College’s journalism students boost post-Katrina morale

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Wednesday, October 26, 2005 (13 years ago)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A photograph of a gate snapped in two by hurricane-force winds tells the story: William Carey College’s three campuses -– in Hattiesburg and Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans -- will never again be the same.

All three campuses received major damage, and all students, faculty and administrators reeled from personal loss, but within two days of returning to the windstruck Hattiesburg campus, the student journalism staff rallied.

Led by editor Heather Clark, the staff decided The Cobbler needed to remind the college community of the hope in Jesus Christ that professors often talk about in class. The student journalists started planning a Katrina issue as their first issue of this year’s monthly student newspaper.

“We knew we couldn’t have any negativity in it at all,” Clark, a junior, said. “We looked at all the angles and found something positive in each one of them.”

Her editorial expanded on that thought.

“In one single day, our lives went from normal to devastating,” Clark wrote. “It used to be that if there was a hurricane coming, we would board up a few windows, get a few groceries and wait out the storm.

“Now if there is mention of a storm, people are packing their bags, filling up on gas and frantically leaving their home in fear of their safety. Will we ever get back to the way we were before Katrina? I really don’t think so.

“This paper is dedicated to the school we knew and the devastation left behind after Katrina pushed her way across the state. The buildings and landscape we love have been damaged and even destroyed, but the love we have for our school is still alive and stronger than ever.”

Katrina clobbered a four-year construction project on the college’s Hattiesburg campus, leaving trees down all over campus, windows blown out and the color stripped off new bricks. At the beachfront Gulfport campus, an entire building -– including the foundation –- apparently was sucked into the sea. The New Orleans campus, housed at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is out of commission for at least this semester.

“In contrast to what we were seeing on television, even the local news channels, we wanted students to be able to read not stories of complete destruction but a story of hope,” photojournalist Lacey Walters said.

“This needed to be done to communicate to the students that everything would be OK,” Clark said. “God is going to continue to strengthen students who have lost everything.”

One sorrowful loss: Newspaper adviser Dana Coleman lost a great-uncle. His body was found five days later floating in New Orleans.

“Everybody lost someone, something,” Clark said. “That’s why our goal was to make this issue as positive as it could be, to communicate that we were going to be okay and we were going to retain our academic excellence.”

William Carey College was started in 1906 by the Mississippi Baptist Convention as Mississippi Woman’s College; its name changed in 1954.

The first issue of the 50th volume of The Cobbler came out Oct. 13, just three weeks after the Hattiesburg campus reopened. Each article, photo and editorial opinion related to the hurricane. While written in standard journalistic “just the facts” style, the message of hope came through.

“I was very impressed to see how committed these student journalists were to telling a positive story of the college,” adviser Coleman said. “Their unfailing faith that everything would be okay is a real testament to the environment of William Carey College.”

The top-of-the-fold page 1 article provided a synopsis of Hurricane Katrina’s impact: “... The power of Katrina had truly left victims powerless,” staff writer Mary Katherine Easley wrote.

“Despite the severity of the damage, residents came together one by one to help each other,” Easley continued later in the article. “... Some residents hung American flags to show their perseverance.... Neighbors got to know neighbors and strangers became friends.”

Mitchell Smith, senior photographer/writer, wrote a page 1 article after interviewing college President Larry Kennedy.

Before the storm, enrollment at the three campuses had reached a record 3,025 students; since the storm it has dropped to 2,330, Smith wrote. Plans are being made to sell the coast property and move the Gulfport campus inland, closer to Interstate 10, Kennedy said.

Another page 1 headline: “Students help the hurting.” On page 2, in addition to Katrina-related news briefs and jumps from page 1: “Local church leaders help bring comfort after Katrina.”

Page 3 included a revised academic calendar; articles on how Katrina aid would benefit college students; revisions to plans for mission trips; and a call to prayer. The center spread, with “Katrina storms through Carey” as its headline, showed interior and exterior devastation –- a science lab, the Gulfport student center, baseball field lights and more.

Even the sports page referred to Katrina.

Resumption of athletic competition “was, to me, a testament to the resilience and determination of a proud culture who would stop at nothing to prove to everyone watching that Nature could do her worst, and the core of that culture could not and would not be shaken,” sports editor Charlie Hedden wrote.

“Though it was not with food, water, or clothing, sports was an equally important defiance to Katrina,” Hedden added later in the column. “Through sports we were able to show that just because circumstances had left us wet, poor, hurt and crushed, it would take much more than a hurricane to defeat the American people, their spirit, their passions and their pastimes.”

Rather than the cartoon that usually appears on the editorial opinion page, Clark chose to use a photo of a Bible found in floodwaters opened to the first chapter of the Old Testament Book of Ruth.

“Dr. Kennedy [college president] found this Bible, weathered, worn and water-logged, lying amidst the debris on the lawn of the Coast campus,” the caption recounts. “Dr. Kennedy notes the relevance in that the Book of Ruth begins with tragedy and disaster but ends in hope.”

Randi Cyprien, in an opinion column, said the only thing she wanted to do after the hurricane was to “run back to my life, my friends, my family and my home.... I never really understood ‘family value’ until I had not talked to my family for days during the hurricane and thought I had lost them for good.”

She closed her column with, “... you never forget home. But sometimes with changes, you have to take your heart and make a new home.”


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