'We're tough people': Higher ed leaders show support for students displaced by Hurricane Ida
Peter Wipyszinski drove into Lafayette just before Hurricane Ida hit his hometown and campus in southeast Louisiana last month. The 21-year-old New Orleans native has friends in Acadiana, and in a way, this trip feels a lot like others he's made to visit them.
"It's been great but also strange," Wipyszinski said. "We've been doing the things we normally do, but then also thinking, 'So, is Nicholls gone?'"
Wipyszinski is a sophomore studying multinational business at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Only about half of the campus had power as of Friday, and hundreds of Louisiana National Guard soldiers and electricity workers are staying in tents as they restore electricity and remove debris.
He heard about the state of his college from Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed when she visited the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Friday. She'd come to talk with students from Nicholls and the University of New Orleans who had evacuated to UL Lafayette.
"This is tough, but we're tough people," Reed told a group of students. "We are going to get back. That's what we do."
Wipyszinski said he's trying to stay productive and connect with others during this time of "limbo." He expects to begin the semester again with online classes on Sept. 20, and in the meantime he's going to the UL Lafayette gym and waiting to be able to get home to New Orleans and start cleaning up.
"There's a lot to do; you just can't do it yet," he said.
He is one of nearly 100 college students displaced by Hurricane Ida who relocated to UL Lafayette for the time being.
Olivia Bergeron, 22, followed a bus of fellow UNO students to Lafayette after a few days without power on campus in New Orleans. She thought it might be a short stay and she would go back to her family in Thibodaux.
But the city remains without electricity and two of her family's generators have died, she said, so she's staying until she hears otherwise.
Steve Gozzo and Erdem Aktosun, both studying naval architecture at UNO, were on that bus that Bergeron followed. Also along for the ride were some university housing staff who have helped as liaisons between the different institutions.
Gozzo said his university's hurricane response plan seemed to be enacted smoothly.
"I didn’t think I would use it," he said. "But it worked really well."
He met Aktosun, a post-doctoral student in the same program, for the first time after they arrived at UL Lafayette. Originally from Turkey, Aktosun said going through Ida was tough for him.
"I am not used to hurricanes," he said.
But he's seeing some positives from the experience, calling this relocation to Lafayette "a great opportunity to see a new environment and a new campus."
He's able to continue some of his research and connect with professors while away thanks to technology and the internet.
UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie encouraged students to have that kind of attitude.
"You have to be adaptable and flexible and know these things are just passing through," the president said. "They're not permanent. Don't let it throw you off too much."
Like others in the UL System, the school made about 140 rooms on campus available.
"It’s a privilege (to host), but we're also lucky," Savoie said. "It's just what we've got to do."
Student Government Association President Reed Broussard talked proudly about Cajun hospitality and the opportunity to put it into action.
"It's important to show not only our students what hospitality looks like but the rest of the country that this is what south Louisiana does," said Broussard, a senior from Lafayette.
Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.