Monday, September 05, 2005

how do I understand NOLA in light of Bryn Mawr and how is this important

Bryn Mawr College (my alma mater) wrote this basic letter about establishing support and fundraising for NOLA. I wrote back to ask about my diploma (now underwater) and about their efforts. After an initial response from them asking about my parents and ideas for what they could do, I wrote back this letter. I have a complicated relationship to Bryn Mawr as I do with New Orleans. Attending Bryn Mawr made me run back to NOLA for a good 15 months after college and before graduate school. Bryn Mawr shattered my illusions about an enlightened North. I used to think ignorance was largely housed in the South. What a naive perspective. What a dream of a better country. I ran back to the South, hypocracy and all, because at least there, I could celebrate culture and the passionate pursuit of living.

That said, I adored Bryn Mawr for challenging me and helping me sharpen the tools with which I made my mark on the world. Bryn Mawr introduced me to far more wonderful folks than narrow-minded ones and I became a better person because of the experience of being a Southerner in a decidedly Yankee atmosphere. I love living inbetween worlds and now more than ever feel that way.

My letter seems rather slight now, but read it anyway. I have a lot to write and this is only the beginning.

Dear XXX,

Thank you for your concern. My parents are safe in
central Louisiana, living with my aunt and uncle at
the moment. They evacuated last Sunday. I haven't had
the heart to look at the satelite photos of our
neighborhood, as I'm certain, given our proximity to
the lake, that it's underwater. My neighbors and
friends are all displaced, and safe. Some have moved
to Texas, New York, and DC among other locations. I am
waiting to hear from a friend who is a reporter from
The Times-Picayune who was in Mississippi, covering
the hurricane. No one has heard from him since last
weekend. We're hoping it's just a communication

I was thinking of writing something about New Orleans
and my experiences at Bryn Mawr for the alumnae
magazine. There are very few Bryn Mawr students and
alumnae from New Orleans, but if you could track them
down, it would be great to hear their perspectives.
You might have a better chance finding folks who
attended Tulane for graduate school, but I think their
experiences would be radically different from those of
students who grew up in New Orleans and Mississippi
who attended Bryn Mawr straight from the South.

Lakeview is destroyed, but so are areas like Bywater
and the Lower Ninth Ward. It's questionable the state
of areas like Uptown, Mid-City, the Garden District
and the French Quarter. While some may be dry at the
moment, who knows what their foundations are like now.
Also, what will they do in order to reconstruct the
city? Will they have to level the city in order to,
afterwards, raise the level of the city above sea
level? I remember Bryn Mawr friends who took CITIES
courses with Gary MacDonough coming to me at dinner
and callously saying, "Oh, your city will be
underwater one day." People knew that the city was
endangered, but they didn't know why it was such an
incredible place to call home.

Beyond raising money, I think that it would be equally
good for CITIES courses to examine what went wrong and
why there was hesitation to construct the barriers
recommended by environmentalists and urban studies
experts. I also think that, in terms of long term
support, Bryn Mawr should consider organizing relief
efforts. I don't know what kind of needs the city will
have after the water has been drained, but clearly the
need for housing is immediate. I am sure that Habitat
for Humanity will organize to serve this need, but for
students interested in public health (which I have
realized is a field many Bryn Mawr alumnae have
entered in recent years) this will be an incredible
opportunity to help others in a very direct way and
contribute to their education.

I loved Bryn Mawr, but I also felt that people were
more interested, at times, to explore the world
outside the United States than to truly understand the
incredible diversity within the United States. New
Orleans' culture and legacy should not be forgotten.
This is an opportunity to examine issues of race,
class, culture, society. I would hope that courses
would reflect the questions raised in the past week.

I'm sorry if this is hardly answering your question,
but I've had a lot to consider over the past week
aside from realizing all my photographs from college,
my hoop and diploma are currently underwater. Thank
you for writing. I would be happy to help in any way
possible and it warms my heart that Bryn Mawr is
organizing. Thank you for your time.


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