PHOTO COURTESY OF TULANE UNIVERSITY PUBLICATIONS
The cool shade of the tall oaks that line Tulane University’s campus will comfort hundreds of student volunteers assembled in the stifling August heat this Labor Day weekend. Yellow school buses will disperse volunteers from all parts of the Tulane community throughout New Orleans to hammer shingles into newly built roofs, paint charter schools and plant gardens in areas that haven’t seen green since Hurricane Katrina. The attendance at Tulane’s eighteenth annual volunteer day, Outreach Tulane, has swelled since the storm caused 80 percent of both the campus and the city to flood three years ago.
The unexpected tragedy and devastation of New Orleans left Tulanians in shock, but they recognized they were also left with an unprecedented opportunity to help rebuild one of America’s greatest cities and to create a stronger university.
“The health of the community as a whole is dependent on the health of its parts,” said Carol Reese, a professor of urban affairs and a member of Tulane’s Center for Public Service executive committee.
The administration could not ignore the nationally broadcast tragedies of Katrina, which, quite literally, surfaced the realities of New Orleans’ deep-rooted social problems. Nor could it ignore the onslaught of new problems the storm caused for both the city and the university. With the announcement of Tulane’s Renewal Plan in December 2005, Tulane became the first major research institution to require all students to participate in service-learning courses, a change that has attracted students who are eager to become part of the city’s revitalization.
“At this year’s freshmen orientation it seemed that all the kids I talked to were involved in high school with Habitat for Humanity, helping the homeless, or in retirement homes,” said Seth Cunningham, a Tulane senior and vice chair of outreach for the Community Action Council of Tulane University Students (CACTUS). “They were all excited to get off campus and help out.”
The application numbers prove that students were eager to get on campus as well. Tulane received over 34,000 applications this year–the most the university has seen in its 175- year history. On January 1, 2008, the office of admissions stopped accepting applications, overwhelmed by the most applications any school in the country received this year, said Faye Tydlaska, assistant vice president for student enrollment. Based on students’ average SAT and ACT scores, “the academic quality of the entire applicant pool has risen too,” said Tydlaska. Of the 1,550 people registered to start classes this August 27 (two days before Katrina’s anniversary), most will be enrolled in required service-learning courses that place them directly into the community.