Surviving Katrina: New Orleans sociologists to speak at BGSU

Pictures of devastation and despair in New Orleans were burned into the national consciousness after Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the city in August.

Three survivors who also share a unique perspective on fellow Katrina victims will discuss issues laid bare by the storm during a Dec. 2 symposium at BGSU.

“Surviving the Hurricane Katrina Disaster: Poverty, Race and Class in New Orleans” will bring together the three social science researchers from the city’s Tulane and Loyola universities. The two-hour symposium, which is free and open to the public, will begin at noon in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Theater.

The discussion will feature Dr. Joel Devine, chair of the Department of Sociology at Tulane; Dr. James Elliott, a professor of sociology there, and Dr. Petrice Sams-Abiodun, associate director and research director at Loyola’s Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy.

The panelists are experienced researchers of the low-income, public housing and homeless communities of New Orleans. Experts on the race, class and gender stratification of the city, they have insights into the political policies and social and cultural processes that led to the consequences of Katrina.

During the symposium, they will present what they’ve learned about how race, class and poverty shape New Orleans’ vulnerability, and the implications of that vulnerability for social democracy and citizenship. They will also give their opinions about the ethical responsibilities of social scientists and university students to take an interest at this unprecedented time in the nation’s social history.

As evacuees from New Orleans, Devine, Elliott and Sams-Abiodun also have vivid stories about their experiences in the week following the flooding, accounts of loss and reunion with friends and family, and unique perspectives on making peace with the decision to rebuild the city.

Both Devine and Elliott are urban sociologists at Tulane, while Sams-Abiodun is a family demographer at Loyola of New Orleans.

Devine studies the effects of impoverishment on the well-being of families and the elderly, as well as the effects of race and social policies on the security of the homeless and low-income drug and alcohol abusers.

Elliott’s chief research interests are the effects of poverty, race/ethnic concentration, social isolation and employer characteristics on the job market prospects of low-income minorities.

Sams-Abiodun’s primary area of research addresses low-income black men in New Orleans and how their education, literacy and labor-market insecurities affect their ability to care and provide for their extended families and children. She is currently studying whether, and how, low-income black families who had lived in the deeply-flooded Ninth Ward are included in the political and social processes of recovery and rebuilding that community.

“New Orleans is a uniquely American city crafted over hundreds of years by the diverse peoples of the world, both enslaved and free,” said Dr. Laura Sanchez, associate director of BGSU’s Center for Family and Demographic Research—a symposium sponsor. She taught sociology at Tulane before coming to Bowling Green in 2001.

“No other city on earth is like New Orleans with its own distinctive customs, architecture, music, cuisine and families,” Sanchez added, calling the Katrina-forced dispersion of the city’s residents “a moment in U.S. history filled with both great sadness and opportunity.”

Through the symposium, “We invite our own community to engage in a dialogue about this natural and cultural disaster," she said.

Sponsoring the event with the Center for Family and Demographic Research are BGSU’s sociology and geography departments; colleges of Arts and Sciences and Education and Human Development; Ethnic Studies, Africana Studies, American Culture Studies and Women’s Studies programs; Women’s Center; Institute for the Study of Culture and Society, and Sociology Graduate Student Association.

November 21, 2005