Recall for a moment moving into your dorm your freshman year of college. For most, the worries are relatively simple: where do my posters go? Do my sheets match my rug? Will my parents really call me every day? But, for quite a few freshmen this year, the worries became dire. For Houstonians and Floridians alike, natural disaster put a damper on orientation week, on the first week of classes, and on the overall morale of moving to Swarthmore.
Hurricane Harvey was the first to hit, devastating Houston, Texas, whose state is the fifth-most popular home state among the class of 2021. Some freshmen from the city missed orientation entirely, as they found themselves unable to leave the city post-hurricane. This, along with having to leave their hometown with now-failing infrastructure, inflated prices of necessities like food and water, and a suffering populous, put a massive strain on the new Swatties who call the city home.
“It was kind of scary,” remarked Clayton Meyer ’21, from Houston, “and it felt strange not being there to have to deal with that and hearing so much about it. Like, I live there.”
Immediately after the devastation of Harvey, Hurricane Irma made her path through the greater part of Florida, the ninth most popular home state. Matthew Lucker ‘21, from Sanibel, Fla., reported being terrified all throughout orientation and the first week of classes.
“I felt … unfortunate because it seemed like the forecast was going to leave my parents and I without a home,” he lamented. “I felt jealous of other people saying that, you know, they would have plans to leave for fall break and I was thinking, in the back of my mind, well, ‘what am I gonna do for fall break? I don’t even know if I can go back. If there will be something to go back to.’”
The Swarthmore community has proven to be a valuable resource, however. In addition to the Chili Cook-Off that the school sponsored, the students provided much insight and assistance in the transition. As a student from Florida myself, my RA, McKenzie Ward ’19, was an important part in my move-in: she was not only my RA, but also a fellow Floridian I could empathize with. Of course, she was worried, just as we all were.
“I usually talk to my parents every day. At least my mom. And so … just wondering and waiting – ‘cause I couldn’t get on the phone with her every day over the weekend – was kind of worrisome.” We shared videos of our respective towns. Due to waterspouts and tornadoes resulting from Irma, a boat dock in Ward’s native Tampa was completely drained. Civilians are clearly seen walking on sand where water used to be.
After sharing videos of the disaster, we shared memes about the two hurricanes, which were readily available on the Internet. To those affected by the disasters, as Meyer noted, “that’s how some people deal with, like, fear and stress — is they kind of make light of it to make it seem less consequential … I just hope that, like, deep down, they know that it’s a big, big deal and people could die and have died, at least in Houston’s case.”
For Lucker, fellow students played the largest role.
“I found it incredibly, strangely welcoming to be able … to talk to anybody here on campus and feel like every single person wanted to stop and have lunch, and just talk, just be like, an ear, and…and have a friendly conversation for a while. I feel like everybody that I talked to was in support of what was happening in my life and they sympathized with my situation. That I found incredibly, overwhelming, comforting. For that I am incredibly thankful.”
His faith and his relationship to fellow Swatties helped him get through the stress and worry and made him feel welcome.
As the freshman class continues to get acclimated to their new home, many carry with them the weight of disaster.
“To those that are suffering, don’t be afraid to reach out. It may be scary, it may be awkward, but when it comes down to the basics, people want to support you in whatever you’re going through, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. As Swarthmore likes to put it here,” Lucker said.
And to those not directly affected, thank you for your support towards your Floridian and Houstonian Swatties, and for helping us feel like we have a home outside of home. Lord knows, we needed it.