UT community must come together in wake of Harvey

Michael Jensen

Over the past several days, Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast. As of Tuesday, the now tropical storm has continued to pummel Houston with torrential rains and catastrophic flooding. By some estimates, Harvey has already dumped over 11 trillion gallons of water over the Lone Star State — and more rain is still to come. Austin might have been spared the worst of the storm, but the images and accounts coming from less fortunate parts of Texas are no less heartbreaking.

I lived in Houston during Tropical Storm Allison. I remember my parents staying up every night, desperately trying to keep the rising waters out of our family home. I remember when the Texas Medical Center flooded, when my neighbors’ homes flooded and when Houston’s streets turned to brown, debris-filled rivers. Allison ravaged the city in which I was born, but by all accounts, Harvey has been far worse. I may not live in Houston anymore, but my heart still aches for those who do. As members of the UT community, we should all rally around our fellow Texans whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by this catastrophic disaster.

By some measures we’ve already started. The Counseling and Mental Health Center started offering counseling for students affected by Harvey and President Gregory Fenves offered his condolences.

However, kind words and counseling are not enough. Harvey is the worst storm to strike the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster which caused well over $100 billion in damage and almost wiped New Orleans off the map. Harvey is also the strongest storm to have struck Texas since Hurricane Carla in 1961. Thoughts and prayers are nice, but what our fellow Texans need most right now is food, water and shelter.

Luckily, UT administrators and student leaders have signaled that they’re aware of this reality, and have pledged to sponsor and support statewide relief efforts.

However, students don’t need to wait for an official response from university leaders to get involved. So far, Harvey has displaced more than 30,000 people, many of whom will undoubtedly seek refuge in neighboring cities, including Austin. Students can assist them by donating their time and money to several charities and nonprofits. If you’re strapped for cash, you can also donate blood to organizations such as the American Red Cross and the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.

In addition to displaced people, countless pets and animals are also in dire need of aid. Organizations such as Austin Pets Alive! and the SPCA of Texas have already saved hundreds of animals affected by Harvey.

Regardless of how you choose to help the survivors of Hurricane Harvey, remember that several members of the Longhorn community have been or will be personally affected by the devastation along the Texas coast. We should be especially understanding to students whose families might have lost everything but still have to show up to class. As a student body, we should strive to be kinder, more generous and more empathetic this semester than ever before — it’s just the right thing to do.

Jensen is a neuroscience senior from The Woodlands. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.