UC Berkeley News
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UC Berkeley Web Feature

 ASUC president Manny Buenrostro (right) leads a roomful of undergraduates displaced by Hurricane Katrina in a few "Go Bears" chants. The students have been offered admission as visitors at UC Berkeley until their New Orleans schools reopen. (Bonnie Azab Powell / UC Berkeley)

Berkeley opens classrooms, dorm rooms, and arms to welcome students displaced by hurricane

– Broderick, from Baton Rouge, was wearing his Tulane cap. He said he didn't worry much about moving from hurricane country to earthquake country, "just as long as there's no rain and no wind." Kirk, who'd arrived at Loyola University the day before the hurricane did, quickly returned home to the East Bay via Houston. "The weirdest thing is that my parents live here on Katrina Court," he said.


Cassandra Robertson and her son Jabarri, who had just started Xavier University in New Orleans as a freshman, look over the admissions paperwork they've been given. "I'm so glad to have him home with me," says Cassandra. "This has been an absolutely nerve-wracking experience." Jabarri will commute to chemistry classes at UC Berkeley from his mother's home in San Francisco.
Broderick and Kirk are two of as many as 50 undergraduate students displaced by the hurricane who are being offered an opportunity to attend classes at UC Berkeley this fall. This afternoon, 36 of the 41 students who have accepted the invitation so far arrived on campus and got a three-hour orientation that covered everything from housing opportunities to how to use their Cal ID card.

Meanwhile, 13 of the 20 law students who will attend from Tulane and Loyola universities were registering for classes and meeting fellow Boalt Hall students who have volunteered to help their new classmates in the transition to Berkeley.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau welcomed the new undergraduates, told them how sorry he was for the losses they'd suffered, and expressed hope that their home campuses would recover as quickly as possible.  In the meantime, he said, the entire Cal community was determined "to make your transition as seamless as possible."


Garrett Perrin and James Riley, both sophomores, are Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers and sophomores at Tulane University. Garrett is from Los Angeles and James from Tomales, Cal.: "I had thought about going to Berkeley but never imagined it would work out this way," says James. "This was definitely not part of the plan."
A mother of one of the students responded, "I want to thank you for your campus's spirit of generosity in taking in our students." Students around her broke into applause and shouted their thanks.

Vice Chancellor for Student Services Genaro Padilla also welcomed the new undergraduates, reassuring them that "we are going to spend a lot of time with you over the next few days. I want to encourage you, as I encourage all new students, to be a part of this community … and to be engaged in the world of ideas."

Evera Spears, assistant director of undergraduate admissions, said she and about 10 of her colleagues worked over the holiday weekend, fielding calls from more than 120 students displaced by the hurricane who were exploring their options. She said their No. 1 concern was money, followed by housing. All were assured that the campus would work with them to solve both concerns.


(L-r) Sophomore Christopher Bordenave, sophomore Dante Green, and junior Krystina Brown were attending Xavier University in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. Krystina is now staying at her grandmother's house in Vallejo, while Dante is staying with a family who belongs to her grandmother's church and volunteered to put him up. Both hope to find housing locally, as they can't afford to commute across the bridge every day.
Following recommendations from the Association of American Universities, which is helping to coordinate the hurricane response for displaced students with universities across the country, eligible students will register at UC Berkeley on visiting status so that they remain students of their home institutions.

As visiting students, they will be responsible to their home institutions for fees and tuition. Housing, books, and other expenses will be born by the students, but an outpouring of help has been offered and campus officials have noted that they will be flexible and accommodating of individual students' needs.

"We will make this work for them," said Padilla.

Campus housing officials said they'd set up 16 temporary spaces in the Unit 1 housing complex, and additional spaces were being offered by students in other residence halls. "Our students have been incredible," said Housing's Nancy Jurich. "We got an e-mail from two roommates at Clark Kerr saying, 'Thank you for the opportunity to do this.'"


Marcia Stuart talks to her daughter Tessa, during the special student orientation session. The Stuarts had flown from their home in Monterey, Ca., to help Tessa start her freshman year at Tulane University in New Orleans. After moving her stuff into her dormitory, they were told to evacuate until Wednesday; after returning to their hotel, they were told to evacuate again. "We were so lucky that we had gotten a rental car," says Marcia. "We ended up in Jackson, Missisissippi." Although two of Tessa's sisters attended Cal, she had opted to try something different. "Now I'm just glad to be close to home again, and to have a place to study," Tessa says.
Padilla echoed the sentiment. "I can't tell you how proud I am of all the people here who have responded to this crisis at a moment's notice without worry to their own lives. To a person, the attitude has been, 'We're not going to worry about the obstacles, we're going to do our part.'"

It is anticipated that the displaced students will return to their home campuses after the fall term if their campuses are ready to resume operations. Already, Tulane University has announced plans to reopen for its spring term.

Half the undergraduates are Bay Area residents; a few others are from elsewhere in California. The remainder are from Louisiana and other states. Many of the law students also hail from the Bay Area, and all have a California connection to provide a support network.

The visiting undergraduates range from entering freshmen to seniors with a wide range of majors. The largest number of students are from Tulane University, based in New Orleans, with others from Loyola, the University of New Orleans and two historically black colleges, Xavier and Dillard Universities.

With space for up to 50 students, admissions officials worked with the students to determine whether their needs and UC Berkeley were a good match, taking into account the order of when the inquiries came in. "Most importantly, we looked at what classes they need to take and where we had space," said Walter Robinson, director of undergraduate admissions. "We asked whether they could be here by today (Tuesday) or tomorrow, because if they couldn't, we were concerned they would get too late a start."

For those students not offered a spot at Berkeley for the fall, admissions officials suggested other UC campuses, which have yet to begin classes, and California State University campuses that might better match their needs.

Janet Gilmore and Noel Gallagher contributed to this report.