Outreach Tulane faces administrative roadblocks

Gabi Liebeler, Views Editor

Outreach Tulane organizers express frustration with Tulane’s involvement in the service event. (Sofia Viscuso | Staff Photographer)

Excited to host the 31st Outreach Tulane — Tulane University’s largest and oldest community service event — a small group of organizers faced an unexpected hurdle when news broke that Hurricane Ida would make landfall on Aug. 29, the day after the event was originally scheduled.

Outreach Tulane is a student-run event organized by ten undergraduates serving on an executive board with a faculty adviser from the Center of Public Service. The board successfully partnered with 20 New Orleans organizations, and over 700 willing students engaged in projects like “gardening, organizing school supplies, delivering food, and cleaning up buildings destroyed by the hurricane”. 

This year, the board was composed of the following students: Mollie Sloter, Bridget Lindgren, Alexa Fuhrer, Aidan Brotman, Shalini Kishore, Katie McCormick, Rebecca Douglas, Sam Rawlins, Michael Yang and Olivia Rosenberg. The board members worked closely with Maurice Smith in the Center for Public Service. 

This group of individuals was responsible for the entirety of the event and reached out to community partners, acquired donations, organized logistics, oversaw marketing and public relations and coordinated the service projects. 

Tulane University mentions Outreach Tulane on its admissions website but fails to mention that neither the Center for Public Service as a whole nor the administration itself play a central role in the organization and execution of the event. 

The Outreach Tulane Board plans and hosts Outreach Tulane, while the Community Action Council of Tulane University Students and the Undergraduate Student Government help fund the event. According to Outreach Chair Mollie Sloter, USG allocates money to CACTUS, and then Outreach Tulane, technically a club, asks CACTUS for a certain amount of money. 

Outreach Tulane depends on individual schools at Tulane University for donations, and the schools that are willing and able graciously contribute to the funding. 

Following the interruption of Hurricane Ida, the university promised the executive board of Outreach Tulane additional money. According to Sloter, that money was never received. 

“[It] was super frustrating,” Sloter said. “We were under the impression that certain aspects of the event would be covered by different higher-up groups on campus and that didn’t happen … that would have helped with planning the event and freed up a significant amount of money.”

She also noted that the University required the Outreach Tulane Board to pay full price out of its budget for the use of the Lavin-Bernick Center, other spaces on campus and the Tulane University Police Department. 

The Outreach Tulane Board single-handedly reached out to their community partners and worked together to evaluate how they should proceed with each one in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Some organizations no longer could accommodate volunteers, while others had work related to the storm’s damages. Not all the organizations that the board partnered with were directly connected to Ida relief.

Some students say they felt misled with their experiences during the event, wishing that their service had been more directed to Hurricane Ida-related projects. Senior Kennedy Walker spent the day serving at the New Orleans Museum of Art, pulling out weeds from the indigenous plants at the site. 

“I was really happy to keep that area beautiful, but … that’s not impacting real people which is what I feel like Outreach Tulane is for,” Walker said. “I feel like Hurricane Ida is where everyone’s energy is towards right now, so I was shocked to see that that’s not what was happening. I still had a great time … Do I think it could have been more intentional? Absolutely.” 

Sophomore Ali Ginsburg volunteered at New Orleans Mission, a homeless shelter dedicated to the “rescue, recovery, and re-engagement of people facing homelessness, addiction, human trafficking, or even abuse.” 

Ginsburg said she was concerned with logistical and organizational mishaps that occurred at her site of service. According to Ginsburg, the students finished their project almost an hour early and had to wait for the buses to arrive. Ginsburg said some students waited for the bus while others made the decision to Uber and pay for transportation out of pocket. 

Addressing this fluke, Sloter noted that the board received concerns for the group at New Orleans Mission. She said that while it is possible the New Orleans Mission did not have enough work for all of the students, they were informed that students would be volunteering from 9 a.m. until noon. 

“It was an unfortunate conglomerate of logistical things that went wrong. It didn’t follow through the way it was expected,” Sloter said. 

Among her other concerns, Ginsburg highlighted the presence of Tulane photographers at the event. She said she was approached by media personnel and did not feel comfortable giving the photographer her name and information to be used publicly. 

“The photographer was taking flash photos of us talking to people experiencing homelessness,” said Ginsburg. “They took flash photos of the tent cities, and I found it to be extremely disrespectful. I was talking to the director of the mission and the photographer was taking photos.” 

The weekend after Outreach Tulane, the University posted about the event on social media. The post did not mention the work of the Outreach Tulane Board who was responsible for the event and its financing. Instead, the caption read: “Over 700 students spent their Saturday morning across New Orleans as a part of @outreach_tulane. From helping with hurricane cleanup to delivering hot meals, these students’ efforts embodied Tulane’s motto: Non sibi, sed suis.” 

Similarly, a Tulane Today article, published on Oct. 17 briefly mentioned Outreach Tulane, in stating “the 2021 Outreach Tulane board updated the list of community partners to include some projects with a focus on Hurricane Ida relief efforts,” including “New Orleans City Park, New Orleans Habitat for Humanity, and Hagar’s House.” 

According to Sloter, the Tulane Today article required corrections after incorrectly identifying those responsible for the event and not mentioning the Outreach Tulane Board at all.

“There is not one mention of thanking the Board,” Sloter said. “They said it wrong too. They said that the CACTUS board does it. They do not plan the event. They help with a lot, but it’s not their job to plan the event.”

Sloter said she emailed Tulane Today with the necessary corrections and mentioned that she wanted her board and their adviser in the Center of Public Service to receive the recognition they deserve. 

“We’ve been planning this for seven months and our names aren’t even in the one article that gets published about it to the entire Tulane community,” Sloter said. “We worked with what we were given, and did the best we could and put on a fantastic day of service.” 

Although Outreach Tulane was able to engage an impressive number of students, participants said they felt that some aspects of the day fell short of their expectations. 

According to Ginsburg, she felt unprepared entering the day. “I was super shocked to find out that they just plopped me in this group, in this situation without a debrief or memo. So even after I was assigned my group, I still had no idea what to expect,” Ginsburg said. 

Walker also noted that the volunteer training and preparation aspect of the day had potential to improve. “Being a senior, I know what my position is when doing service. If I was a freshman going into this and was going to a location like Hagar’s House, which is a recovery center for families escaping human trafficking, I don’t think they would have had any preparation for that,” Walker said. 

Regarding training, Sloter said that Outreach Tulane trained the unit leaders that were responsible for each group of volunteers, but admitted that training the individual volunteers was not a primary goal in the planning process. 

“One of our responsibilities in going off-campus is representing Tulane well and showing that we are responsible and respectful citizens and that we are there to learn. We are there to volunteer and we are not there to tell them what they should be doing,” Sloter said. 

Sloter noted that there are time, money and knowledge constraints that prevent the board from training every single student and preparing them to enter the multitude of organizations they partner with. 

“It’s a good idea for Tulane or CPS to put together information on how to do responsible service that we could send out in our emails to help prepare the participants,” Sloter said.

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