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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Experts discuss effects of Katrina at teach-in

Published: October 7, 2005
Section: News

A panel of eight experts presented their analyses of the varying effects of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in a Teach-In called Understanding the Post-Katrina Crisis, which took place in the Schwartz Auditorium Monday night.

According to the events agenda, the goal of the program was to discuss what has come to light about the dynamics of race, class and social inequality in the United States and how the conceptual toolkits of our varied disciplines help illuminate the causes and consequences of the disaster and inform attempts to rebuild devastated cities and communities.

Panelists included Rabbi Alan Lehmann, Dr. Jacqueline Jones (HIST), Dr. Mingus Mapps (AAAS), Dr. Attila Klein (BIOL), Prof. Robert Reich (HS), Prof. Michael Doonan (HS), Minor Sinclair, Director of US Programs at Oxfam America, and Prof. Pam Cytrynbaum, of the Journalism Program. Moderating the panel was Prof. Anita Hill (HS). Dean of Student Life for the Support of Diversity Jamele Adams acted as time-keeper, as each panelist was allotted eight minutes to speak.

Hill addressed the packed auditorium first with some opening remarks. She spoke to the purpose of the discussion, which was to move from a personal response which we all have had since Katrina struck to a policy response.

She also narrowed the focus, saying, we were forced to face the question of whether race, poverty, age affect who are the victims of a tragedy. This theme would resonate throughout the following speeches.
Lehmann gave a poignant account of his native city, evoking images of New Orleans from the decadence of Mardi Gras to the deeply felt values of the people who lived there, becoming emotional as he quoted Louis Armstrongs Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? He did, however, end with a message of hope, echoing the words of St. Francis of Assisi, It is in giving that we receive.

Jones focused on jobs, condemning disaster capitalism and pointing out that 900,000 jobs have been lost. She warned that the Gulf region may become a laboratory for faith-based charities.

Mapps raised some interesting questions when he showed two pictures from the Yahoo News Service, one depicting a man looting from a grocery store while theother showed a couple finding bread and soda from a local grocery store. The difference between looting and finding was race. He also unearthed the disparity in the percentage of blacks living in flooded areas versus the percentage of whites.

Environmental issues were addressed by Klein, who discussed the flooding of the Mississippi River, our attempts to control it, and alternatives, such as not putting cities in precarious positions. He stressed the need to let nature take its course.

Reich questioned the goal of the rebuilding effort, which to date has been to restore people to their lives which they had before Katrina. He says we need to start thinking about solving the inequities that exist in New Orleans and everywhere in America. He attributes the disparities to historic and institutional racism. Reich warned about giving contracts without competitive bidding, while at the same time not respecting the prevailing wages of the area.

Doonan and Sinclair shifted the focus to the response effort. Doonan attributed its failure to traditional American ideals of individualism and fear of central control. He was worried about the funds coming from cut programs such as food stamps and Medicaid instead of higher taxes.

He also added that maybe theres hope and opportunity in this and if we look at our ideals and at reality, we can make sure all areas are protected. Sinclair, an Alabama native, stressed that levels of inequities exist in the traditions in the area and that the response excluded the vulnerable population.

Cytrynbaum, a former staff reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, criticized the television media for patting itself on the back and saying the media finally got its groove back. She pointed out that the print media never lost its groove, citing the 2002 story the Times-Picayune ran predicting the results of such a powerful hurricane. She noted the emergence of citizen journalism saying that the public took the microphone and told its truth.

Following the panel discussion, breakout sessions were held by faculty to discuss in more depth the issues that had been raised. After the sessions, people were invited back to the auditorium to look forward to where we can go from here and to hear comments and poetry from Dean Adams. On display was an artistic installation entitled Under Water by Hannah Chalew (09), a New Orleans native.

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Student Union and coordinated by Mark Auslander (ANTH) and Susan Holcombe (HS).