In August 2016, Baton Rouge and surrounding areas of Louisiana received what the National Hurricane Service describes as a record two-day rainfall that had a .01 percent chance of occurring—the equivalent of a 1,000-year-rain. Many schools, medical offices, businesses and more than 100,000 homes were destroyed. The muddy water flooding parts of our campus and our streets touched everyone at Louisiana State University (LSU). In the LSU Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders (CSD), some students and faculty also lost their homes and belongings. Even today, months after floodwaters abated, some students and faculty still stay in homes other than their own while they rebuild.
As August is the start of a new school year, it’s when we typically hold the annual orientation social. However, this past August our department decided to help the community instead. We also solicited other CSD departments—such as the one at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois—to send care packages.
The flood’s devastation and the resulting work our CSD students did in the Baton Rouge community left a lasting impression. Below, some students share their experiences.
Second-year graduate students Emily Alexander and Jessica Gerdisch:
As the water began to drain, we learned our fellow students were among the thousands of victims of this horrendous flood. Family homes were destroyed, while childhood toys and pictures and other belongings washed away. The rushing waters left our friends and their families with nothing but messes to clean. Faculty and students from our CSD program quickly come together and began cleaning. Students, faculty and friends helped clear the contents of a clinical supervisor’s home. With every trash bag filled, we were reminded of the unpredictability of life. In the 90-degree heat and humidity, we stood together in floodwaters and laughed, cried, prayed and cleaned—knowing this was just the first step in the rebuilding process. We are a community based on supporting one another, not only in academics, but in life.
Second-year graduate student Deirdre Larsen:
My brother-in-law, Mathew, and I attend the CSD graduate school at LSU. He’s earning his doctorate and I’m in the master’s program. Mathew, my sister, their two children and I live together. We lost everything in the flood except some clothes and dishes. My classmates helped move and store our remaining belongings. While my sister’s family stayed with another family, a classmate (Emily Mitchell) took in me and my dog for three months. Mathew was able to take time off from his PhD studies to work on the house and prepare for the baby he and my sister were expecting. And faculty members were equally understanding when I couldn’t quite wrap my head around each day. We also received donations from various individuals and groups in the department. We are grateful for the support we continue to receive.
First-year graduate student Annie Martines:
I was transitioning from Augustana College—a small school [in Illinois] close to home—to LSU when the floods hit. I was ready for a change. Despite my readiness, moving across the country was an overwhelming experience, even before the craziness of the flood. As soon as I settled into my apartment, the rain started to pour. Later that day, I received an email from LSU stating that all orientation days were cancelled. My heart dropped. I was over 1,000 miles away from my family and the only support I was going to receive before school just got cancelled! I thought to myself, “I need to go back home.” Just then, I received another email. It was from second-year students greeting me and my first-year cohort. This gesture, although it may seem small, meant so much to me. I also received multiple emails and phone calls from Augustana checking in on me. It was comforting to know that I still had a community back home. When I saw the care packages and hundreds of letters in the student workroom, I was overwhelmed with joy. Even though I hadn’t established a family yet at LSU, I knew that I was part of something special.
Janna B. Oetting, PhD, CCC-SLP, is communication sciences and disorders/linguistics professor at Louisiana State University. She also directs LSU’s Language Development and Disorders Lab and is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; 10, Issues in Higher Education; 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity; and 16, School-Based Issues. firstname.lastname@example.org
Student contributors: Emily Alexander, Jessica Gerdisch and Deirdre Larsen are all second-year graduate students at LSU. Annie Martines is a first-year graduate student.