Tulane junior Gil Barzilay left New Orleans on Aug. 27, two days before disaster struck the city. He was going to Knoxville, Tenn., to escape Hurricane Katrina, which was, at the time, a Category 2 hurricane.
“By the time we got to Knoxville,” said Barzilay, “it was a Category 5.”
And it was heading straight toward his home.
“We knew the city was either going to be completely dead or really bad,” he said.
Needless to say, going back to Tulane – a private university nestled in the heart of New Orleans – wasn’t an option. That’s why Barzilay was sitting in USF’s Office of Admissions on Thursday afternoon putting the final touches on the paperwork that will make him a USF student.
As a result of the devastation left by Katrina, Barzilay is one of thousands of college students without a campus. He found refuge when USF, along with other universities across the state and nation, decided to open its doors to any student affected by Hurricane Katrina.
As of Thursday evening, USF had received anywhere from 50 to 60 inquiries from displaced students and successfully enrolled six, according to the Media Relations Director Michelle Carlyon.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for students affected by Hurricane Katrina to continue their education uninterrupted or with as little interruption as possible,” said Director of Undergraduate Admissions Bob Spatig.
Barzilay’s parents reside in the area and he will live at home this semester. Students who don’t have that option will be offered space on campus and will pay the same as a regular USF student, according to Carlyon.
Also, the USF Board of Trustees decided during an emergency conference call on Thursday afternoon to waive out-of-state tuition fees for those students who are not legal residents of Florida, Carlyon said.
“Personally, it’s the right thing to do on a short-term basis,” Spatig said. “I don’t think, given the magnitude of this disaster, that we ought to be worrying about anything other than covering costs.”
Another Tulane student, Molly Hanerty, also gained admission to USF on Thursday. A senior majoring in history and sociology, Hanerty never made it to Tulane this fall.
“I got to about Pensacola,” said Hanerty, whose family resides in Sarasota. “My mom text messaged me to turn around and come back.”
What she saw on the news when she got home repulsed her.
“It’s disgusting,” she said. “We take pride in our city and it’s just embarrassing to see what is happening with the looting and the shooting and everything.”
Barzilay had a different reason to be upset.
“My roommate’s an EMT (emergency medical technician) and he stayed behind,” Barzilay said. “I haven’t heard from him in three days. I’m hoping, but I’m trying not to worry about it because that won’t do any good. I’m praying that he’s OK.”
Students at USF shouldn’t expect much change around campus. No student will get bumped out of a class and no classes will be overfilled. The Admissions Office is contacting professors about vacancies in certain courses and, according to Carlyon, has met no resistance.
“All the professors have been very supportive,” Carlyon said.
Hurricanes are nothing new to USF students, who endured hurricane after hurricane last fall. And while the damage in New Orleans is far more devastating than anything Tampa ever endured, Spatig believes the new students could not have come to a more compassionate community.
“I think students here will understand the reasoning behind the community wanting to help out,” he said. “Times like these call for special measures. I’m really proud to be associated with an institution that can do this.”
No doubt, Barzilay would rather not be enrolled at USF this fall. If he had a choice, he’d be taking classes at Tulane – which was spared major damage – and he’d be living in New Orleans, a city that he “made his home” in.
“It’s really hard to think about everything that is going on there right now, and I feel bad for everybody stuck there,” he said. “But I’m glad for USF. If it wasn’t for USF, I wouldn’t be in college right now.”