Go back

Katrina roars; Austin Peay responds

Sara Laughlin was one of the fortunate ones. Although she and her family had to evacuate from their New Orleans home, they heeded the warnings and got out before Katrina roared through.

And, unlike many New Orleans residents, she didnt have to leave her dogs behind. All three of themRodney, Winston and Jackmade the trek northward with the family, who took temporary refuge in a Houston hotel and then with friends in Baton Rouge
Sara Laughlin was one of the fortunate ones. Although she and her family had to evacuate from their New Orleans home, they heeded the warnings and got out before Katrina roared through.

And, unlike many New Orleans residents, she didn't have to leave her dogs behind. All three of themRodney, Winston and Jackmade the trek northward with the family, who took temporary refuge in a Houston hotel and then with friends in Baton Rouge

When they finally realized they would not be able to go home for many, many months, the family headed to Clarksville, where Laughlin's aunt and uncle welcomed them into their home.

Fall classes began at Austin Peay Aug. 29. On that same day, Laughlin was set to start her junior year as an elementary education major at New Orleans' Loyola University. Little did she know that, a few days later, she would become an APSU studentone of thousands of college students displaced by the hurricane from Gulf Coast universities.

Despite the sudden rerouting of their entire lives, the Laughlin family feels blessed. Although their home sustained significant wind damage, it is still standing in one of the few New Orleans parishes that was not flooded. The family plans to returnbut, when, is the question.

They were able to visit earlier this week to check on their propertybut police quickly stopped by to say they had to leave by sun downan enforced curfew. But who would want to live there right now any way? Laughlin says, “There's no electricity. No grocery stores. No gasoline within miles and miles. It's like a war zone.”

Now enrolled at Rossview High School, Clarksville, her brother, Michael Jr., a senior, and sister Jordan, a sophomore, have hopes of returning by December, but there are challenges.

Neither parent has a job waiting. Her mother, April, worked at City Park just outside of downtown New Orleans. Laughlin knows that City Parkstill under waterwill not be high on the restoration list. “I worked there, too, part time,” she says. “It's so beautifulone of the four largest parks in the country. You could fit all of (NYC) Central Park inside it.”

The law offices of her attorney father, Michael, were located above Canal Place Shopping Center, where Saks Fifth Avenue Department Store burned. Although his office did not catch fire, it is inaccessible so, like thousands of others, he, too, is seeking employment, perhaps with a law firm in another city. At least, in the short termuntil they can go home.

His daughter was one of seven displaced students who, as of Sept. 9, 2005, have found a new university home at Austin Peay. Laughlin feels comfortable here. Loyola University, a private Jesuit university with 7,500 students, is about the same size as APSU's main campus.

“Everyone here has been so nice,” Laughlin says. “The first day of class, people were giving me their e-mail addresses and phone numbers and telling me to call if I needed anything.”

But, then, isn't that the Austin Peay tradition? The day after the long Labor Day weekend, the Admissions Office began receiving inquiries from displaced studentsand parents, wanting to know if it was too late to enroll. Scott McDonald, director of admissions, said, “I was pleased to tell them it's not.”

On the main campus, faculty allowed students to enroll through the 14h day of class. “We're known for working closely with all our students,” McDonald says, “Providing help for these displaced students is an extension of that.”

As of Friday, Sept. 9, seven displaced students had enrolled on the main campus. Now Admissions staff is encouraging others to enroll for the Fall II Term at the APSU Center @ Fort Campbell. (Registration is Oct. 3-7.) Students who enroll for Fall II can finish a full term in eight weeks, so they can complete their fall classes by December.

Dr. Stan Groppel, dean of extended and distance education, noted that students also are inquiring about APSU's nine degrees that are offered online. Dennie B. Burke