pandemic preparedness. The content of the matrix is then illustrated through the documented responses of Malaysian universities during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting IHE Haddon matrix can be used by universities as a general guide to identify preparedness gaps and intervention opportunities for business continuity during pandemics.
... Meaningfulness and gratification lead to the emergence of subjective happiness and the flourishing of a female student. A number of research related to students and disasters indicate that there are factors and specific techniques that can help reduce the psychological impact experienced by survivors (Ladd, Gill, & Marszalek, 2007;Kapucu & Khosa, 2013;Goyena, 2019). After a disaster experience, a person needs to learn to develop their strengths, continue to survive, and be productive in living life after being affected by flooding. ...
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This study aimed to examine the dynamics and factors that influence flourishing in female flood survivors. flourishing is defined as a condition in which life a person experiences happiness and meaningfulness. The research used a qualitative method by in-depth interviews. The subjects were seven female flood survivors who had moderate to high levels of flourishing. The data were analyzed using the thematic analysis by coding the obtained descriptive data. The credibility of the data was confirmed by a significant other as a reliable source that has a thorough understanding of the subject’s life. The results showed that survivors perceived that they flourished because they had a strong motivation to achieve their desired goals. A positive relationship with friends, family, and lecturers lead survivors to perceive that there are no obstacles to attain their goals. Student survivors also play their role as students, family members, and community members seriously (engagement), due to a sense of responsibility towards their own quality of life and success which they perceive is self-determined. A fighting spirit (motivation), a sense of care or concern, gratitude, and a resilient and robust personality are important factors that influence subjects flourishing.
... College students, particularly, endure numerous barriers in the wake of disasters atop psychosocial stressors faced by all victims. Often isolated from emotional and material support systems (Pickens, Field, Prodromidis, Pelaez-Nogureas, & Hossain, 1995), these individuals endure both physical and financial loss (Ladd, Gill, & Marszalek, 2007) while simultaneously navigating the transition to college life (e.g., academic performance; new social environments; search for friends and partners; Plummer et al., 2008). What is more, social work student-practitioners in these settings are supporting community relief and recovery and may face increased risk of secondary traumatization due to limited clinical skills, lack of self-care, or ineffective coping (Prost, Lemieux, & Ai, 2016). ...
Recent hurricanes have focused on lives and properties lost, however, additional mental health concerns may emerge in these post-disaster settings. Post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) are particularly problematic for minorities due to pre-disaster disparities. Scholars must thus examine the antecedents of PTSS to support these and other vulnerable individuals and communities. This study examined racial disparities regarding active and avoidant coping, prayer, and subsequent relative contribution of each to PTSS following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita among social work student-practitioners. Using secondary data, results revealed that minority students (n = 233) used coping via prayer more often than their non-minority peers (n = 124; t = 7.18, p < .000; d = 0.76). Moderate, positive relationships emerged between avoidant coping and PTSS for both groups (r = .58–.63, p<.01), though prayer did not emerge as inversely related to PTSS as anticipated. Avoidant coping accounted for the largest variation in PTSS for both groups (β = .35–.51, p<.001). Sampling, survey methods, and PTSS measures limit generalizability and temper findings. Directions for future research include use of PTSS measures that account for severity and cultural context and examination of coping measure psychometrics. Practice implications include enhanced publicity regarding social services available to student-practitioners on college campuses and within the community.
... Communities, whether or not tied to particular places are often overlooked resources in disaster recovery strategies (Chamlee- Wright & Storr, 2011). Disaster narratives from communities on past major earthquake events in developed nations can be used by disaster planners at the local level in other developed nations (Ladd et al., 2007), to prepare effective response plans for future earthquakes (Rahman, 2012). At the local level, therefore, there is a complex relationship between municipalities and a plethora of communities (Barton, 1969;Murphy, 2007) So, by virtue of belonging to particular place-based communities, individuals can either increase or decrease their vulnerability or resiliency to a host of potential natural, technological, and biological hazards (Barton, 1969) including earthquakes. ...
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Communities are often overlooked in the course of disaster recovery planning, particularly in the area of social capital resources that can help increase the collective's resilience to risks and hazards. This research explores what collective narratives from the victims of localised earthquake events reveal about community capacity and vulnerability reduction at the small-scale local level. Study participants were recruited from populations living in three earthquake-affected areas in Japan, Greece, and New Zealand. The findings showed varied community and governmental capacity to reduce vulnerability and respond to earthquake events, differing levels of government and community capacity to provide for civil needs, and varied levels of community assistance to residents following the disasters. The implications are that planning and effort within a community can spur development of small-scale capacity to augment government efforts or mitigate government failures. Further research is required to determine applicability to other cultural paradigms and types of disasters.
Health geographers have long been interested in how one’s relationship to the environment can shape health. Recently, much of this attention has explored the relationship between extreme weather events and mental health and wellbeing, considering that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of such phenomena. However, less examined is how these weather events, such as prolonged drought or heavy rainfall, may interact with mental health and wellbeing when compounded by other disasters or hazards. A health geography framework would be especially capable of analysing this, considering its focus on unravelling how complex processes operating at different scales interact to produce health outcomes. Contaminated land is one such hazard that has the potential to compound the impacts of extreme weather events. It has been referred to as a “slow-onset” or “creeping” disaster for its gradual and consistent adverse effects, including mental illness, on those living in close proximity. This chapter explores this potentiality from a health geography perspective by drawing upon interviews with residents living around sites contaminated by per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in New South Wales, Australia. It also refers to resident submissions to an inquiry held by the Australian Federal Government into the management of land contaminated by PFAS. The experiences of residents are emphasised in regard to how the extreme weather events exacerbate their contaminated-land-related stress and also shift the way they perceive their home and local environment. It is critical that those managing contaminated sites consider this possibility and have plans in place that protect residents from these and more detrimental effects.KeywordsCompound disastersEnvironmental contaminationDroughtsFloodsMental healthHealth geography
For nearly 40 years, disaster researchers have analyzed the disruption to affected residents' ontological security, often represented by routines and familiar landmarks. Surprisingly little of this work looks at who is most likely to experience feelings of disruption. Using a representative set of survey data complemented with follow‐up interview data from 40 affected residents collected after the costliest flood in Canadian history, this article analyzes how demographic characteristics, such as gender, place attachment, and direct material impact of the flood impact residents' feelings of disruption and loss. The findings indicate that women and residents with greater social and emotional ties to their neighbourhoods were most likely to experience disrupted ontological security. Home flooding and evacuation orders were also significant predictors. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of these findings for policymakers and service providers. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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The present study examines stress among college students (N=107) that were exposed to natural disasters at the start of the 2004 Fall Semester after Hurricane Charley and Frances battered Central Florida within three weeks of each other. The study also examines adjustments made by two faculty members during the semester in attempts to reduce student stress while maintaining high academic standards in the wake of disaster. Findings indicate that students experienced a substantial amount of stress as a result of the storms. Of the students surveyed 50 percent indicated they suffered lost wages or income, 65 percent sustained some damage to their residences, and 63 percent experienced moderate to extremely high levels of stress. Concerning the adjustments implemented by the instructors, 84 percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that the academic quality of their education was not compromised. While educators must have well-designed and planned courses, when disaster strikes, it is imperative that they incorporate creative and flexible teaching methods and policies in their classrooms.
Studies find that psychological distress is common after disasters and that women experience more stress than do men. These studies have relied mainly on cross-sectional data, sometimes using case matching and respondent recall to infer causality. They have not directly assessed whether disasters cause psychological distress. Using data from a survey of two representative samples of community residents—one before the hurricane and one shortly afterwards—, I assess whether levels of well-being changed within the same community and if women and men were differentially impacted in this natural quasi-experiment. I find that levels of social support and the sense of purpose to one's life did decrease on average after the hurricane, although the sense of control did not. While women's well-being decreased on average after the hurricane, men's perceptions of social support and sense of having a purpose to their lives increased. Differential impacts on women were not explained by gender differences in social roles or socioeconomic status.
The hurricane season of 2005 reached historic proportions in the sheer number of tropical storms and hurricanes, people displaced, homes and businesses destroyed, and lives lost to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. The Associated Press overwhelmingly voted the Gulf Coast hurricanes as the number one story of 2005. The growing number of town meetings, conferences, and congressional subcommittees that have convened to hear the testimony and stories of both the disaster itself and the condemnations of the slow response of local, state, and national relief efforts provide an overwhelming amount of oral history material.