35 Tulane Students Settle in at Bloomberg School
By the time Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans Sunday, August 28, Jiselle Bock realized she had missed the boat—or, in her case, the bus.
Bock had arrived at the Tulane School of Public Health on Thursday, August 25, to begin the 36-hour MPH in tropical medicine. The weather reports hadn’t alarmed her much. She’d been told by so many natives “if you stay, you’ll be fine,” that she figured she’d just stick it out. She never dreamed she'd soon be starting classes at the Bloomberg School.
“But by Sunday morning, it was Category 5 and I was, like, ‘Crap!’ ” she recalls. Bock had left her car at her parents’ home in Durham, N.C., and couldn’t drive to the chartered buses leaving from Tulane’s uptown campus.
She began preparing to keep herself snug and alive for the next two weeks in her fifth-floor room. “I filled the bathtub with water. I bought dried fruit and CLIF Bars, bread, cheese and peanut butter. I put my mattress up against the window and braced it with a bookcase,” she says matter-of-factly. She wasn’t particularly worried because, growing up in North Carolina, she was always going through hurricane drill with her family.
Escape from New Orleans
But then a shuttle bus pulled up outside Bock’s building, offering to take people to the buses uptown. She ran to her room, stuffed all her good clothes back into her suitcases, put the suitcases atop a stool in her closet, braced the closet door shut and—grabbing her laptop, cell phone, all the food and a few clothes—left.
The shuttle took Bock and about 15 others to the undergrad campus, where they boarded the last bus out of Tulane. By the time they set out, heading north to Jackson, Miss., the sky was getting sinister and the winds were howling—but no rain yet.
Because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the bus took nine hours to cover the 180 miles to Jackson. Bock, one of the few who had brought anything to eat, started passing out cheese sandwiches.
The bus arrived at Jackson State University late Sunday afternoon, along with many other busloads of Tulanians. “Things were great all of Sunday,” says Bock: Internet hookups, phones, bathrooms with showers. Except for having to sleep on the floor, the 500 guests had every convenience. “And since most of these students were freshmen, it was a total, big sleepover,” she says.
But by Monday, the storm screaming through Jackson had ratcheted up to a Category 3 and the city’s power winked out around midday. Sitting in the dark gymnasium was less fun. And by Tuesday, when the water became contaminated, toilets and showers gave way to portapots and spit baths.
Home and (Sort of) Safe
But Tuesday night a new fleet of Tulane-chartered buses rolled in, one of which carried Bock to Atlanta. She reached the airport about 5:30 a.m. and by 8:15 a.m. was landing in Raleigh-Durham. Then, as the old joke has it, her troubles really began.
“During the bus trips to Jackson and Atlanta, I was making sure everybody else was OK,” she remembers. “Once I got home, though, I kind of had a breakdown and was definitely in an altered state for several days. I had gotten no sleep and was shell-shocked and sort of dissociated, with periods of totally flat emotion alternating with thinking of the people left behind and crying myself to sleep. I still get upset and try not to think about it.”
At the same time, Bock realized she was sitting pretty, relatively speaking. “I had a car, I’ve got the rather shabby clothes I’d left at my folks, parents who could lend me money and—all of a sudden—a school, a great school. I’m in the best possible situation.”
Jiselle Bock’s experience is of course not unique. About 35 Tulane students will be calling the Bloomberg School their academic home at least through first term. None of these Tulanians was in New Orleans for the hurricane, but many were there until the day before landfall.
“I Feel Like I’m in a Dryer Cycle, Spinning”
Crystal Dreisbach was attending a family reunion in southern Vietnam (her mother was born in Vietnam) when she found out that she wouldn’t be going home to New Orleans to finish out her last semester at Tulane. She immediately flew to Houston, where her fiancé had ended up. He had been working in New Orleans but, she says, his office called him and said, "We’ve decided to close down the company and give up. None of us has a job any more.”
From Houston, Dreisbach drove her little Toyota alone across 10 states in three days to reach Baltimore. Once there, she eased out of survival mode and soon noticed she was uncomfortable turning on the TV and radi “You hear about streets and coffee shops you’re familiar with.”
Dreisbach, who will finish her in-class courses at the Bloomberg School by the end of October, notices that she is losing things, is forgetting appointments and is unable to concentrate. “I feel like I’m in a dryer cycle, spinning. I walk around in a haze, unable to plan—what should I do about my financial records? My birth certificate? It’s scary to come to this school feeling like I’m already behind. They must think [Tulane students are] all knuckleheads!”
A Bloomberg Professor Leaves Too
At least one member of the School’s faculty, Jane Bertrand, PhD, MBA, professor, Population and Family Health Sciences, had to evacuate New Orleans the day before Katrina hit. Bertrand had been on the faculty at Tulane from 1979 to 2001 and never gave up her home in the city’s Audubon Park neighborhood. For the past four years, she has commuted there most weekends. “I have one foot in New Orleans and 1½ feet in Hopkins,” says Bertrand, also the director of the School’s Center of Communication Programs. “The high point of my week is running my dog on the levee. It’s great having so many Tulanians here; I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”
“All the Passengers Were Clapping Their Hands”
Chiho Suzuki, who had come to Tulane in the fall of 2000 to get her MPH, was planning to defend her doctoral dissertation in late November. She got out of New Orleans Sunday around noon, on one of the last flights before the airport closed down at 3 p.m.
“All the passengers were clapping their hands and celebrating the take-off, but I was feeling very sad as I looked down at the city through the window, wondering what the city would look like when I came back.”
She says that everyone thought they would be away for a few days, then return to clean up the mess, and their lives would go on like before. “None of us ever imagined that it would be this bad. We never thought that the quick hugs and good-byes we exchanged with friends the night before would end up carrying so much weight.”
Evacuating to Orlando, Suzuki stayed with friends—and then fortune smiled. A Bloomberg professor who knew the chair of Suzuki’s dissertation committee invited Suzuki to come and stay with her and her family. “She has created an environment in which I can finish my dissertation,” explains Suzuki. “I am very touched by her and her colleagues' generosity, as well as the speed with which the School has accommodated me.”
The Tulane students have been advised by the School to take core classes if possible, and most say that their Hopkins courses should transfer easily to Tulane. Some believe the Bloomberg School’s term system may even work in their favor. As one said, “Because of the term system here, I’ll be able to amass 20 credit hours in the time I’d have earned 12 at Tulane.”
Kevin Embrey, who was getting ready to start his third and final semester toward a Tulane MPH, says, “After realizing that most schools were trying to help out Tulane’s students, I called the Bloomberg School the Friday after the hurricane. Paul Wong [MDiv, MPH Program Manager,] and Dr. Schoenrich [Edyth Schoenrich, MD, MPH, associate chair, MPH Program] have been invaluable in helping me mesh together classes here and at Tulane.”
“Everybody affiliated with this university should be so proud,” says Jiselle Bock. “It’s an amazing effort, way beyond anything I could have expected, so quick, so efficient—everything flowed so smoothly.” —Rod Graham
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