UA reaches out to affected students

Will Tucker

The UA Division of Student Affairs began calling students living in areas affected by the April 27 tornado last week as part of Project Reach Out, an attempt to connect with students after the storm, according to Molly Lawrence, associate vice president for Student Affairs.

“The purpose of Project Reach Out was to attempt to connect via telephone with students who were living in the storm-impacted area.  The objectives were to ask about the student’s current status and needs, inform about programs and services that may be useful, and to answer any questions or make referrals,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said the calls also were meant to remind students that the University cares about their well-being and is available to provide assistance. She said Student Affairs staffers used the Alumni Association Calling Center to work shifts of three hours on Tuesday and Wednesday and expected to finish calling students on Friday.

Student Affairs used the Office of Academic Records to generate a list of all students who lived within the nine storm-impacted Tuscaloosa zip code areas, Lawrence said. The list included the local telephone number provided by those students, which Student Affairs used to contact the students. The University reached out to faculty and staff in a similar manner on April 29, two days after the storm.

“During the past two weeks, UA has proactively reached out to help meet the immediate and short-term needs of students and employees since the tornado struck,” University spokesperson Cathy Andreen said Friday. She pointed to the Rec Center sheltering students and the University’s emergency call center, in addition to the Student Affairs calls to students, as examples. “The response from students and parents has been very positive,” she said.

Some students who received the calls, however, were critical of the calls from the University two weeks after the storm.

Jess Smith, a UA student who had a tree fall into the living room of her house during the storm, said she was shocked that the University called her.

“I had just come back into Tuscaloosa to do relief work. I got in, and they called…[a man] introduced himself as Student Affairs and said that his records indicated that I lived in an affected area,” she said.

“I was in shock, so I said I was fine…he asked if my house had suffered any damage, and I said yes,” she said. “Then he asked if I would be back in the fall and asked if I had suitable housing. I said yes.

“Then he asked if I had any more questions—I was shocked at the audacity of them, calling me two weeks after the incident. I said no, but I should have said yes.”

Smith said she had several questions about the University’s response as it related to students, and wished that she had asked them.

“It’s embarrassing as a student to have the university you love reach out to you two whole weeks afterwards and offer condolences,” she said.

Chris Izor, another student who answered a Wednesday call from Student Affairs, lives in a disaster area but didn’t experience any storm damage to his apartment. Izor said he was surprised to see a University 348 number calling him. He said the woman he spoke to was nice and that he appreciated the call at first.

“I later realized how long it took to happen,” Izor said. “It took 14 days for the University to contact me in person. The English department contacted me within a matter of hours after the storm. That’s what bothers me…how UA was dragging their feet.”