Feb 152007
Authors: Vimal Patel

For 18 months, CSU anthropology professor Kate Browne followed a black family displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Today, most of the 155 family members are back home in New Orleans.

But despite the nation’s largest natural disaster falling off the media radar, Browne says life in New Orleans isn’t quite peachy yet.

“The story doesn’t end with ‘glory hallelujah’ because they are still having immense problems,” she said. “There are so many people who have had horrible things they’ve had to face to get their lives back. The extent and scale of the disaster (is) still wreaking havoc in people’s lives.”

To help shine some light on the issue, Browne organized a Hurricane Katrina symposium to bring together experts to talk about various aspects of the storm and its aftermath – from the economic and political to the social and cultural.

The event, scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Tamasag Retreat Center, 4285 Larimer County Road 52E in Bellvue, will feature CSU professors from four colleges in addition to mental health experts from the Denver area.

Browne teaches a new course at CSU titled “New Orleans: Ethnographic Encounters with a Different America.” The professor’s research focuses on the values and cultural pattern of extended families in New Orleans.

“These large extended families is what most of America doesn’t understand,” she said. “Most have very deep roots…the draw of New Orleans is that it can teach us about who we are as Americans.”

Browne’s study of the extended family in the form of a documentary is expected to be complete by April, and she said she already has an agreement with PBS to show the film.

On Saturday, professors from various fields will tackle different aspects of the catastrophe.

Doug Rice from the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Services will speak about his work assessing mold damage and related health concerns from the storm. Rice has made more than 20 trips to New Orleans since the storm hit.

Professors from the sociology, civil engineering and environmental and radiological health sciences departments will also make presentations.

Laura Williams, Colorado project manager for the Crisis Counseling Program Grant, is set to speak about how her agency counseled Katrina evacuees who came to Colorado – about 14,000, she estimated.

The mental health expert said Katrina posed unique concerns to her agency.

“It was a very different type of disaster and required a different kind of response,” she said. “Everything they had, everything that was familiar to them was gone. It was just gone. Many of them had absolutely nothing.”

For Browne, her experiences working with the extended family have left her indignant – at the media, which she says she’s generally a supporter of, and especially at the federal government, which she says responded ineptly.

“There has been no responsible, sustained compassionate effort on the part of the government in the response to Katrina,” she said.

As an example, she cited a program that promises homeowners who had lost homes $150,000. It took about 15 months for members of the family she followed to even set up a meeting with federal officials.

And media coverage of the disaster shouldn’t have dipped so fast, and it shouldn’t have focused on the “way overblown” stereotypes of victims being poor and on welfare, she said. Members of the family Browne studied all had jobs, were hard working, and would be classified as lower-middle class.

“If more people saw up close what good, decent hardworking people have to experience,” she said, “they wouldn’t tolerate it.”

The symposium is free and open to the public. However, due to limited seating, registration is required. To register, call Rosalie Samaniego at 491-0930 or e-mail rosalie.samaniego@colostate.edu.

Managing Editor Vimal Patel can be reached at news@collegian.com.


Schedule of Events

9 to 9:30 a.m.: Coffee and welcome.

9:30 to 10:15 a.m.: Dr. Chester Watson, Dept of Civil Engineering, CSU.

Dr. Watson will speak about the Mississippi River and how the levees contributed to coastal erosion that worsened the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Watson has worked extensively in the area with the Army Corps of Engineers.

10:30 to 11:15 a.m.: Dr. Doug Rice, Dept of Environmental and Radiological Health Services, (College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences), CSU.

Dr. Rice is a specialist in mold remediation and has made 22 trips to New Orleans since Katrina. He will discuss his work to assess damage from mold and related health concerns.

11:30 to 12:15 a.m.: Prof. Del Sandfort, Dept of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, (College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences), CSU.

An Industrial Hygienist, Dr. Sandfort will discuss his work in New Orleans helping to secure the safety of workers and clean-up crews.

12:15 to 1:30 p.m.: LUNCH, NEW ORLEANS STYLE! Donations toward cost of lunch appreciated.

1:30 to 2:15 p.m.: Laura Williams, Colo. Division of Mental Health, & David Duquette, Aurora Mental Health Center.

Ms. Williams, Crisis Counseling Program Manager for Disaster Mental Health, will talk about how her agency helped survivors who came to Colorado. Mr. Duquette, MS, Psy.D., was Team Leader in the field for 18 months following Katrina, working directly with evacuee individuals and families.

2:30 to 3:15 p.m.: George Cummings, Domestic Relief Mgr., Lutheran Family Services.

George Cummings will address how this agency, like Catholic Charities, has been working since Katrina to get people back on their feet with respect to the most basic needs of housing, transportation, and employment.

3:30 to 4:15 p.m.: Dr. Lori Peek, Dept. of Sociology, CSU.

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