Brandeis students come from everywhere around the globe, including Houston, Texas, one of the areas most devastated by Hurricane Harvey, which caused 82 confirmed deaths and produced damages of approximately $200 billion, according to a Sept. 14 Washington Post article.

Harvey isolated the affected areas of the southwest and southeast of the United States. Nothing or no one could get in or out, and while the rest of the U.S. led a normal routine, many of the people who were affected by this natural disaster had to deal with the unprecedented situation. 

At Brandeis, classes were set to start on Aug. 30, and most of the returning students came back to campus on Tuesday. But it wasn’t easy for everyone to safely return.

One of those Brandeis Houston-area students is the unsinkable Tiffanie Buchanan ’19. I met with her a week after she landed in Boston; she had just come out of practice for Toxic, one of the school’s dance groups. She wore a stoic smile, and her stoicism proved to be eloquent. 

Buchanan planned on arriving at campus that Tuesday before classes started; however, due to the hurricane, her flight — like many others — was canceled until further notice. She then tried to book a Friday flight, at first with success, but as the situation only got worse, no plane was able to take off that entire week. The two Houston airports were flooded, so she missed the first week of school. 

However, through email, she was able to reach out to her professors and tell them that she was stranded and that her return relied on the weather. She also said that her academic advisor personally reached out, making sure that her transition back could be as smooth as possible, like “getting her notes from BUGS (Brandeis Undergraduate Group Study),” Buchanan said. All of her professors said that “basically they’ll see me when they see me,” she added. 

Brandeis responded to the natural disaster by sending out a mass email on Aug. 30 stating, “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey and its devastating aftermath. We are especially concerned for our Brandeis students, faculty and staff from the areas most affected and for those who have loved ones in the region.” 

Despite sending out an email with their thoughts and prayers, the school did not offer or disclose any specific financial support or any kind of aid aside from the usual aid that the University offers when there is a type of disaster, such as contact information for the multi-faith chaplaincy. Because Harvey occurred at the beginning of the school year, the email encouraged students to attend the orientation event, “This is Our House.” Yet, according to a March 12, 2015 article from the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, a nonprofit organization for students in higher education, the way a higher education institution should respond to a natural disaster is by doing research and providing “students with available financial resources to help pay tuition and fees during such emergencies. Such resources may include an economic hardship tuition waiver provided by your institution.”

Keeping in mind that Brandeis is a larger school with a bigger network and greater funds, other schools had a much more philanthropic response to the disaster. According to their website, Franklin Pierce University, a small university in New Hampshire, decided to host 20 students from the Houston area for the fall semester with tuition and accommodations covered. 

Buchanan’s home did have a few damages because of Harvey, but they were not severe. “The most that happened [was that] we lost most of the hardware of our bedrooms and closets floors … so they got kind of fogged. We live close to a water treatment plant, so like the sewage kind of got backed up so it started coming out through underneath the toilet. That also contributed to how most of our house got flooded.”

In addition, there were a few shingles gone, and the house’s foundation problem got worse. Buchanan said that their house did not have flooding insurance, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency is covering the damage costs. “They are supposed to cover whatever your insurance doesn’t cover,” she said, adding that FEMA agents are supposed to pay a visit to witness the damages themselves. However, “this time they don’t have enough manpower to inspect the houses, so apparently they are only sending a check,”Buchanan said. According to FEMA, the total assistance limit is $33,000 per household, which can be used to cover  hotel, food and/or medical expenses.

By Wednesday, Buchanan’s house was no longer flooded, but it was the first day of classes at Brandeis and she was still stranded. She and her family had to evacuate with a few of their belongings in a plastic box that was placed on a flat boat. They also got on the boat, which picked them up by the front door of their house. However they could not get far “because the water got shallow again and then we had to walk further away through the water to try to get to the freeway where the hub of everything was,” Buchanan said. The rest of the things inside the house were placed on top of the beds. When the water left, the Buchanan family tried to return home, only to find that the electricity was still not back on. So they left again.

However,  Buchanan considers herself lucky because the “Sunday after the first week of school, some people still had water on the second floor of the houses …  it’s going to take three weeks for that water to go down,” she said. 

Buchanan said that she reached out to another student who lives in the area. She wanted to know if the other student had a plan to fly back to Brandeis — and the student did. By driving to Dallas, the student was able to get on a plane, something Buchanan also wanted to do. However the cars “were stuck in the water.”

Many of her Brandeis friends reached out as well in response to the news. The situation was tragic, and her peers made efforts to reach out and assist her in any possible way. On Sunday, she finally got on a plane that took her to Boston. Her roommate’s mother picked her up from the airport and the students at Brandeis have given her more than enough help. She has not complained about the transition back on campus, but perhaps the school could have increased  its efforts to make sure the Houston-area students had an easier transition in order to remain focused on their new semester of academics.