University neglects to console victims of Calif. wildfires

More than two weeks after wildfires began to spread in San Diego County, Carnegie Mellon has yet to take action to look after the welfare of students and their families from the area. But it’s not just that the administration has failed to issue a formal statement acknowledging the fires and their potential to affect Carnegie Mellon students; the university has not taken any practical steps to check on students’ welfare or offer their concerns and condolences to students and their families.

It is likely that the California wildfires have affected a significant portion of our student body.

Last academic year, 298 Carnegie Mellon undergrads were from California, roughly 5.5 percent of the total undergraduate student body. The only states from which more students hail are Pennsylvania (1175), New York (636), and New Jersey (596).

The effects of the California wildfires have been compared to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which attracted considerably more attention from university administration. Official Communications issued two separate e-mails to the entire campus community in which the university declared that they “are also maintaining close contact with our 31 undergraduate and graduate students from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who may have been directly impacted by this tragic event and are offering our assistance to them and their families,” and enrolled 15 students from Tulane University at Carnegie Mellon for the semester.

In contrast, many schools on the West Coast issued formal letters to the parents of all of its students from southern California to express the college’s concern for the safety of the families of the colleges’ students. The proximity of the issue may have meant that it was on the administration’s radar at these schools more than it was at Carnegie Mellon.

However, proximity should not be a factor here. This is a national tragedy, and one that the university has not adequately addressed. The university cannot merely rely on the voluntary kindness of housefellows, RAs, professors, and other staff and faculty members to reach out and offer emotional support to students. Carnegie Mellon needs to acknowledge the severity of the crisis to the whole campus community, make contact with all its students from the affected area, and offer its support to these students and their families.