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John Harvard's Journal

Katrina's Ripples

November-December 2005

In response to Hurricane Katrina, Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Law School each offered to accept 25 students from affected institutions for a semester of tuition-free study—an accommodation comparable to those made by peer universities. The Graduate School of Design and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) made places available, too. And the Extension School also offered up to four courses, free of tuition, to students who live within commuting distance and would otherwise be enrolled at institutions closed by flooding. Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) dean William C. Kirby reported on September 27 that some 100 applicants sought to study at the College, 45 were admitted, and three dozen are enrolled, most from Tulane; the graduate school admitted 20 students, enrolling 15, and the extension school 20 more.

Drawing on its scholarly expertise, Harvard Medical School offered a free on-line family disaster-planning guide ( And professor of geology and geophysics Göran Ekström’s Science A-43 Core course, “Environmental Risks and Disasters,” seemed, sadly, even more relevant. More broadly, on September 30, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative sponsored a “teach-in” on Katrina moderated by Jennifer Leaning, professor of the practice of international health at HSPH. The 11 panelists, from HSPH, the business and medical schools, the Kennedy School, and FAS, drew on their experience in natural disasters, wars, refugee crises, and other catastrophes around the world to stimulate thinking about the U.S. response to its own unaccustomed humanitarian horrors. Among the speakers, Michael VanRooyen, of the division of international health and humanitarian programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, lamented planners’ shortsightedness toward the most vulnerable population in New Orleans—the reverse of practices he has advocated and helped implement in Sudan, Haiti, and elsewhere. As a result, he said, the United States “passively condoned the survival of the fittest” as its policy. Assistant professor of psychiatry David Henderson focused on the characteristic marginalization of mental-health care for people who had been traumatized by the death of relatives, destruction of property, and loss of control over their lives—treatment he compared to the lack of resources in impoverished nations like Rwanda. A separate discussion, about public-health priorities, was held on October 6 at HSPH.

President Lawrence H. Summers made Katrina and the enduring social and racial inequities it revealed the subject of his Morning Prayers remarks on September 19, the first day of classes (see

And putting money behind its talk, the University, echoing a precedent it established after the Asian tsunami disaster, offered to match faculty, staff, and student contributions to relief organizations, up to $100. The tsunami drive netted 3,359 donations from faculty, staff, and students, totaling $307,255; using unrestricted University funds, Harvard matched qualifying gifts in the amount of $245,877. (In an interesting twist, Yale also extended a $100-matching program within its community for donations to Katrina relief. But those matching funds were provided by personal charitable contributions from the seven university officers, totaling $70,000, and deans and fellows of the Yale Corporation—not from institutional resources.)