Author: Richie DeMaria
Concerned students and representatives from over ten campus clubs and organizations met on Monday, Jan. 24 to discuss a response toward the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. The meeting was the inception of the Student Haiti Support Coalition.
The 7.0 Mw earthquake hit Haiti at 4:53 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 12, and devastated the infrastructure of Port-o-Prince. As of Jan. 27, the death toll was estimated at 170,000, according to Haitian president Rene Preval. BBC News reported that the UN has appealed for $562 million, which is “intended to help three million people for six months, while some two million people are thought to need emergency relief.”
The Occidental student body, to help raise aid money, has hosted and plans to host several fundraisers and awareness meetings to support Haiti in the coming weeks. Delta’s Jan. 30 Mardi Gras Dance raised $270 for the humanitarian non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders. The Black Student Alliance (BSA) will donate a dollar of every ticket sold at Apollo Night on Feb. 26 toward the cause. Additionally, in March, BSA will take students to the taping of a television show, which will donate money to the group for their participation as audience members. “We are setting our sights past $2,000 to raise for the cause and we trust that the Oxy community will unite to make that goal a reality,” BSA President Lindsey Fuller (senior) said.
The coalition is designed to facilitate a combined student relief effort and eventually function as a means of creating long-term support for the stricken island nation. Representatives from Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate, BSA, Impact Fund, Salsa Club, Pauley Hall, ResLife, Sororities Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha and Delta Omicron Tau, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL), Rebirth and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity attended the coalition meeting. The coalition is primarily focusing on raising money from Oxy students to donate to an aid organization in Haiti. No specific charity or organization has yet been chosen to receive the funds raised by these organizations. The coalition will also educate students on the history, culture, and demographics of Haiti, as well as on the effects of the disaster.
Politics professor Caroline Heldman, who has worked with New Orleans residents since Hurricane Katrina struck, stressed the importance of contributing to the Haiti relief effort. “A student response is sorely needed, both in terms of assisting the people of Haiti and providing a meaningful outlet for students who are surely upset about such human suffering,” she said.
President Andrew DeBlock (senior) shared a similar sentiment. “As students, we can fill a niche that other groups can’t,” he said.
ASOC senator Aliza Goldsmith (sophomore) pointed to the steps other academic institutions are taking to aid Haiti. Since the earthquake hit, colleges and universities across the nation have raised funds for relief efforts. Stanford, Brown, Dartmouth, Caltech and USC have collectively raised millions of dollars with online donation drives; U-Penn raised $3,300 with a benefit concert, Goldsmith said.
Oxy’s Haiti Support Coalition hopes to join these other institutions in helping Haiti through the post-earthquake destruction. If successful, the Student Haiti Support Coalition could widen its focus to the greater Eagle Rock and Highland Park area as a means of garnering additional funds. Goldsmith acknowledged both the eventual possibility of working with local organizations, but also the need to act immediately. Though a more long-term approach could focus on enlisting support from community organizations, Oxy ought to initially concentrate on raising funds on campus, she said.
“Even though this is very important work, we shouldn’t discredit the relations we have with community partners in L.A.,” she said. “That being said, we have a lot of money and resources and minds at our disposal, so it’s really important we get to work right now.”
Vice President of BSA David Telfort (sophomore), who stressed the informational component of the relief campaign, stated that such effort ought to begin with educating students at Oxy before enlisting or educating the surrounding community.”We should start with the college campus first, and as things progress we can turn to greater Los Angeles,” he said.
Asked about efforts of the Student Haiti Support Coalition, Heldman did raise questions about the motivations for such philanthropy. “My only concern would be the inclination to think of oneself as a ‘savior’ or a ‘good person’ for responding to this tragedy instead of seeing it as a human duty to respond to such egregious human suffering,” she said.
Interested students should contact Student Haiti Support Coalition co-chairs Avanica Khosla and David Telfort.
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