Students re-enact Katrina aftermath

by Beacon Staff • March 29, 2006

Freshman theatre studies major Katie Wohl devised the event, called "The Displacement," last fall, after she arrived at the college while her hometown of New Orleans was in a state of disaster.,On Friday a vocal crowd in Room 21 of the Student Union listened attentively as members of the Campus Conversations on Race Action Committee (CCOR AC) spoke about their plan to simulate the conditions of the Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Freshman theatre studies major Katie Wohl devised the event, called "The Displacement," last fall, after she arrived at the college while her hometown of New Orleans was in a state of disaster.

"I didn't have to go to the Superdome," Wohl said in an interview before the event. "Even though I lost my house, it's not the same thing as being abandoned . I felt like a traitor."

Sophomore TV/video major Jessica Mann, CCOR AC's public relations representative, assisted Wohl in her push for a Katrina-related public presentation.

Mann said holding an event like "The Displacement" is important because it will allow students to experience the lack of government aid and the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina first hand.

"I hate to say that we learn from our mistakes because from our history it's pretty clear that doesn't really happen," Mann said. "I just hope people become more aware of the atmosphere we live in."

Mann said the CCOR AC had to do a great deal of work just to get the event off the ground. She said the group was told the Tuesday prior to the event that the school would not support "The Displacement" they had planned to hold in the Arlington Street Church.

"They don't want to address issues of race on campus right now," Mann said.

Representatives from the Department of Student Life did not provide a reason why "The Displacement" was not approved by press time.

David Rosen, vice president of public affairs, said that although he had no knowledge of this event, the college is committed to furthering racial discussion on campus.

"There have been a series of campus conversations on race and the college has been 100 percent behind that since the beginning," Rosen said. "It certainly doesn't reflect any position of the administration discouraging conversations on race."

"The Displacement" occurred Saturday.

The seven-hour experience took place in Room 1 of the Student Union basement, a stand-in for the now infamous Superdome and the 26,000 people housed there.

Wohl explained the day's events.

"We'll begin on the first day, waiting for the hurricane, going through the hours to see an increase in the number of people in the Superdome, a decrease in morale, a decrease in the amount of politicians' awareness and an increase in reporters' awareness," she said.

Participants in the event attended an actors' workshop the week prior, which many cited as extremely helpful.

Other than the workshop, the student volunteers relied entirely on improvisational acting.

The room was decorated to approximate the conditions in the Superdome during the Katrina aftermath. Wohl was among several students portraying Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

The students acted out fights, just as in the accounts and images seen of the Superdome itself.

Twenty to 30 students portraying New Orleans residents argued with others playing government officials.

Expletive-laced comments and accusations of unfair treatment were launched with regularity, only interrupted by video and sound of the environment outside the room and pre-taped shorts with actors portraying such officials as Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Kimberly McGuire, a freshman performing arts major, said "The Displacement" was an opportunity to appreciate the experience of people whom she had never met.

"It gave me a deeper respect for the unsung heroes, like the nurses who stayed back," she said. "They were very courageous and did so much and have gone unrecognized."

In an interview after "The Displacement," Mann said, "I was really impressed that we were able to pull it out . because we ran into a lot of barriers. This affected people and made people think."

Amanda Pinto and Dan Muse contributed to this report.