Visiting students displaced by Hurricane Katrina are quickly learning that, while Columbia may offer a house of study, it's far from a home.
Although they have found housing and classes, many of the approximately 150 new students say they have been unable to find a social niche after three weeks at the University.
"It is difficult to meet people, because we're not in a dorm," said Daisy Melamed, a visiting Tulane freshman. "We have gone to some of the Columbia bars, we've been trying to meet Columbia kids and have fun. ... We're just taking it day by day."
According to Frank Glass, the dean of admissions for the School of Continuing Education, the "vast majority" of displaced students now at Columbia are from New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and suburbs in New Jersey and Connecticut. About 10 students are from Massachusetts, and a handful are from as far away as Los Angeles and Santa Fe. Most are staying with friends and family around the city, though some have found housing on their own.
According to the students, Columbia has been highly accommodating. A task force established by the admissions office soon after the New Orleans levees broke simplified the application process significantly. Students were required only to bring in high school grades, SAT scores, and a brief personal statement. Admissions decisions were made in as few as five minutes and the entire application and registration process took most students less than two hours, and some as little as 20 minutes.
The easy registration process contrasts sharply with the difficulties students have encountered trying to integrate into the Columbia community. With the exception of an orientation dinner at the Faculty House, where students heard speeches from University President Lee C. Bollinger and Provost Alan Brinkley, and information from various deans, Columbia has not planned any social events.
Other universities have taken more ambitious steps to help foster community among visiting students. At LSU-Baton Rouge, Res Life held an event with popsicles and ice breakers, similar to NSOP events. At Princeton, visiting students took part in new student orientation programs.
For Ziev Moses, a visiting Tulane junior majoring in biomedical engineering, Columbia offered a good academic match. "It works out, because Columbia has a comparable [biomedical engineering] program to Tulane ... so it hasn't really disrupted my major plan," he said.
But extracurricular activities are a different story. At Tulane, Moses was the president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, treasurer of the Engineering Student Council, and he independently tutored and conducted research. At Columbia, he has not joined any clubs. "Basically, I've just stuck with the people I knew at Tulane," he said. "I haven't made close friends with anyone yet."
George Anderson, another visiting Tulane junior majoring in history and political science, was able to get into four classes in his major area, including Brinkley's popular history course, America Since 1945. Although he'll be spending the full semester here, Anderson said that he isn't looking for a social life centered around Columbia.
"To be honest, I'm not too interested in going out and meeting friends here because I have a group of friends already in the city," said the Manhattan native, who is living with his parents on the Upper East Side. "Literally, I go about my classes, as that's sort of my job for the day. I get my stuff done, and I leave," he said.
Jeremy Kutner, a visiting Tulane senior majoring in political science, has also forgone extracurricular life at Columbia. He decided not to get involved in WKCR, despite his activity as a DJ at Tulane's station.
In fact, representatives for several of the largest student groups on campus, including WBAR and Spectator, have stated that no visiting students have become involved in their respective organizations.
Perhaps Jason Dennis, a visiting Tulane senior, best exemplifies the attitude of Katrina students. He said that thanks to the measures taken by Columbia and Tulane, he still anticipates graduating on time. "In terms of friends at Columbia," he said, "I get on the train in the early afternoon and leave in the late evening. Socializing hasn't been a major priority for me."
"I appreciate the opportunity to go to Columbia. And my first hope is that Tulane will open again in the spring semester, and I'll go back to the university that I chose, and that I will be able to graduate from there."