It’s a well-known fact Louisiana has suffered, and suffered badly, at the hands of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Ike and Gustav in 2008. But after spending two weeks in the Bayou State in December for their Community Service mini term, 19 Union students learned a few Louisiana facts most people don’t know.
“Barely anyone knows about the Houma Indian Nation, a 17,000-member, state-recognized tribe,” said James Sedlak ’12. “Until 1963, they weren’t allowed to integrate into public schools.”
Sedlak was among those students who shared their new knowledge with the campus community through poster presentations, Cajun food and a little line dancing at an informal symposium at the Nott Memorial Tuesday.
Taught by Janet Grigsby, the mini term, SOC 387, is a one-credit course that combines community service with the academic study of New Orleans and the hurricane disasters. The students’ posters summarized research projects conducted in the cities of Dulac and New Orleans on topics ranging from wetland restoration and health care to indigenous peoples.
While the Houma Indians now have the right to attend public schools, Sedlak said, there’s still much they don’t have. In the 1980s, the tribe filed a petition, still pending, for federal recognition from the U.S. government. Today, the tribe struggles to preserve its culture and home on the Southern Louisiana coast.
“They’ve experienced severe cultural erosion, coupled with environmental degradation,” Sedlak said. “The Houmas’ land is vital as a buffer against hurricanes, and if we don’t do anything to save the wetlands, the coast line will just keep moving north. The Houmas don’t have the resources to preserve it, but we can try to help them. That’s why I chose to do this, to tell people here about them.”
Katie Ferrara ’11 and Lauren Guidi ’11 also hope to cultivate local support for people who live in and around Dulac, which was heavily damaged by Gustav and Ike.
“They lost everything, even their community center,” said Guidi. “The kids don’t really have anywhere to go after school now, so we want to continue to help them even though we aren’t there anymore.”
Guidi and Ferrara are working with the Louisiana community to generate a list of children and their birthdays. They hope to compile a second list of people from Union or from their hometowns to create a pen pal program and birthday gift exchange.
Guidi and her classmates were part of the second wave of Union students to complete the mini term.
“The course is such a great way for the students to have an experience that’s so obviously valuable to them,” said Prof. Grigsby.
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