Big Easy students settle in

Instead of plunging directly into course material in his ever-popular “Cold War” class on Monday, John Gaddis chose to begin his lecture by singling out one student. Addressing a packed Law School auditorium, Gaddis personally welcomed one new face: Sarah Lockwood, a junior from Tulane University.

“I sat in the balcony today because I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so it was really nice of him,” Lockwood said. “He said, ‘Everyone, this is Sarah Lockwood from Tulane who is here taking this course, so please welcome her.’ Everyone started clapping … It was a nice warm welcome.”

Lockwood, who is living with her family in Madison, Conn., is one of 11 students — 10 from Tulane and one from the University of New Orleans — who began taking classes free of charge at Yale on Monday. Yale agreed to admit qualified students to the non-degree and special student programs provided that they send in adequate applications, including transcripts and standardized test scores. Although admitted students were not offered on-campus housing by the University, all now have an academic home for the rest of the semester.

Lockwood was the only one of the six freshmen and five upperclassmen to be formally introduced during a class, but all the budding Bulldogs interviewed say their teachers have been accommodating and sympathetic to their situations. Because they began classes late, they have until Wednesday to finalize their schedules, Yale spokeswoman Gila Reinstein said.

Chris Starko, a sophomore business major at Tulane, has decided to fill the economics requirements for his business major while he is here, and is taking “Game Theory,” “Global Firms and National Governments,” and “Financial Accounting.”

“When I confront the teachers at the beginning of class, they’re very understanding and helpful in terms of setting me up and getting me pointed in the right direction,” Starko said. “The teachers have been really incredible.”

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Starko was still at home in Nashville, preparing to drive down to school the following day with his roommate, a Boston native. So while the experience of finding New Haven housing (a Yale-owned apartment on Chapel Street) and dealing with separation from Tulane has been difficult, he has had the advantage of having many of his personal items with him. Others, however, have not been so lucky.

For J.P. Pacelli, freshman year at Tulane had been progressing just long enough for him to unpack all of his worldly possessions when evacuation of New Orleans began. The 13-hour drive from Pacelli’s home in Hinsdale, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, to New Orleans took 18 hours on the way back, due to the extreme traffic caused by the outflow of those hit by the hurricane. Pacelli likened it to the scene in the movie “Independence Day” when everyone is trying to escape New York.

Pacelli said one of the hardest parts about his hurricane experience — in addition to not being able to begin his freshman year at his school of choice — has been the fact that he took so little with him when he left New Orleans.

“The worst thing was that Tulane said school was going to be open on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and even when we were in the dorms they said, ‘Oh, we’ll be open in a few days,’ and just to take a few days of clothes and our computers [when we left],” he said. “So everything is still at Tulane — my clothes, DVDs, DVD player, my TV, my sheets … It was pretty frustrating to leave all of that stuff.”

Pacelli does not know for sure the state of his belongings but is confident that at least they have not been completely destroyed by the flooding, considering he lived on the ninth floor.

Despite this uncertainty, Pacelli said he has been enjoying himself socially thus far.

“I went to George Bush’s frat on Saturday night, so that was pretty cool,” he said. “Slowly I’m getting assimilated into the social thing. That’s my only beef with the whole housing thing. I would have loved to have been staying in a dorm so I could meet some more people … but I can’t be complaining that much because I am at Yale University.”

Reinstein said each displaced student, in addition to meeting with Associate Dean William Whobrey, was assigned a big sibling and also attended an orientation event last weekend.

“We want them to feel very welcome and to be as acclimated as soon as possible,” Reinstein said.

Getting involved in extra-curricular activities has been one way for the students to start to feel like a part of the Yale community. Michelle Beasley is doing just that. A freshman from Tulane, she also had just unpacked all of her things when she was told to evacuate. Luckily, she had a friend at Yale who let Beasley sleep on her common room floor until she found her own housing.

On Sunday night, Beasley, trying to get as involved with Yale’s unique character as possible, went to a meeting of the semi-secret Yale Society for the Exploration of Campus Secrets, a group that explores Yale secrets and lore.

“I think that is really interesting and something I don’t think most schools offer because they’re not the age of Yale and don’t have the history and everything behind them that Yale does,” Beasley said. “I think that’s really neat.”

Beasley and some of the other displaced students were fortunate in that they lived far enough from Tulane that they had a home to return to when the hurricane hit, but some had more than just their dorms affected by the hurricane. Isaac Riisness, a Tulane junior and a native of a town just north of New Orleans, was helping freshmen move into their dorms when Katrina ravaged the South. He and his family evacuated as quickly as possible.

While Riisness is starting his new life in the Elm City, his mother is back at home trying to clean up their house. Both mother and son found themselves relying on the kindness of those around them: his mother is staying with friends while cleaning up, and Riisness had help from Yale in finding his Chapel Street apartment, where he is living with a few other displaced students.

Riisness, a chemical engineering major who is now working to catch up on the assignments he missed in the first two weeks, said he has found the professors challenging but is nonetheless happy to be at Yale.

Starko, too, said he has been enjoying his experience and is eager to take advantage of the opportunity which has presented itself as a result of an otherwise dismal situation.

“The first time I walked around campus and saw the architecture … was great,” Starko said. “It’s a really good experience to know you’re at the top of the top and you can take part in that.”

Chris Starko (right), a sophomore business major from Tulane University, is currently staying with his father (left) at the Courtyard by Marriott while he and 10 other students from New Orleans-area colleges start class.
Timothy Polmateer
Chris Starko (right), a sophomore business major from Tulane University, is currently staying with his father (left) at the Courtyard by Marriott while he and 10 other students from New Orleans-area colleges start class.

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