Four weeks ago, Mark Macmurdo, all ready for his freshman year of college in the Big Easy, was filling his car with bags. But instead of residing in a Tulane dormitory as he had planned, Macmurdo now finds himself living within the brick walls of the Davenport College master’s house.
Macmurdo, who is from Baton Rouge, La., had moved his belongings into his first-floor dorm room at Tulane University in New Orleans Aug. 27. Two hours after his arrival, he was making the 80-mile trek back to Baton Rogue, as it was clear that Hurricane Katrina was on its way.
Macmurdo is one of 11 undergraduate students from New Orleans colleges who are at Yale this fall, although the University originally expected more, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. Several other displaced students are enrolled in the graduate and professional schools. According to a plan proposed by the Department of Education, universities that took in evacuated students may receive federal funding. But Salovey said it is unlikely that Yale will receive such compensation. Students who already paid tuition to their original universities will not be required to pay again, while those that have not yet paid tuition will transfer funds to Yale, which will in turn refund their original institutions.
Macmurdo, like other students in his situation, is still struggling to adjust to the Yale way of life as his thoughts continue to dwell on the Katrina aftermath. As these students, 10 of whom are from Tulane, try to move forward and concentrate on their class work and extracurriculars at Yale, they remain hampered by thoughts of their belongings left behind and what their semesters could have been like.
The night before leaving for college, Macmurdo had great hopes for his first semester at Tulane.
“I had been watching the news on Friday night, and I had no idea that the storm was going to hit like it did,” Macmurdo said. “They said on the TV that it was going for Mobile, Ala. In some ways, I blame the media for a lot of these problems.”
Fleeing without his possessions, Macmurdo returned to Baton Rouge, where the population had doubled due to the influx of evacuated New Orleans residents hoping to escape the storm.
“It was chaotic,” Macmurdo said. “You couldn’t get gas, there was traffic everywhere, phone calls weren’t going through — the city just wasn’t ready for all the people.”
Despite the devastation around him — a tree struck his family’s house and the intense winds tore up the town — Macmurdo decided to volunteer at a local hospital and try and do his part to ameliorate the bleak situation.
After waiting a week to hear back from Tulane on the status of his scholarship, he contacted Yale, where his father and sister had attended, and was told that the University still had spots open, but no available housing. Eventually, Macmurdo was able to get in touch with the Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld ’71, who had been in Macmurdo’s father’s class at Yale. Schottenfeld said Macmurdo could stay in the Davenport master’s house for the fall semester.
While adjusting to the new surroundings and people in New Haven, Macmurdo is still deeply troubled by what has gone on in his home state.
“The main concern I have is for the people from New Orleans,” he said. “New Orleans is such a great city. Just to see pictures of everything’s that destroyed … it’s so screwed up.”
Other New Orleans students are also coping with integrating themselves into the Yale community while they continue to mourn the destruction inflicted on a city close to their hearts.
Sarah Lockwood, who was going to be a junior at Tulane this fall, was living in New Orleans all summer working at the Superdome, where thousands of New Orleans residents would later camp out during the worst of the storm.
When Katrina hit, Lockwood was actually visiting her family on a three-day trip to Madison, Conn. Her cats and possessions still inside her Garden District apartment, Lockwood still does not know if her apartment was flooded or damaged, though she did call the ASPCA to try to rescue her pets.
“I tried to figure out what happened to my apartment on MSNBC.com. They had one of those before-and-after things, like Sept. 11,” she said, referring to maps which allowed Internet users to try to locate their homes in before and after images.
Lockwood said that although her friends from Tulane are now scattered across the country, often with limited phone access, she has remained in constant contact with them over the Internet.
Because her father, Charles Lockwood, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical School, works at Yale, and her family lives only 15 minutes from campus, the University seemed like the natural choice for Lockwood. A political science major, she said she has been kept busy with the heavy workload of her three classes: “The Cold War,” “Crime and Punishment” and “Inequality and American Democracy.”
While Lockwood has the comfort of living with her family during this shaky time, Michelle Beasley is struggling to acclimate on her own.
Beasley, a Louisville, Ky. native, is living in an apartment at the top of Science Hill by herself.
Only on the Tulane campus for three hours before fleeing back to Louisville, Beasley, like Macmurdo, was getting ready to begin her freshman year. She has since seen pictures of her dorm from friends, but does not know if her belongings are intact or not.
“At first, it was just so unnerving not to have any plans for an entire semester,” she said. “A lot of kids had started school at other colleges. I was kind of anxious; I had no plans.”
At the suggestion of her best friend, a Yale freshman in Calhoun College, and with the knowledge that the University would be accepting applicants, Beasley traveled to New Haven and lived in her friend’s common room for a few days.
“I was pretty bummed at the prospect of going to school in Louisville,” she said. “It’s no fun to live at home.”
After sending in a short application and talking to Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway, she was accepted as a visiting student for the fall semester.
Beasley said Holloway, who gave her meal tickets and helped her navigate her first few days, was an immense help.
“He was so awesome,” she said. “Some of the people I had talked to beforehand, I felt like I was getting the bureaucratic brush-off.”
Socially, Beasley has adjusted well to life at Yale, especially as she has become better acquainted with her best friend’s suitemates and friends. She said she has also communicated frequently with her would-be Tulane roommate, who is currently attending the University of Virginia.
Beasley, who said she is “proud” to be at Yale, is taking four classes and an intensive EMT preparation class which meets for 12 hours a week. Though she is keeping herself busy, Beasley, echoing the sentiments of her fellow Katrina evacuees, has strong opinions on the fate of New Orleans.
“The way Katrina unfolded angers me intensely,” she said. “Not everyone can load up their SUV with bottled water and drive off to some city and get a hotel room with their credit card.”