Community Organizing in New Orleans

New Orleans

Students from Sarah Lawrence College will spend part of their winter break in New Orleans doing community organizing and clean-up work. Along with faculty member, Dean Hubbard, holder of the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy, Daphne Dumas, Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, another staff member and an alumna, the group will work with the organization ACORN to help implement a plan to pressure for the right of return and a residents' voice in rebuilding the city by forming a network of survivors in New Orleans and the Diaspora.

The students will help with the physical work of reopening and cleaning people's homes, engage in community organizing by talking with people who are returning about their needs and connecting them to ACORN's network, take oral histories, and assist with lead testing by taking soil samples. They will also document their experience on video and take still photographs. The trip is linked to student, staff and faculty participation in the development of a regional network of academic, policy, planning and organizing support for Katrina survivors, both those who have returned and are seeking a voice in the rebuilding process, and those who are still stranded in the New York area. It is part of an effort to create an alternative policy response “on the ground” to the perceived federal policy of inaction and neglect.

Prior to the end of the semester the group took part in a day-long training at ACORN's office in the Bronx, which included a discussion with Katrina survivors living in a hotel in Queens. Training also included two days of sessions with Sarah Lawrence history, politics, psychology and public health faculty members on race and uneven development, on taking oral histories from survivors of trauma, on mechanisms to cope with stressors in a traumatic environment, on making the link between community organizing and policy responses to Katrina and on assessing and addressing potential health risks.

The trip has been organized and funded through the Office of Community Partnerships, and is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build student leadership for social justice. The students will continue their work after their return.