FDU students weather the superstorm
College at Florham students hunker down in the Ferguson Recreation Center, having unrolled blankets and sleeping bags and even set up a tent. (Photo courtesy of the Dean of Students Office)
By Kenna Caprio
When Superstorm Sandy struck, base camp was established at the Student Center and the Student Union Building.
Students, residence assistants and staff who remained on both of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s New Jersey campuses in the days after Sandy engaged in a sort of indoor camp out.
A resident even put up a tent in Ferguson Recreation Center at the College at Florham. Residence Life staff on the Metropolitan Campus discovered that bananas are a hit snack food.
“It was almost like a big slumber party,” says campus life graduate assistant Anthony Pace, 23, of the scene at Florham.
Before the storm hit, students received emails from Residence Life and the Dean of Students offices, urging them to prepare and to stay in touch with RAs. Both campuses lost power late on Monday evening, requiring the residence halls to be evacuated the next day.
“I’m certain everyone would like to stay in their rooms and sleep in their own beds, but it’s a safety issue to have residents in the buildings without power,” says Ruben Flores, director of residence life at Metropolitan. “We asked students to prepare a small overnight bag and include medications, snacks, reading materials, toiletries and clothes. Once the students were out, staff went in to the buildings to make sure they were empty.”
A similar procedure was adhered to at Florham. Students at Florham first stayed in the Rec Center and then moved to the Student Center once the decision was made to shut down one of the generators to conserve fuel. On Metropolitan, students were housed in the Student Union Building. Public Safety staff conducted fire checks in the empty buildings and provided security to those remaining on each campus.
The biggest concern that students had, says Pace, was the limited ability to contact their families, as cellular service was spotty at times. “Other than that, they handled the situation so well, that it kind of took me by surprise,” he adds.
As the week progressed and roads were reopened following the removal of downed wires, trees and poles, students from both campuses ventured home if they could, or to the nearby homes of friends. Those who waited out the outages on campus enjoyed movie screenings and tried to sleep or complete homework.
Resident students staying overnight in the Student Union Building gather to pick their nightly snack from the pile of goodies secured by the Metropolitan Campus Residence Life staff. (Photo by Ruben Flores)
Staff at Metropolitan went to extra lengths to ensure that students had enough to eat. While Gourmet Dining provided meals to campus, they had no way to offer snacks. Flores and his staff realized they needed to find healthier alternatives to the standard cookies, candy and potato chips. “A market in Maywood set aside a case or two of bananas for us. They went faster than the candy,” marvels Flores. “For some reason the bananas made everyone happy. It’s batteries, bananas and flashlights for emergencies in the future,” he laughs.
While there were no banana snack piles at Florham, the students and staff did have the chance to indulge in pizza. “There was one night we ran out food a little early, so Dean of Students Jas Verem went out and returned with 50 pizzas,” says Ashley Markovic, 22, an RA in Rutherford Hall. “Everyone worked together.”
Michel’le Bryant, a 22-year-old RA in Northpointe on Metropolitan, agrees. “The University did a great job of supporting the students and being there. There wasn’t a time that I looked up and Provost Kiernan wasn’t there,” she says.
The University is committed to remaining as a support system to students suffering in the wake of Sandy. Those in need of assistance or advice can contact the Dean of Students Office at Florham or the Residence Life Office at Metropolitan.
“We do have some students who are coming in and telling us that they have homes that are damaged or don’t have a home now,” says Wilson Wai Bong Ng, Coordinator for Housing Operations at Florham. “Commuter students were offered a program so that they could stay on campus. We’re offering whatever we can give to those who are affected.”
That philosophy also extends to various service projects that certain departments and student organizations are facilitating in order to aid those in need post-Sandy.
An annual canned food drive sponsored by the Student Government Association on Metropolitan yielded 1,000 pounds of donations. Bryant attributes the influx to members of the FDU community pulling together even more in a time of need. The collected items will benefit the food pantry in Hackensack. “People really dug deep in their hearts,” Bryant says.
At Florham, sorority Phi Sigma Sigma is looking to organize a trip to volunteer and wants to hold a fundraiser for “Restore the Shore,” a nonprofit working to rebuild devastated areas. “People have gone on their own accord to volunteer at soup kitchens and clean houses,” Markovic, a member of Phi Sigma Sigma, adds.
Though the need for help is immediate, students are also working on more long-term volunteer plans.
“The alternative spring break teams are attempting to rearrange their projects to remain in New Jersey. Normally, we go to New Orleans or West Virginia, but in light of the storm damage, it would be a good idea to stay here,” says Pace.