University administrators and student groups across campus are pulling together to coordinate support and relief efforts in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster that occurred last month in South Asia. Plans are also underway to organize a formal community-wide remembrance in the Diag next week.
About 800 University students are from the South Asia, said International Center Director Rodolfo Altamirano. Dean of Students Sue Eklund said, as of now, all the students who were in the region are safe.
One University student was studying abroad in the region when the tsunami occurred, but he was unharmed from the damage, Eklund said.
Many student groups and concerned individuals met last night at the Michigan Union to coordinate fundraising efforts. LSA senior Hershey Jayasuriya –— who started the group Tsunami Aid, or TSAID — said she hopes to coordinate fundraising efforts across student groups.
Jayasuriya is from Sri Lanka, but was in Ann Arbor when the disaster occurred. “My father’s side of the family all passed away,” she said.
To reassure the safety of University students and to provide support, the Dean of Students Office and the International Center sent an e-mail earlier this week to students from affected areas in Southeast Asia and Africa.
“We are asking them to take a minute and respond directly to that e-mail to let us know how they are,” Eklund said.
“We have heard back now from little over half of them that they are safe and able to return to class,” Eklund said. “We’re hoping over the next day or so we’ll hear from many more.”
To try and locate students who have not yet responded to the University’s e-mail, the Dean of Students Office and the International Center are taking further steps such as contacting the residence halls to find out if anyone has seen these students, Eklund added.
Eklund said although she has only received responses from students who were safe from the tsunami, many of them said they lost friends and loved ones.
“There are some truly heartbreaking instances where people are saying virtually their whole town or some real important part of their country to them has been destroyed,” Eklund added.
The University has prepared psychological support for any student who has been either directly or indirectly affected by the disaster, Eklund said. Counseling and Psychological Services has opened extra walk-in hours, and the University Hospital is prepared to help. The Dean of Students Office is also available for assistance.
Eklund also said the University is currently identifying funds to financially assist international students in serious need of aid because of the tsunami.
Students attending the meetings last night were affected by the disaster in a number of different ways.
LSA sophomore Konark Vani was visiting family in northwest India when the tsunami occurred, but he said he did not find out about it until the following morning while watching the news.
“In India, you don’t find out as fast as you do here. People were just traumatized,” Vani said.
Vani said he immediately saw people reaching out to help. “In the (airport) terminal, there were hundreds and hundreds of cargo bags filled with food and supplies. You couldn’t even walk,” he said.
Beth Bovair, a RC senior and RC Student Government member, said she was heartened by the large turnout at the meeting. “For me, getting everybody to the table was my first goal.”
“(The next step) is going to be how to initiate their ideas and go about setting the foundation,” Jayasuriva added.
Many of the attending student groups already have individual fundraising plans underway.
The Indian American Student Association is working to gear its upcoming events around fundraising and disaster aid. IASA chair Neal Pancholi said they are planning a political awareness forum and a skate night at Yost Arena to donate proceeds towards disaster relief.
The United Asian American Organizations held a meeting last night to express their sentiments in the wake of the disaster, as well as to discuss fundraising ideas and concerns, said UAAO chair Stephanie Chang.
Chang, an LSA senior, said she hopes to target pre-existing UAAO fundraising programs toward tsunami relief.
The Michigan Student Assembly plans to write resolutions to organize fundraising efforts, said MSA general counsel and LSA junior Jesse Levine.
The Center for South Asian Studies and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies are currently coordinating activities to raise funds for relief. Judith Becker, director for the Center for Southeast Asian studies, said the center plans to coordinate with the Center for South Asian Studies and the International Center for a benefit concert to take place at the end of January.
Both Eklund and Altamirano said the University needs to consider culturally appropriate methods of mourning and remembrance in the aftermath of the event. Eklund added that due to the different ethnicities affected by the tsunamis, certain forms of mourning may be incompatible with cultures of students who wish to participate.
Eklund said religious affiliations might also factor into how the international community will want to handle the situation. “Some people don’t want to be at the point of thinking of a memorial service yet,” she added.
Eklund said students have the opportunity to give input on how best to recognize the event at a planning meeting tomorow at 6 p.m. in the assembly’s chambers on the third floor of the Michigan Union.
There will also be two outreach sessions facilitated by the Division of Student Affairs. One will be tonight at 7 p.m. in the Vandenberg room of the Michigan League, and the other will be Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Family Housing Community Center on North Campus.
Eklund said she is encouraged by University-wide efforts to assist in the aftermath of the disaster.
“The University is a big, decentralized place, and I haven’t yet encountered anyone who is not interested in trying to step up and do the right thing,” Eklund said.