I am bad at expressing my gratitude to Yale as an institution and to particular individuals here who have gone out of their way to make Yale and Connecticut a new home for my wife and me. As recent alumni, it might be more accurate for us to view our time in New Haven as my father has — as a way of going to an old home for a while before returning to New Orleans.
In the wake of Katrina, U.S. News and World Report rankings were partially overlooked and academic institutions revealed their willingness to help out New Orleans area institutions and their displaced students. And though students (and very junior faculty like me) are not among those in greatest need of charity, the willingness of Yale and similar schools to allow people like my wife — now a visiting SOM student — and me in for the semester eases a lot of stress and helps many students continue their education rather than losing the momentum of whichever degree program. And we are immensely appreciative.
Like most of New Orleans, we discovered the hurricane was coming for us when we woke up on Saturday, Aug. 27. We have lived in New Orleans for less than a year, but in that short time, the news channels had impressed upon us the concern we should have for hurricanes. One of the local celebrities is Bob Breck, a weatherman with Fox 8, “Your Weather Authority.” On Saturday, Bob Breck had already begun telling everyone that the hurricane had switched paths and rather than heading back towards Florida, was now headed right to New Orleans. By that night, Mayor Nagin and all other local and national authorities were warning that this was the storm that had been feared and that anyone able to should leave.
The year before, the approach of a hurricane had led to a massive 13-hour traffic jam along West I-10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. A year of planning and countless references by local media to the contra-flow plan paid off, as the city and state officials seemed (and seem) to have figured out a better way to allow people to leave in a controlled fashion. Elvia and I took no chances, however, opting to leave at 10 p.m. and drive all night to Houston. As a couple, we had gotten onto a terrible sleep schedule and so by the time we woke up on Saturday, the flights out of New Orleans were ridiculously expensive. But we had gotten lucky — as soon as we saw the news, we called ahead to a Houston area Motel 6 and got a three-day reservation — and had a place to sleep when we arrived into Texas.
Perhaps it was the luck of getting a room, or perhaps it was the feeling of relative protection associated with living in a house that was built at six feet above sea level, but for whatever reason, we left assuming that we would be back in New Orleans by Tuesday night. Ours was not a singular optimism: Loyola University had canceled class only through Tuesday. We figured we would go to Houston, see the Space Center, do some homework in the motel and come back. For these reasons, and perhaps because we were stupid, we packed lightly. I brought three changes of ratty but comfortable clothing; Elvia did slightly better with five. We brought one laptop and our cameras but left our passports, photo albums and what was on my wife’s mind more than anything: Bob, a stray cat who hung around our front door. By that Tuesday we realized that it would be a long time before we could return to New Orleans, so we drove west to my dad’s house on the Navajo Nation (along the Arizona/New Mexico border).
The academic community showed itself to be just that, a community, in ways that were unexpected following Katrina. Having seen how supportive the Loyola law dean’s office is of my scholarship, I was in the privileged position of being correct in my faith that despite Katrina I still would get paid; however, we were not at all positive that Elvia, as a Loyola University New Orleans MBA student, would have anything to do. But doors quickly opened. Eric Muller, a law professor at University of North Carolina, started blogs for both Loyola and Tulane law schools. Through the blog, we discovered that law schools across the country were accepting displaced students.
We feel a great sense of gratitude for being welcomed by Yale’s community. Law schools, it seems, have generally had a more open door policy than other professional schools. Despite the fact that law schools were accepting students, many business schools at the same universities seemed less eager to have students from lower-ranked schools join them. For this reason, SOM Dean Joel Podolny’s welcoming e-mail was great to receive.
I do feel guilty when I consider how fortunate we have been, especially compared to the many poor, mostly African-American, New Orleans residents who were not so fortunate as to be students or to have a secure job that can survive such devastation. Recently, I came close to rejecting the new clothes that were offered us, but then the rational part of me realized the cost of not living out of my own home, so I accepted them. We are not victims of the hurricane; we are privileged to have left New Orleans in time and are now privileged to get to spend another semester at Yale.
Perhaps because of my guilt and my sense of privilege, I feel awkward and don’t know how to express my thanks. But I will try: Thank you Dean Podolny, Dean Koh, Dan Kahan, Patricia Pierce, Stan Wheeler, many other SOM staff, and especially Coleen Singer and her husband Scott.
Ezra Rosser, a 2000 graduate of Morse College, teaches at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. He is married to Elvia Castro ’03.