First-year students spend spring break helping hurricane victims
Professor Tayyab Mahmud mentioned to his first-year class about a law student organization he learned about that was providing hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast.
Students immediately became interested, and within a couple of months, 25 students were committed to spending their spring breaks in New Orleans, spending their own money to work with the Student Hurricane Network.
“Your first year, you’re looking for ways to get involved,” Matt Milner ’09 said. “We actually got involved and we can actually make a difference.”
The students spent the week surveying hurricane victims who are still living in FEMA-issued trailers, to help build a database of information and to hopefully lead to securing help for those who want to rebuild.
“It was an opportunity to put the law into practice, to realize why I’m going to law school and help people who need it,” said Christy Lubovich ’09, one of the organizers.
Some admitted they weren’t sure how much there would be for them to do a year and a half after Katrina.
“A lot of us were thinking, what is there really left to do?” Jessica Rosenberg ’09 said. “Then we go down there and it’s a completely different story.”
The students stayed in the French Quarter, which didn’t receive major damage and where some normalcy has returned. When they drove out of town, they were appalled by the deplorable conditions and devastation they saw. For blocks, dilapidated homes barely stand but have been demolished. Porches with stairs lead to empty lots, where homes were washed away, and debris litters streets and yards. Families are crowded into tiny trailers, waiting for their own insurance or government agencies to help them rebuild.
“It’s shocking, and it makes you angry,” said Milner, who went on the trip with his wife, Allison, also a 1L. “But it’s also embarrassing that this is happening in the United States. This didn’t just happen. We have the resources to do something.”
The students have formed an independent group at Seattle University School of Law, the Student Disaster Relief Network. They hope to raise money for a spring break trip every year to help with disaster relief somewhere. They want to raise awareness on campus as well.
“I’m very proud of them,” Mahmud said. “This was entirely student-driven, and it’s a very successful example of what can be done and what the law school stands for. On all counts, it’s the kind of thing we should do more of.”
The students plan to follow through, not to forget the people they met or the lessons they learned.
“One thing we heard over and over was ‘tell our story,’ please,” Lubovich said. “It was just devastating, but these people have so much hope. A lot of them have lost faith in the government, but they’re so thankful for the help they get.”
Seattle University School of Law alumni are among those doing hurricane-related work.
Davida Finger ’02 is a staff attorney of Loyola School of Law in New Orleans, working primarily with students on hurricane-related legal issues and litigation and setting up new clinics around New Orleans. Among other cases, she helped a Gretna, La., woman keep her FEMA trailer even though the city didn’t want to issue a permit.
Mark Perez ’01 is an assistant United States attorney in the Southern District of Mississippi, prosecuting fraud cases involving federal funds that were dispatched to the area after Hurricane Katrina.