Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

Courtesy of Jacqueline Wagner

Hurricane Irma devastated St. Martin when it hit on Sept. 6. Students from St. Martin, along with students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, can apply to enroll at Tulane for the Spring 2018 semester.

Resisting the Storm: Puerto Rican student checks in about beginning of semester

January 28, 2018

The start of the spring semester brought 15 new students from Puerto Rico. We thought they deserved a formal introduction in our newest feature Resisting the Storm. 

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and forced Tulane to close for four months, hundreds of universities around the country accepted Tulane students for the semester. Twelve years later, Tulane decided to return the favor.

Director of Admission Jeff Schiffman announced in an Oct. 13 blog post that Tulane would take in Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria tuition-free for the spring 2018 semester.

One of the guest students is Valeria Toro Diaz, a sophomore from San German, Puerto Rico. She studies biology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, which was closed for about a month after Hurricane Maria struck and is still recovering from the storm. The university extended the fall semester to Feb. 3 and plans on starting its spring semester on Feb. 14 after two weeks off. Toro Diaz agreed to give The Hullabaloo a personal account of the transition from her home university to Tulane.

Puerto Rico
Cam Lutz | Senior Staff Photographer
Valeria Toro Diaz is a guest student from San German, Puerto Rico studying biology.

Why did you decide to come to Tulane?

Well, I thought the opportunity was a really good thing. It’s a research university, and I want to do med school slash [get] a PhD, so to me it opened up a lot of doors. Also because back home, the university has a lot of problems, and with the hurricane and everything, I thought that this would be a great learning experience …

What problems does your university face as a result of the hurricane?

They lost two buildings, complete loss. They were the house of one department, so that department is just, like, jumbling around the other ones. Classes that were in those buildings, they had to be moved to other parts, like a whole weird thing. I took a dance class, and they were teaching at an auditorium. It’s a weird place to teach a dance class. The laboratories, they don’t have air conditioning functioning. In the genetics lab, they lost species, like, bacteria that they were working on. And, well, they mostly lost materials, without talking about the PhD students who lost their thesis. They lost everything, they need to start over.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge of studying at Tulane so far?

I think the language mostly. I think in Spanish, I write in Spanish. English is my second language and I’m pretty good at it, but when you come, for example, to Organic Chemistry, which is a class I’m taking, the professor asks questions and I know answers in Spanish, but I need to translate them, so it takes a little bit of a harder time because back home they teach to us in Spanish. … So to me that has been the hardest part, because [here] everybody’s been so nice, and everyone’s been really accommodating to the situation, and it’s been really good.

How long do you plan to stay at Tulane?

Right now, for this semester, I’m trying to see if I get a research opportunity here for maybe the summer. I don’t know if I would do a complete transfer. It depends on the conditions that the university back home is. I love my university back home, but I know it’s going through a rough time, so sometimes I have to think of what’s best for me and I don’t know what are the conditions for next semester, for next year…

Do you know if you have to reapply to stay? Or would you be allowed to stay without reapplying?

No, I think I would have to be a total transfer to stay here. Back home they have a lot of problems, and it was for me coming here and, they were like crazy, they didn’t understand the entire process of the program, and I still have a lot of things to solve down there. It’s not like I have finished. I still have classes and I still have exams to take over there, but they’re giving it to me take home. So, I’m starting here and I haven’t finished there completely.

I love my university back home, but I know it’s going through a rough time, so sometimes I have to think of what’s best for me and I don’t know what are the conditions for next semester, for next year… -Valeria Toro Diaz

Were you looking at any other college options, or just Tulane?

I knew that Cornell and NYU were also giving out the option, but I don’t know. I really like Tulane, I wanted to come to New Orleans. It’s been like a life-long dream to come to New Orleans. And my dad was here, so, I actually only applied to Tulane. This was actually my only option.

Can you describe the applications process?

It was actually really quick. They asked a name, an unofficial transcript, like, grades from last semester, and if we wanted to some information, like a paragraph, letting them kind of know us. … It was really, like, really easy, really flexible for that part. If it weren’t for that flexibility, I don’t think much of us would be here because when I was applying, I didn’t have internet in my house. I had to go to my mom’s office and her internet went and came, like, it was unsteady. …

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Cam Lutz | Senior Staff Photographer

Freshman Pura Arroyo Morales gives insight on Hurricane Maria and her transition to Tulane

Resisting the Storm: Puerto Rican Freshman Pura Arroyo Morales

The start of the spring semester brought 15 new students from Puerto Rico to Tulane. The Hullabaloo thought they deserved a formal introduction in our newest feature Resisting the Storm.

A few weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, Tulane announced its plan to admit Puerto Rican students to Tulane for the Spring 2018 semester free of tuition. Now, less than three weeks into the semester, the 15 new students are adjusting to a new city, a different language and an entirely new university.

Pura Arroyo Morales, a freshman living in Wall Residential College, agreed to share her perspective on the hurricane and Tulane’s offer of admission. She is a pre-med student at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. As her classes at Tulane begin, she is still finishing her finals from her home university. Pura’s hometown of Cabo Rojo, located in the southwestern corner of the island near the coast, was greatly affected by the storm.

Can you describe what happened when the hurricane hit your community?

My community was in [such] bad conditions. The hurricane hit us [for] almost 24 hours. And when we go out of our house, the trees were, like, all in the floor and we couldn’t have, like, path to the streets. We had to cut the trees with [saws]. And all the men in the community helped so we can go out and go to the city and help others. And we didn’t have power or water for, like, 60 days in our home. It was horrible, but we survived.

How has your community recovered?

My community is still recovering, but we receive all the help and everything, and we keep going. But I don’t know. It’s difficult. Back home, the people have been losing their jobs because our economy is, like, devastated because of the hurricane. But we’re surviving, and I don’t know how to answer that question.

How did the hurricane affect your university?

Okay, we didn’t have classes, like, in two months. But we make, like, movements, and the students go to clean the university so we can go and get our classes. So we started classes like two months after the hurricane, as soon as we got the power and water back in the university. But we’re still finishing our semester. The last day of classes, I think that is Feb. 3, with the finals and everything.

What made you decide to go to Tulane?

… They are paying everything for us and it’s, like, a big opportunity, and we are so grateful about it. I don’t have words to describe how we feel about what Tulane is doing.

How has your transition to Tulane been?

It has been good, I think. I’m almost, like, settled down now, but at first I was, like, missing home and my mother and my family and everything. But now I’m, like, I think I’m good now. It has been two weeks, so I’m good.

Have you been to New Orleans before?


How do you like New Orleans?

I love it. It’s a party city. I consider myself a happy person, and I like the people in New Orleans because they are happy also, and, like, they love to party and everything.

Have students and other community members been welcoming and friendly?

Yes, they have been so welcoming. We went to the dean’s house last Friday, and they were so kind to us. Everyone has been so kind to us — the students, the professors, the administration, everyone.

What are you most excited about this semester?

I’m excited about the change and about the new opportunities that we can, like, get in this experience. And everything about Mardi Gras and about meeting new people and have all the classes, everything.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Maybe to give the university a big thanks for this opportunity.

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Cam Lutz | Senior Staff Photographer

Read about sophomore Rosalind Velez from Puerto Rico.

Resisting the Storm: Puerto Rican sophomore Rosalind Velez

The start of the spring semester brought 15 new students from Puerto Rico to Tulane. The Hullabaloo thought they deserved a formal introduction in our newest feature: Resisting the Storm.

Each week, The Hullabaloo highlights a different guest Tulane student affected by Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. This week, Rosalind Velez, one of the 15 Puerto Rican students that accepted Tulane’s offer of a tuition-free semester, agreed to share her experiences.

Velez is a sophomore from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in San German. Though her home is in San German, her sister lives in Louisiana and her cousin works at the Tulane Medical Center, so Tulane has become a second home for her. She is continuing her study of biology at Tulane while her home university recovers from the storm.

Can you describe how your community was affected by the storm?

On our side of the island, it wasn’t really that bad, but my community still doesn’t have any power yet. We always had water. Just for one day we didn’t have a water supply. And basically it was just trees down. Even though it was a really bad experience, the day after was a really nice day because everybody got together, and we started picking up trees and taking them out of the streets. So, other than that, I feel like that’s about it. I’m not gonna try to like tell you horror stories when it wasn’t.

How has your community recovered from it?

They’re still trying to get the power supply company to come fix the problem, ’cause it’s just that the cables that give us power, they are on the [ground] in the mountains. And, well, that’s been really rough for my community because we cannot have, for example, groceries because it’s really hard to maintain those foods [long] enough to use them. But it’s really, I feel like it’s nice because they’re still trying, you know. They haven’t given up. I wish I could just go back over there and help out but I can’t. That’s my community as in my house, but my community in college was really affected given that [the] college is in, like, a forest, so everything went down. My building, the science building, it has mold and fungi and everything, so they had to close down the building to get it fixed. The library, it got flooded, so it was really hard for us to study. So that was really bad too.

What made you decide to come to Tulane this semester?

Well, mostly it was because I couldn’t, for example, do the labs for my science classes. I’m a biology major and I want to go to med school, and I was really looking forward, like last semester, to the zoology lab, which I couldn’t take because of the hurricane. So now I cannot do the labs anymore. 

Are you going to be able to go back to Puerto Rico during the semester?

During this semester? No. Like I was saying earlier, we still don’t have any power, and it’s really hard, for example, like if I have to do any work from here to do it because phone reception is really limited. Some people don’t have internet. We have to go to other places to try to get internet, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Like some days, you’re just using your phone, like everything’s ok, and then I don’t know where the phone signal just goes, and you’re like, you don’t have any communication whatsoever. So I can’t [go back] because of that and because we really don’t have the money for me to be coming back and forth, ’cause we spent a lot of money on like groceries for the day, and gas for the generator. Oh, it was bad.

What are you most excited about this year?

Mardi Gras, haha. And, I’m really excited about my physics class actually. My professor’s the dean, so I’m really excited about that. ‘Cause, like, I said Mardi Gras. I don’t want you to be like, ‘oh, she’s a party goer,’ or some stuff like that. It’s just like, back home, we don’t get that kind of stuff, you know. And it’s like an opportunity I’m going to be able to have now, because when I lived over here, I was too young to go to the really big parades because my sister, she wouldn’t take me because it was too hectic. So now that I’m older, I can go by myself, I can see how everything goes. I just want to experience it.

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