Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

    Departments aid affected professors, students

    After an EF-4 tornado struck Tuscaloosa on April 27 and displaced many students, professors, faculty and staff members at the University of Alabama, one of the foremost concerns was checking in with employees, friends and neighbors to see if they were safe.

    “On Friday, April 29, Human Resources employees and volunteers from outside the department began making phone calls to faculty and staff, targeting those living in ZIP codes affected by the tornado,” said Cathy Andreen, the director of media relations at the University. “The calls were made to make sure employees were safe and accounted for. Faculty and staff were able to provide information regarding injuries and damage to property.”

    Affected faculty and staff were then contacted a second time by HR Service Center employees to see how they were doing and to offer assistance with benefit-related issues, such as replacing insurance cards and prescription medicines, information on available financial resources and EAP resources, she said. In addition to outreach by the University, some of the individual colleges and academic departments made efforts to aid those who were affected by the tornado.

    Jennifer Greer, chair of the department of journalism, said they immediately went into triage mode, trying to track everybody down and make sure they were alright. Three journalism professors, Meredith Cummings, Rick Bragg and Dan Meissner, as well as one graduate student, had severe damage to their homes.

    “We tried to tend to immediate needs first, for them to function as human beings, not as faculty members,” Greer said. “We tried to make sure they had a safe place to live, water, food and clothing.”

    Then the department of journalism made sure students who had classes with the faculty members affected by the tornado were alright and were cognizant of the situation with their professors. The department sent out emails early the next week to discuss final projects and exams because they knew the professors whose homes had been damaged did not have access to power and Internet. They also came together to collect cash donations for their colleagues who were displaced by the storm.

    “Our faculty is the most generous group of people I’ve ever worked with,” Greer said.

    She said they were equally as generous with the graduate assistant who lost her home. Greer said the department is moving forward now, trying to address needs as they arise.

    “It’s one of those things that you just realize in a time of need, where people come together and it really feels like a family,” she said. “We’ve always kind of been like that as a department anyway, but this has really pulled people together.”

    The anthropology department is another department that has pulled together. Professors Ian Brown, William Dressler, and Vernon J. Knight, led by Kathy Oths, have been actively involved in the endeavor to help people salvage their belongings and clear debris.

    Brown said Lauren Downs and Erik Porth are two of the graduate students who spearheaded this operation. He said that overall, 35 students and faculty members have been involved in the efforts that continue on a daily basis, including today. Toni Copeland, a recent PhD graduate from UA who is now a professor at Mississippi State University, expressed her thanks in writing to the anthropology department for their help in cleaning up her home after the tornado.

    “I know that we can all talk about the benefits of social support,” Copeland wrote in a note of appreciation. “Now, however, I think I can speak more from the heart about how emotionally and psychological uplifting it is to have such wonderful people there when you need them. Aside from the tangible support, your help gave my entire family more hope, smiles, reassurance, and best of all, some sense of control over the situation.”

    Copeland said the anthropologists “were like a swarm of Africanized bees that flew in and attacked the destruction at our house.”

    “We have been the envy of many people on our street (several of whom work in different departments at UA),” she wrote. “Apparently UA Anthro has been the topic of conversation at several dinner tables.”

    The journalism and anthropology departments provide anecdotal examples of the countless relief efforts that many departments at the University are continuing to pursue to aid their own in the long days of recovery ahead.

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