Monday, March 30, 2009

March '09 Trip Reflections - Kathryn Chiu, Class of 2011

At my first Property class, the professor asked us to state our name and an interesting fact about ourselves. As we went around the room, the class revealed all different types of personalities – outdoor enthusiasts, budding politicians, and literature fanatics. The professor had asked us to do this because he said it was important to remember what we loved doing, especially as we were about to embark on the dreaded and infamous 1L journey.

I came to law school with the intent to perform public service. In particular, I wrote my personal statement about my experience working with domestic violence survivors and their frustration with the legal system, with the hope of using a law degree to help these people. But in the midst of the craziness that is 1L year, I had completely forgotten my original purpose. When you’re busy attempting to memorize Article 2 of the U.C.C., domestic violence survivors can sometimes fall to the back of your mind.

Wanting to perform some type of public service, I signed up for the Student Hurricane Network’s (SHN) spring break trip to New Orleans. The trip, however, seemed daunting (I mean, shouldn’t I really be studying Civil Procedure this week?). Even when I got my placement with the Disaster Accountability Project (DAP), I was still unsure of what I was supposed to do. Moreover, I was the only 1L on the trip, and was scared that I was going to be shunned by the upperclassmen.

All my fears were eliminated as soon as I got to the Big Easy. At DAP, I, along with another student volunteer from Howard University, developed the organization’s radio policy project. This project was created in response to the calls DAP received during and immediately after Hurricane Ike. In particular, people were confused as to where they could get emergency services. State and local governments were posting information regarding post-disaster services on their websites, which many people could not access due to lack of electrical power. As a result, DAP called for the creation of an emergency radio network that would broadcast information needed in emergencies, such as locations of shelters, open hospitals, etc. Our job was to contact local governments and research the feasibility of developing such a radio network.

The information we collected from local governments in Texas and Louisiana was shocking. While many counties and parishes had disaster communication systems set up, many others did not. Some still relied on the Internet to relay information to the community, while others just said they relied on “word of mouth.” One parish in Louisiana told me that they had created an emergency broadcast system with a local radio station, but that someone at the station stole all the equipment and left town, leaving them with nothing. It seemed that any lessons meant to be learned from natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Ike were not being learned.

During the weeklong trip, we traveled to the Lower 9th Ward to see the bulk of Katrina’s damage. Because of the work of previous volunteers, the area is now just a grassy field with a couple of completed homes by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation. Only the remaining stoops leading to nowhere and a memorial sign suggested that this area had been badly hurt. Still, one could sense the vulnerability pervading the area. The grassy knolls once filled with homes were a reminder that even four years later, people are still affected by Katrina and that there is still work towards recovery to be done.

Obviously, there are enough stories in the headlines (i.e. the economy) to take our minds off the damaged Gulf Coast. But the SHN trip was a wake-up call – there are homes to be built, businesses to be re-established, and radio policies to be developed. For me, this wake-up call reminded me of the reason I came to law school – that is, to perform public service – and to keep my mind focused on that goal.

As I enter the home stretch of my 1L year, I am filled with a newfound positive perspective on law school (something that I can guarantee you is impossible to find amongst 1Ls). Even if the Rule Against Perpetuities won’t necessarily help me in my future public service career, it’ll at least help me pass the Bar, which will help me in my career, thus making the subject worthwhile (and maybe slightly more interesting). I have SHN to thank for this new outlook.

On a final note, I would definitely recommend next year’s 1Ls to consider going on the SHN trip. The reasons to visit New Orleans are endless (The music! The food! The Hurricanes and the subsequent hangovers!). But the SHN trip introduced me to fantastic people at Fordham Law who are committed to helping others, yet another reason to find law school all the more enjoyable now.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sierra Club

Here are pictures of the volunteers who worked in the lower ninth ward with the Sierra Club.
For a glimpse of some of the work Fordham's group did this week, check out this article from the local newspaper Houma Today, featuring Fordham SHN board member George Kottas.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Orleans- January 2009

With a new year comes a new group of Fordham students volunteering in New Orleans. 25 students and 1 staff member have traveled down and begin working on Monday the 5th. We have volunteers working at the Sierra Club, Disaster Accountability Project, and the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center.