Almost from the moment we saw the devastating images of the Ogletree House, Jazz Station and even places that we could not recognize anymore, the Southern Miss family wasted no time in rolling up its sleeves and coordinating recovery efforts.
While nearly 50 faculty and staff from the Department of Art and Design and the School of Music were displaced due to damage to their buildings and office spaces, the morale among them remains high.
Art and design professor John Mark Lawler said that despite the circumstances, faculty and staff in his department were positive.
“The staff I’ve spoken to are willing to make it work, whatever it takes. It’s bad, it’s a disaster, but that’s life. You take the punches and roll with it. Students are concerned about each other and us, but everyone seems to be doing OK. Everyone is constantly asking how they can help,” says Lawler.
Dr. Ed Hafer is a School of Music professor whose office took a direct hit. Though he lost some things, he says the greatest loss is that the music family has been displaced, though only temporarily.
“Folks are shocked at the amount of damage, but remain hopeful. Students, in particular, are very resilient. Everyone is excited about building bigger and stronger than before. We are all just so glad that no one was hurt,” said Hafer.
As early as Sunday, efforts were made to make sure that faculty, staff and classes would have a home, at least until more permanent arrangements could be determined. Faculty and staff from Art and Design have moved into office space made available in George Hurst Building, while Music faculty and staff have found temporary office space in the Liberal Arts Building, Honors House and Cook Library.
As of today, we have rescheduled 87 lecture classes displaced across Art & Design and Music, and more than 600 various types of ensemble classes/rehearsals, applied study (lessons), and chamber classes for 475 majors. For Art and Design, we currently have about 200 students who have been impacted by the storm.
Fortunately, most students were not on campus because of the Mardi Gras holiday on Monday and Tuesday, so as bad as it may look to one walking through the hardest hit areas of campus, it could have been a lot worse.
On Wednesday, with classes still cancelled and when many students could have slept in, nearly 1,000 student volunteers showed up wearing rubber boots, rain slickers and baseball caps ready to help remove storm debris from their home-away-from-home.
Sunday evening, sophomore acting major Kerri Walker was glued to Facebook at her home in Brandon after learning that parts of campus had been in the direct path of the tornado. As a performing arts student herself, she was heartbroken for art and design and music students whose spaces had been badly damaged.
“I got up at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning and drove from my home to volunteer and help with the clean-up. I’d seen the social media alerts and I just had to be there,” Walker shared.
Walker said that everyone really wanted to help do all they could to restore the campus. Volunteers included students, faculty and staff and individuals from the community. As so many have said in the past few days, it could have been a lot worse, Walker added.
But if there is a silver lining to this tragedy—and we have seen many silver linings so far, it has brought the Southern Miss family together.
“To see the university and community come together, it made me love USM—MY university--even more,” Walker said.
Following the tornado, numerous calls and messages were received offering to help our University and the Hattiesburg community. The USM Foundation has established a fund for alumni and friends to support emergency relief for the university. Your gift is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. For more information, visit www.usmfoundation.com/relief.