In the wake of one of the most devastating natural disasters in our lifetime, the University is in a unique position to provide much-needed aid and assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina raged over the Gulf Coast more than a week ago, completely ruining — among many other things — New Orleans. Politicians have already begun to assign blame for the botched federal response, yet now is not the time to point fingers. It is far more important to focus all attention on the relief efforts under way in the destroyed region.

As University President Mary Sue Coleman pointed out in last week’s e-mail to the entire student body, the University will be a participant in the relief effort. Additionally, many student groups have sprung up, as they did after last year’s tsunami in Asia, to do what they can for the victims. With thousands dead and injured, many more displaced and damages estimated in the tens of billions of dollars, the level of need is staggering. The University community, which has already opened its hearts, must now turn its empathy into action.

One of the most important things the University can do is serve as a temporary school for the many students who normally attend colleges in the ravaged areas — at least four major universities on the Gulf Coast have cancelled classes for the semester. In her e-mail, Coleman indicated that the University is working with the Association of American Universities to assist those who cannot return to their own universities. The University, with its national stature and track record of civic responsibility, should not hesitate to take a leadership role in this national effort. It can and should distinguish itself by not only enrolling affected students, but also by encouraging its peer institutions in the Big Ten and around the country to do the same.

For the many students on campus who are wondering what they can do to help those affected by Katrina, the opportunities are numerous. The Michigan Student Assembly, which regularly coordinates campus-wide activities, is the only group with the logistical capabilities to organize the many ad-hoc student-led relief efforts on campus. MSA regularly passes socially conscious resolutions; by convening and establishing a leadership committee to organize and publicize the various student relief efforts, MSA can puts its ideals into action.

Although most students are unable to donate large amounts of money to relief efforts, they have no shortage of energy. Instead of simply donating money, college students can encourage family members, neighbors and hometown organizations to donate and volunteer the manpower necessary to organize large fundraisers. As Coleman noted, the American Red Cross is looking for volunteers to process donations, man the phones and even travel down to the affected area.

The greatest resource to be tapped, however, is the massive crowd that will convene this Saturday in the Big House as Michigan takes on Notre Dame. At last Saturday’s football game, fundraising efforts involved contributing $2 from every $5 game program and standing at the gates asking for donations. Although this is a good start, there is much more that can be done. If it is possible to make 111,000 people in the Big House come together for a moment of silence, than it is possible to use the stadium microphone and urge everyone to contribute toward the relief effort.

New Orleans, known for its bars and vacation atmosphere, may not be the same for years to come. However, the outpouring of support from around the world promises to ease the pain felt by those who have lost their relatives, friends and homes. The University community, filled with generous and empathetic people, must step up in this time of desperate need.

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