Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 35, Number 2

Vanderbilt Welcomes Katrina Refugees

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, making a direct hit on New Orleans. Vanderbilt Law School was among schools across the country who opened their doors to students who were forced to evacuate.

As far as law students were concerned, Hurricane Katrina's timing could have been much worse. At Tulane, the hurricane literally heralded the beginning of the school year, making landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, two days before classes were scheduled to begin. By September 2, with 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, Tulane had been forced to cancel its fall semester. Vanderbilt welcomed eight Tulane students and one from Loyola.

Vanderbilt joined law schools throughout the country by opening its doors to visiting students. Most arrived with very little. "In 2004, I had my first evacuation experience with Ivan," recalls second-year Tulane student Ragan Stout. "I packed my car with everything it would possibly hold. Then nothing happened and I had to move it all back in. So this time I took much less."

Juanita Passyn, a 2006 J.D./M.B.A. candidate at Tulane, took refuge with a sister who lives in Nashville. "We picked up our entire lives and moved them in less than a day," she says.

By the time Kinika Young, a third-year student at Tulane, managed to throw the few possessions she had time to gather into her car, the mass evacuation had become a major traffic jam. Her drive to Houston to join friends and wait out the storm—normally a two-hour trip—took nine hours.

Young had clerked with Bass Berry & Sims last summer, and when Tulane announced that it would close for the semester, she gratefully accepted the firm's offer to arrange for her to spend the semester at Vanderbilt, along with the use of an employee's spare bedroom. "They called to check on me and asked if I was looking for a school," she said. "They made it happen."

Although she had to take a completely different slate of classes than those she had enrolled for at Tulane, she was grateful to be in law classes and to have a comfortable place to stay. "A natural disaster like a hurricane helps you get your priorities in line," she says. "This was not exactly how I pictured my third year, but it went well under the circumstances."