Recommitting and Re-Energizing Community
Engagement in Post-Disaster New Orleans
By Joel A. Devine, director of the Partnership
for the Transformation of Urban Communities and professor
of sociology; Rebecca Chaisson, interim director of
the Institute for the Study of Race and Poverty and
assistant professor, School of Social Work; and Vincent Ilustre, director of the Center for Public Service—all
at Tulane University
Floods wash away the surface of society... They expose
the underlying power structures... and the unacknowledged
inequalities. — David Brooks, New York
Times, September 1, 2005
Students from Professor Carol
Reese’s History of Architecture course and
residents from the
Historic Seventh Ward Neighborhood Association
consult a map of the neighborhood, held by a
FEMA representative. The group photographed and
surveyed approximately 1,800 buildings
that otherwise would have been excluded from a
citywide historic neighborhood survey.
New Orleans has inspired architectural beauty, influenced
improvisational jazz and blues music, and created a
distinctive cuisine. Yet those familiar with the city
have long known that amidst its incredible cultural
mélange, there exists deeply entrenched racialized
poverty and inequity reminiscent of the Third World.
Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing destruction caused
by the failure of the federal levees exposed that reality
for all to see. The resultant human misery, encapsulated
in the haunting images of black Americans stranded on
rooftops for days on end, is now seared into the consciousness
of the nation and the world.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, members of the
Tulane community and volunteers from colleges and universities
throughout the country provided astonishing levels of
support to a slowly recovering community. Inspired by
their response, catalyzed by the disaster’s impact,
and recognizing the inadequacy of its previous community
engagement efforts, Tulane has officially and energetically
committed itself to the recovery of New Orleans. As
part of this effort, the university has actively sought
to focus its academic resources on building healthy
and sustainable communities locally, regionally, and
throughout the world. To pursue these ends, Tulane created
three new and interrelated entities: the Center for
Public Service, the Institute for the Study of Race
and Poverty, and the Partnership for the Transformation
of Urban Communities.
Responding to Katrina’s Call for Civic
CPS Coursework Projects
160—Environmental Sociology: Using
sociological methods, students developed and implemented
a neighborhood survey on behalf of the Green Project,
a nonprofit dedicated to promoting environmental
sustainability. CPS faculty and students will
use the resulting report to design future outreach
and recycling programs.
Latin American Studies 102—Cultural
Heritage in Latin America: Students served
as classroom assistants and individual tutors
with the Hispanic Apostolate’s ESL program.
In the process, they learned about the backgrounds
and cultures of the local Latino population and
corresponding political, social, and economic
Political Science 30—Post-catastrophe
Policy Making: Students observed post-Katrina
policies in action while assisting with both the
city’s blighted housing remediation program
and the Road Home program.
Inaugural ISRP Community Forums and Workshops
Structural Racism and Recovery: Opportunities
for Change: ISRP’s first community
forum brought local stakeholders together with
national, regional, and local experts to examine
structural racism and develop change initiatives
in New Orleans and beyond.
Multiracial Coalition Building: Strategies
for Developing an Agenda for Racial Equity Workshop
Series: ISRP’s second community forum
brought together local stakeholders and experts
from throughout the country to explore the bases
for and barriers to developing multiracial and
multiethnic coalitions in post-Katrina New Orleans.
ISRP is sponsoring a series of three follow-up
workshops on organizing and coalition building
during summer 2007.
PTUC Research Projects
The Metro New Orleans Demographic Project
examines changing population trends in the New
Orleans metro area in the post–Second World
War era, and documents dramatic shifts in city-suburb
development and racial composition.
The Louisiana Grand Jury Project undertakes
statistical analysis of grand jury race and gender
composition in association with criminal defense
The Community Information Clearinghouse
provides a publicly accessible, Web-searchable
information clearinghouse and online digital library
of research, projects, programs, and service activities
in the areas of urban development and transformation,
disaster and recovery, race, poverty, and inequality.
The Center for Public Service (CPS) is the key entity
facilitating Tulane students’ community engagement.
Although Tulane has long incorporated service learning
into its academic program, CPS has substantially expanded
and reinvigorated service learning at Tulane. In response
to the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and
its aftermath, Tulane implemented a two-tiered academic
public service graduation requirement. This requirement
is overseen by the center and aims to create socially
responsible and civically engaged leaders.
Through the public service requirement and other programs,
the center aims to forge a reciprocal relationship between
the university and the community. In this model, faculty
members create learning environments that enable their
students to fulfill community-identified needs. Service
activities vary in scope and allow students to participate
in enacting policy on both the governmental and grassroots
Combating Racism and Poverty in All Contexts
Created with initial support from the Ford Foundation,
the Institute for the Study of Race and Poverty (ISRP)
promotes equity for all citizens in the greater New
Orleans community. The institute establishes mechanisms
for reducing racial tension, creates pathways for reconciliation,
and supports community coalition building.
ISRP provides tools for transforming racially and ethnically
divided communities by establishing grassroots and ivory-tower
partnerships in research, education, policy, and advocacy.
The institute’s research projects identify public
policies and institutional practices that perpetuate
social stratification. In response to this research,
ISRP advances policies and practices that promote fairness,
equity, and opportunity for marginalized individuals
and groups. Through programs such as community forums
on multiracial coalition building, ISRP educates community
members in strategies to reach equity.
Linking Action and Research for Transformative
With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation, Tulane created the Partnership for the Transformation
of Urban Communities (PTUC). This network for integrating
community-based research activities spans Tulane’s
ten schools and colleges and expands and synergizes
the Tulane/Xavier/Dillard/Loyola interuniversity consortium.
Drawing on the expertise of the university’s
entire faculty, especially faculty members in the School
of Architecture, the School of Social Work, and the
social sciences in the School of Liberal Arts, PTUC’s
mission is to address the challenges of building healthy
and sustainable cities through unique interdisciplinary
research initiatives and educational programs. Toward
that end, it seeks partnerships with other institutions
committed to developing a greater understanding of the
consequences of Katrina and ameliorating the problems
highlighted in its aftermath.
Tulane’s three institutional initiatives intersect
to enhance common goals, facilitating student, faculty,
and staff collaboration and involvement in the community.
Together, they encourage civic engagement informed by
an understanding of the historical and contemporary
dynamics of inequality in segregated southern urban
communities such as New Orleans. Their programs and
practices provide Tulane students and faculty with the
tools they need to promote social justice in our treasured
city, in the surrounding communities, and in the world