Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from the story, "On Their Own." To read the full story, click here.
As she watched the news of Hurricane Maria sweeping through Puerto Rico, Beth Colon-Pizzini kept her phone close, waiting to hear from her family. She described it as the longest 48 hours of her life.
When her father finally called, he told her food and gas were becoming scarce and urged her to send battery-powered fans because the air-conditioning had stopped working — like the rest of the island’s electrical grid.
“It was a semi-apocalyptic setting they had to go through,” said Colon-Pizzini, an African Diaspora studies Ph.D student.
Colon-Pizzini is one of UT’s numerous Puerto Rican students and faculty who are coping with the severe disruption of life that their friends and families face in Maria’s aftermath. Seven Puerto Rican professors sent a letter to President Gregory Fenves, asking the University to offer resources for the island’s college students and faculty, whose universities have been largely closed due to damages from the hurricane.
The letter suggested tuition waivers, research fee waivers, access to UT’s library system, emergency housing and semester residencies for affected students and faculty.
A month later, Fenves wrote back and offered condolences, but said the University was not in a position to meet their requests.
“As a fellow American and as a member of the UT family, I share in the heartbreak of the humanitarian crisis,” Fenves wrote. The letter’s suggestions were determined to be “ineffectual” either because of the semester’s lateness, state laws or “UT’s contractual obligations.”
The response has drawn criticism from both Puerto Rican faculty and students.