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College students' experiences with Hurricane Katrina: a comparison between students from Mississippi State University and three New Orleans universities.


When Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi/Louisiana Gulf Coast on August 29th, 2005, universities, colleges, and other campuses of higher education were among the many institutions that experienced severe disruption. New Orleans universities were forced to shut down for the Fall semester and many displaced college students enrolled at other colleges and universities throughout the nation. Mississippi institutions of higher education experienced less disruption, with those affected closing down for a week or less and most accepting some of New Orleans' displaced students. The college populations of New Orleans and Mississippi State University offered a unique research opportunity to gather comparative data from students who sustained both direct and indirect impacts from the Katrina disaster, as well as experienced the storm from different geographical locations. Utilizing data gathered from two web-based surveys administered during the first three months after the Katrina disaster, we analyze the comparative storm experiences of and impacts on students from Mississippi State University (N= 3,140) and three New Orleans universities (N= 7,100). Our findings show that compared to MSU students, New Orleans students experienced: (1) more fear and threat from the storm; (2) greater perceptions that the disaster was rooted in human or technological failure; (3) greater economic and personal loss; (4) less satisfaction with the response of disaster organizations; (5) less trust in institutions; and (6) higher levels of psychological stress. The overwhelming difference between the two groups attests to the severity of the Katrina catastrophe for students, particularly in New Orleans, and the need for universities to better prepare for future disasters.


On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi/Louisiana Gulf Coast as a Category 3 storm, creating one of the deadliest and most costly disasters in U.S. history. Packing winds of over 125 miles per hour with tidal surges ranging from 15 to 28 feet high, Katrina produced widespread physical devastation to some 90,000 square miles of the region and forced the evacuation of over one million Gulf Coast residents from their homes (Brinkley 2006). In the hurricane's aftermath, universities, colleges, and other regional institutions of higher education were among the many institutions and organizations that experienced disruption. At least 30 college and university campuses sustained varying levels of storm damage and many experienced the collapse of their infrastructures and normal telecommunication systems (Chronicle of Higher Education 2005a). More than 95,000 administrators, faculty, staff, and students were displaced from their respective institutions and communities, including 50,000 students from New Orleans, resulting in the cancellation of scheduled classes ranging from a few days to the entire academic year. Moreover, many of these campuses found themselves facing severe economic crises due to more than $1.5 billion in infrastructure repairs, payroll outlays, and lost tuition funds, among other unanticipated costs (Cass 2005; Ferrell and Hoover 2005; Gill et al. 2006; Herbert 2005; Mangan 2005a).

Although Katrina severely affected higher education in the Gulf region (Lipka 2005), the psychosocial impacts and geophysical context of the catastrophe were significantly different for college students (and residents) of New Orleans than they were for students in Mississippi. The breaching of the New Orleans levee system that followed the storm, for example, flooded 80 percent of the city with as much as twelve feet of water in some areas. For weeks, New Orleans universities were without electrical power, water, phones, or other basic services. In response, these universities became "virtual" institutions existing in cyberspace through web-based internet systems located off-campus (Foster and Young 2005). Colleges across the U.S. responded to the catastrophe by announcing that they would open their admission doors to any student displaced by Katrina. With their wind and flood damaged campuses closed for the entire fall, 2005 semester, more than 18,000 New Orleans students relocated to some 1,017 new colleges and universities outside the Gulf Coast to enroll in classes (Ladd, Gill, and Marszalek 2007; Mangan 2005b).

Although the Pearl River Community College in Waveland, MS was completely destroyed and a few other small coastal campuses suffered damages that forced them to cancel classes for the first week of the semester (Chronicle of Higher Education 2005b), the vast majority of Mississippi college students experienced relatively indirect storm impacts from Katrina and comparatively few were forced to evacuate their campus residences. Nevertheless, the state's largest university campus, Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville, MS, while not heavily damaged by the storm, was located in the northern periphery of Mississippi counties that were declared disaster zones. Indeed, the path of the storm passed directly over Starkville with heavy rains and winds gusting to over 75 mph. Although MSU was closed for only two days, many students had immediate family, relatives, and friends living in severely impacted areas and some MSU students were in the coast area when the hurricane struck.

The college populations of New Orleans and Mississippi State University offered a unique research opportunity to gather comparative data from students who sustained both direct and indirect impacts from the Katrina disaster (Fee et al. 2006; Gill et al. 2006; Gill, Ladd, and Marszalek 2007; Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006). Utilizing data gathered from two web-based surveys administered during the first three months after the Katrina disaster, we analyze the comparative storm experiences of and impacts on students from Mississippi State University (N= 3,140) and three New Orleans universities (N= 7,100). These two university samples represent over 10,000 students who initially experienced Hurricane Katrina from different geographical locations in the Gulf South. We conclude by suggesting some implications of our data for disaster research, as well as how universities can improve future disaster response and resilience.


Hurricanes and tropical storms are among the most prominent natural disasters that harm human populations, especially in coastal areas, and both their numbers and intensity have increased over the past decade (Associated Press 2005b; Noji 1997). These trends resulted in 2005 becoming the busiest hurricane season on record, marked by 27 named storms and 15 hurricanes, three of which entered the Gulf of Mexico with Category 5 winds (Associated Press 2005a; Associated Press 2006). The first of these three storms, Hurricane Katrina, produced the largest hurricane disaster in U.S. history, causing over 1800 deaths, one million displaced residents, 260,000 homes destroyed, and approximately $200 billion in estimated losses (Brinkley 2006). Physical recovery plans for portions of the devastated Gulf Coast are predicted to take at least a decade and two years after the disaster, tens of thousands of New Orleans residents remain displaced from their homes and neighborhoods (Alford 2006; Thomas 2005).

Because of their potential to generate traumatic physical and psychosocial impacts, including those associated with evacuation and relocation, disaster research on hurricanes has generated an extensive body of knowledge (see e.g. Adeola 1999; Baker 1991; Bateman and Edwards, 2002; Dash and Morrow 2001; Dow and Cutter 1998, 2000, 2002; Drabek 1986; 2000; Edwards 1998; 1999; Enarson and Morrow 1997; Fischer 1999; Franke and Simpson 2004; Gladwin and Peacock 1997; Howell 1998; Howell and Bonner 2005; Lindell and Prater 2003; Mittler 1997; Peacock and Girard 1997; Sattler et al. 2002; Tierney 1989; Van Willigen 2001; Waugh 1990; Whitehead et al. 2000; Wolshon et al. 2005). In particular, hurricanes have been shown to cause a wide array of negative psychophysiological responses ranging from fatigue, impaired concentration, and attention deficits, to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms (Gillard and Paton 1999; Lindell and Prater 2003; Norris 2002; 2005; Norris et al. 2002; Perilla, Norris and Lavizzo 2002). Prior to Katrina, for instance, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was the second largest and most thoroughly researched disaster in U.S. history (Norris 2005). One such study conducted after Andrew found new onset psychiatric disorders in almost half the sample and about one-third were diagnosed with PTSD (David et al. 1996). Another study of those impacted by Andrew revealed that many victims sustained major levels of depression up to two years after the disaster (Norris et al. 1999). Even more moderate hurricanes like Hurricanes Hugo and Georges have been found to produce significant degrees of psychological distress, as well as adverse health impacts, for survivors who experience personal resource loss (Adeola 1999; Freedy et al. 1992).

Despite the increasing threats posed by natural and technological hazards for university campuses over the last decade (Federal Emergency Management Agency 2003), few researchers have studied the disaster-related experiences of college students in the aftermath of a regionally catastrophic hurricane (see e.g. Gutierez, Hollister, and Beninati 2005; Pickens et al. 1995; Sattler et al. 2002; Van Willigen et al. 2005). Although such hazards rarely result in death and injury to students, hurricanes almost always create significant financial losses for universities and disrupt their institutional teaching, research, and service missions (FEMA 2003). For example, Gutierrez, Hollister, and Beninati (2005) studied college students in Central Florida impacted by Hurricanes Charley and Frances and reported that over 60 percent of students had moderate to extremely high levels of psychological stress, 50 percent suffered lost wages or income, and 65 percent sustained damage to their residences. Pickens et al. (1995) studied college students impacted by Hurricane Andrew in South Florida and found that students who experienced the most severe impact damage from the storm reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Sattler et al. (2002) surveyed college students in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the United States affected by Hurricane Georges and found that differences in psychological stress were largely a function of their respective location, resource loss, and levels of social support.

In another study comparing the differential impacts of Hurricane Floyd on students and residents of the Greenville, NC university community, Van Willigen et al. (2005) found that students were less detrimentally affected than community residents but enjoyed greater levels of recovery assistance. Moreover, race, gender, and parenthood status had differential effects on the two populations. The authors suggest that students, by virtue of their socioeconomic resources and social roles, occupy a unique position within university communities which buffers them from many of the direct impacts of natural hazards.

Findings from these studies are consistent with those of other disasters. Disasters cause some degree of psychological stress among survivors and this varies by a host of psychological and sociodemographic characteristics, as well as location, physical damage, personal loss, social support networks, and other post-disaster recovery variables (see Riad and Norris 1996; Zhang et al. 2004).

Our research examines differences between college students from New Orleans universities and Mississippi State University (MSU) regarding their impacts surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, we compare students' storm experiences, resource loss, satisfaction with disaster response, trust in institutions, and psychological stress. Given the prolonged evacuation and closure of universities in New Orleans, we generally hypothesize that students from New Orleans universities will have higher levels of disaster impacts than students from MSU. More importantly, such a comparison provides a benchmark for interpreting the severity of disaster impacts among New Orleans students, as well as better illustrates the range of impacts that university communities incurred from Katrina.


In the weeks following the Katrina disaster, a research team at the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University (MSU) was formed to study the effects of Hurricane Katrina on college students from Mississippi and New Orleans. This historic event provided a unique opportunity to study these respective student populations via the internet utilizing two web-based survey instruments designed specifically to measure student reactions and needs in the aftermath of the disaster. For the MSU study, we developed a 143-item questionnaire that focused on assessing storm and evacuation experiences, resource loss, satisfaction with the disaster response of government, media, social agencies, and the university, trust in institutions, levels of psychological stress, and other pertinent issues (Fee et al. 2006). For the New Orleans study, we developed a similar questionnaire composed of 77 items, many of which were specifically developed for students who were displaced from their New Orleans universities and relocated to hundreds of temporary campuses and homes across the country (Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006; Ladd, Gill, and Marszalek 2007; Marszalek et al. 2006). Standard sociodemographic and educational status measures were also included on both instruments.

Approval to conduct our web-based survey of the student populations of MSU, Loyola University New Orleans, University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana was granted by each of the school's respective Institutional Review Boards in October and November of 2005. The three New Orleans universities were selected for the study because of their overall demographic representativeness of the city's college student population, as well as the access of the researchers to their university's student email records. The sampling frame for each of the four universities consisted of all the undergraduate and graduate students who had been officially enrolled for at least one class for the fall semester when Katrina struck on August, 29th, 2005. Prior to this date, MSU reported a fall enrollment of 15,889 students, Loyola University reported an enrollment of 5,644 students, Xavier University reported an enrollment of 4,190 students, and University of New Orleans (UNO) reported an enrollment of 17,251 students (Fee et al. 2006; Pope 2006).

University administrators at all four institutions provided us with a computer file listing all of their students' currently recorded email addresses as of October 1, 2005. For New Orleans students, this email file included their existing New Orleans university email accounts, a personal email account, and/or their newly reported email addresses from whatever college or university they were attending during the fall term. Many of these personal or new university email addresses were collected through the emergency remote websites of the New Orleans universities while their normal telecommunication systems were down due to storm damage and students were unable to access their regular university email accounts. Since we had no way of knowing which university or personal email address was most likely to reach the student in a timely fashion, (if at all), some students were automatically sent more than one email message to each of their email accounts inviting them to participate in the survey. However, returned surveys were checked to ensure that no student returned more than one questionnaire. This email message described the purpose of the study, the informed consent statement, the research procedures used, the steps taken to protect the participants' privacy, and a faculty contact person from the research team if the student had questions or comments on the survey. Students who chose to participate in the study were instructed to click on the survey link and were directly connected from the email message to the web-based survey instrument contained in a separate software program.

Emails with a link to the web-based survey were sent to all four universities' students from the SSRC, beginning with MSU in early October, 2005 and then followed by Loyola University, Xavier University, and University of New Orleans students throughout the month of November, 2005. Emails were sent at different times for each university based on the dates we received IRB and administrative approval. The initial emails were mailed to 15,889 MSU student accounts, 7,574 Loyola student accounts, 7,091 Xavier student accounts, and 27,023 UNO student accounts. Following the initial email, two reminder emails were sent at one week intervals for those who had not yet responded to the study. All surveys were collected by December 16th. A total of 3,140 MSU students responded to the first survey (response rate= 20%) and 7,100 students from all three New Orleans universities responded to the second survey, resulting in an effective response rate of 38% (the official Pre-Katrina university enrollment figure of 27,085 students, divided by the 7,100 students who returned a useable survey). Overall, the sample characteristics were roughly proportionate to the demographic profiles of each of the universities in general.


Our research findings focus on five areas: storm experiences; resource loss; satisfaction with response; trust in institutions; and psychological stress. In the following sections, we make t-test comparisons between New Orleans students and MSU students and describe general patterns in the data.

Storm Experiences

Students were asked to rate their storm experiences on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = low, 10 = high). Specifically, they were asked about the severity of the storm where they were located, how fearful they were, and how threatened they felt. In addition, students were asked the following: "On a scale of 0-10, to what extent do you believe the disaster was a natural event (0) or human/technological failure (10)?" Results are presented in Table 1.

As expected, there were significant differences between students from New Orleans universities and MSU students. With regard to storm severity, however, MSU students experienced higher levels of severity than New Orleans students. Previous data analysis indicated that over 80 percent of MSU students were either on the MSU main campus or within a 50 mile radius of campus when the storm passed through Starkville (Fee et al. 2006; Gill et al. 2006). In contrast, the vast majority of New Orleans students (84%) evacuated to areas away from the storm's path (Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006). Compared to MSU students, New Orleans students were significantly more fearful and felt a higher level of threat, perhaps because they had been uprooted from their social environment and community networks.

New Orleans students were more likely to define Katrina as a disaster with anthropogenic causes. In Mississippi, most damages were a direct cause of wind and storm surges. On the other hand, the massive flooding in New Orleans was caused by failures in the levee system that was supposedly designed to withstand a storm with the intensity of Katrina. Furthermore, the disaster in New Orleans was exacerbated by the mismanaged response by FEMA, and other federal, state, and local authorities (Brinkley 2006). Consequently, New Orleans' students tended to view Katrina as a technological disaster, while MSU students tended to view it as a natural disaster (see Ritchie et al. 2006).

Resource Loss

Students were asked about economic and personal resource loss attributed to Katrina. In a series of yes/no questions (no = 0 and yes = 1), students reported on financial loss, loss of home/apartment, vehicle loss, job loss, death of a relative/friend, and if a relative/friend was missing in the aftermath of the storm. The first four items represent economic losses and these items were summated into a scale. The last two items represent personal losses and were also summated into a scale (Table 2).

Results indicate that New Orleans college students experienced significantly higher economic and personal losses than MSU students. Indeed, Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill (2006) found that 85 percent of New Orleans students incurred financial losses and 81% had their residence damaged by the storm. Over one-fourth (26%) of New Orleans college students had a family member or close friend missing during or immediately after the disaster and almost one-tenth (9%) experienced the death of a relative or close friend.

Satisfaction with Response

Students were asked to indicate their level of satisfaction with the disaster response of various officials, agencies, and organizations using a 5-point scale (1 = very satisfied and 5 = very dissatisfied). The results were divided into five summated scales: Federal Government Response (President Bush and FEMA); State/Local Government Response (each state's governor and local government officials); Media Response (national and local); Relief Organization Response (Red Cross, other charitable organizations, and local organizations); and University Response (administration and faculty).

As indicated in Table 3, students from New Orleans universities were significantly less satisfied with the disaster response from all entities represented by the five scales. New Orleans college students were particularly dissatisfied with the response of the federal government and state/local government. Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill (2006) found that over two-thirds of New Orleans students were dissatisfied with the President of the U.S. (73%), FEMA (72%) and the governor of Louisiana (66%). Although both groups of students were generally satisfied with the response of relief groups and their respective universities, there was a significant difference between MSU students and New Orleans students.

Trust in Institutions

Trust in institutions was measured by asking students to indicate on a 4-point scale (1 = a great deal and 4 = not at all) how much they trusted various institutions and representatives of institutions. The following three scales were created: Federal Government (the US President, FEMA, and federal government); State/Local Government (state officials and local officials); and Media (national and local).

As indicated in Table 4, New Orleans college students expressed significantly less trust in institutions than did MSU students. In particular, Ladd, Marszalek and Gill (2206) observed high levels of distrust of the federal government, including President Bush (67% distrust) and FEMA (62% distrust). Likewise, they found almost one-half of New Orleans college students expressed distrust for their state and local government, as well as the media.

Psychological Stress

Psychological stress among college students was assessed using two standardized measures; the Impact of Event Scale (IES) and the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ).

Impact of Event Scale

The IES (Horowitz 1974; Horowitz, Wilner, and Alvarez 1979) measures event-specific psychological stress based on the rationale that highly stressful events are likely to produce high levels of recurring, unintentional, distressing feelings and thoughts (Intrusive Stress), as well as high levels of intentional efforts to suppress these feelings and avoid reminders of the event (Avoidance Behavior). The IES consists of 15 statements; seven measuring intrusive recollections (e.g., having dreams about it) and eight measuring avoidance behaviors (trying to avoid reminders of it). Responses are coded on a 4-point scale (not at all = 0, rarely = 1, sometimes = 3, and often = 5). Total scores range from 0-75 and subscale scores range from 0-35 for intrusive stress and 0-40 for avoidance behavior. The total IES serves as a proxy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Table 5 indicates significant differences between New Orleans college students and MSU students. Additional analysis revealed that 1401 (27%) of New Orleans university students were in the severe range on the IES (a score over 43) and another 26 percent were in the moderate range (26 - 43). The majority of MSU students (60%) were in the sub-clinical range (0 - 8) (Gill et al. 2006).

General Health Questionnaire

The GHQ (Goldberg 1972) measures depression, social dysfunction, and loss of confidence in community settings and non-psychiatric clinical settings (e.g., primary care or general practice). The 12-item version of the GHQ was used with symptomatic responses coded as '1' and non-symptomatic responses coded as '0'. In this scoring scheme, total GHQ scores can range from 0 to 12, with higher scores indicative of a greater likelihood of psychological distress. Subscale scores for social dysfunction range from 0 to 6, depression scores range from 0 to 4, and loss of confidence scores range from 0 to 2 (see Graetz 1991). Scale and subscale scores were calculated and compared between New Orleans college students and MSU students.

Table 6 indicates significant differences between New Orleans college students and MSU students on the GHQ and its subscales. Interestingly, New Orleans college students reported levels of depression and loss of confidence that were three times that of MSU students. Over one-third of the New Orleans students reported having 7 or more (out of 12) symptoms on the total GHQ scale. Almost one-fourth reported elevated symptoms of depression.


Our research design functions as a type of sociological field experiment whereby we can measure and interpret the severity of social and psychological impacts from Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans university students constitute, in effect, the "experimental" group. Like many other residents in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they bore the brunt of the disaster and experienced major upheaval and prolonged uncertainty regarding disaster recovery. In turn, MSU students serve as essentially a baseline "control" group and point of comparison because all of these students were at least marginally affected by the disaster. As hypothesized, Hurricane Katrina caused significant negative impacts for New Orleans university students. T-test comparisons between the two groups indicated that New Orleans students experienced: (1) more fear (.000) and threat (.008) from the storm; (2) greater perceptions of human responsibility for the disaster (.000); (3) greater economic and personal loss (.000); (4) less satisfaction with disaster response (.000); (5) less trust in institutions (.000); and (6) higher levels of psychological stress (.000). The overwhelming and statistically significant difference between the two groups attests to the severity of the Katrina disaster, particularly in New Orleans.

Our findings are consistent with research literature on psychosocial impacts of disasters and substantiate recent conceptual developments in the field. Ritchie and Gill (2007) identified and incorporated several key disaster concepts into a social capital framework. They argue that social capital can be diminished or 'spent' during a technological disaster, and concepts such as "corrosive community," "recreancy," and "collective trauma" are indicators of social capital loss. Specific to our findings, we observed indicators of recreancy, social capital loss, resource loss, and psychological stress. These concepts frame the remainder of our discussion.

Recreancy is defined by Freudenburg as "the failure of experts or specialized organizations to execute properly responsibilities to the broader collectivity with which they have been implicitly or explicitly entrusted" (2000:116). Recreancy is concerned with blame and when someone or some organization is held responsible for a disaster, there is a corresponding loss of trust--a cornerstone of social capital. Perceptions of recreancy can heighten feelings of anger, frustration, and betrayal, threaten ontological security, and contribute to psychological and emotional trauma.

Our findings indicate that New Orleans university students tended to perceive the disaster as a human/technological failure, rather than a natural disaster. In New Orleans, the Katrina disaster was a catastrophic flood. For many residents, the breeching of the levees represented a technological failure and inadequate responses to the disaster represented organizational failures. Both are indicative of recreancy.

The 'blame game' spawned by issues of recreancy diminishes social capital, particularly with respect to perceptions of organizational effectiveness in responding to the disaster and trust in organizations to do their jobs. Our findings indicate that New Orleans students were significantly dissatisfied with organizational responses to the disaster, particularly government responses at all levels. Dissatisfaction with disaster responses indicates a type of recreancy; that is, many organizations did not do their jobs as well as expected. Likewise, our data show that these students expressed less trust in all levels of government; particularly FEMA and President Bush. Diminished trust reflects a loss of social capital. Moreover, we assume that most New Orleans university students experienced a net loss of social capital, despite the goodwill and assistance offered throughout the nation. Our qualitative analysis of the narrative accounts of New Orleans university students about the Katrina disaster supports this assumption (Ladd, Gill, and Marszalek 2007).

Hobfoll's (1988; 1989; 1991) conservation of resources (COR) model of stress posits that social and psychological stress is influenced by resource loss, threat of loss, or investment of resources without gain. Four categories of resources are found in the COR model: (1) objects (e.g., transportation, physical possessions); (2) conditions (e.g., a good marriage, time spent with loved ones); (3) personal characteristics (e.g., high self-esteem, sense of mastery, social competence); and (4) energies (e.g., money, knowledge). Rapid loss of high value resources produces traumatic stress (Hobfoll 1991). In general, resource loss from a natural disaster contributes to social and psychological stress (see Freedy et al. 1992).

Our findings reveal that New Orleans students experienced relatively high levels of economic and personal losses. Economic losses included financial and job loss (energies resources), and loss of home/apartment and vehicle loss (objects resources). Personal losses consisted of having a relative/friend missing or die during the storm (conditions resources). Our indicators cover a fraction of the resources that comprise our lives and undoubtedly, many other resources, including social capital, were drawn down, depleted, or lost.

Psychological stress is a typical reaction to disasters and our data supports this phenomenon. Three months after the hurricane, New Orleans students exhibited high levels of stress. Over one-fourth reported IES scores that placed them in the 'severe' diagnostic category and over one-third were symptomatic on the GHQ scale. Typically, psychological stress dissipates after a disaster. Literature on technological disasters, however, suggests that recreancy, prolonged social disruption, and loss of social capital can lead to chronic stress (e.g., see Gill and Picou 1998; Picou and Gill 1997; Ritchie 2004). Our data do not allow us to empirically examine this issue, but published accounts from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, as well as a number of studies, have found extensive levels of psychological and emotion distress among New Orleans' Katrina survivors, as well as increased alcohol and drug usage (see Gill, Ladd, and Marszalek, 2007; Rose 2005).


These findings demonstrate that New Orleans university students experienced greater negative social and psychological impacts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina than did students from Mississippi State University. These differential impacts between the two populations became further magnified in the coming months as many New Orleans students returned to find not only much of their flood-damaged city in ruins, but their universities grappling with infrastructure repairs, debt, reduced enrollments, and a host of future institutional uncertainties. Under administrative declarations of "financial exigency" or related degrees of fiscal emergency, all of the New Orleans universities in our sample (and others) began to initiate relatively draconian reductions in their operating and salary budgets over the spring and summer 2006 semesters. Consequently, various degree programs and academic departments were discontinued, class offerings were reduced, assorted faculty and staff members were either furloughed or terminated, and student activities were cut. Amidst fears that even more stringent budget and program reductions might be forthcoming, a number of junior faculty left their positions for jobs at other institutions, older faculty members began to consider taking an early retirement, and students chose to transfer to other universities to continue their major field of study elsewhere (Ladd, Marszalek, and Gill 2006).

After experiencing the stress and collective trauma of being uprooted from their campus communities and forced to relocate to new universities and residences during the fall of 2005, many New Orleans students, upon returning to their university communities, continued to experience a prolonged series of secondary traumas regarding their lives and education that MSU students generally did not confront (Gill 2007). Assessing the devastation that the Katrina disaster visited upon the universities of New Orleans, a recent AAUP report described these events as constituting "undoubtedly the most serious disruption of American higher education in the nation's history" (American Association of University Professors 2007: 61). Nevertheless, in the overall range of impacts that they sustained, both MSU and New Orleans student populations can be seen as proxies for what large numbers of citizens in communities along the Mississippi /Louisiana Gulf Coast experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Given the severity of Katrina's impacts and the potential for prolonged disruption from other natural and technological disasters, it is imperative that university communities, especially in the Gulf South, work to improve their institutional preparedness and mitigation procedures in the face of these growing hazards. Indeed, recent disaster research has identified a broad range of vulnerabilities and contingencies that institutions of higher learning must address if they are to survive and rebound from future catastrophes (AAUP 2007; FEMA 2003). At the same time, research such as ours can also assist universities to become more resilient institutions in the aftermath of a disaster by improving their social support services to students who have been directly and indirectly impacted by the traumatic events surrounding hurricanes like Katrina (see Gill et al. 2006). Among other impacts, student survivors are especially likely to manifest impaired psychological and physical functioning, a generally diminished sense of well-being, and an increased use of mental and physical health care services. In addition, there are other issues that universities must prepare for regarding telecommunications and information-delivery systems, campus security, and shelter facilities, as well as counseling outreach programs, financial aid, and opportunities for students to participate in local disaster recovery efforts (Fee et al. 2006). Given these growing risks and challenges, social science researchers must pay greater attention to the impacts of disasters on university communities and how these events parallel other populations and institutions.


An earlier version of this article was presented at the Mississippi Academy of Sciences conference, February 23-24, 2007, Starkville, MS. Major support for this project was provided by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MIS-605270) and the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University. Additional support was provided by the SSRC's Societal Risk Unit and Decision Support Laboratory. The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Art Cosby, Virginia Fee, Dennis McSeveney, Elizabeth Wells-Parker, John Edwards, Angela Maggard, Katie Lynch; and Liesel Ritchie. This research was approved by Mississippi State University's Institutional Review Board (IRB #05-293).


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(1) Duane A. Gill, (2) Anthony E. Ladd, and (1) John Marszalek

(1) Mississippi State University and (2) Loyola University New Orleans
Table 1. Perceptions of Storm Experiences among College Students from
New Orleans Universities and Mississippi State University (mean scores)

 New Orleans T-Test Sig.
 Universities MSU (one-tailed)

Storm Severity (Range = 0 - 10) 5.16 5.64 .000
Level of Fear (Range = 0 - 10) 5.58 4.44 .000
Level of Threat (Range = 0 - 10) 3.72 3.60 .008
Na-Tech (Range = 0 - 10) 5.41 3.16 .000

Table 2. Resource Losses Reported by College Students from New Orleans
Universities and Mississippi State University (mean scores)

 New Orleans T-Test Sig.
 Universities MSU (one-tailed)

Economic Loss Scale (Range = 0 - 3) 1.47 0.44 0.000
Personal Loss Scale (Range = 0 - 2) 0.42 0.08 0.000

Higher scores = greater loss

Table 3. Response Satisfaction among College Students from New Orleans
Universities and Mississippi State University (mean scores)*

 New Orleans T-Test Sig.
 Universities MSU (one-tailed)

Federal Gov. (Range = 2 - 10) 7.94 6.18 .000
State/Local Gov. (Range = 3 - 15) 10.02 8.46 .000
Media (Range = 2 - 10) 5.63 5.32 .000
Relief Groups (Range = 3 - 15) 6.38 5.17 .000
University (Range = 2 - 10) 5.04 3.73 .000

* Higher means = less satisfaction

Table 4. Trust in Institutions among College Students from New Orleans
Universities and Mississippi State University (mean scores)*

 New Orleans T-Test Sig.
 Universities MSU (one-tailed)

Federal Gov. (Range = 3 - 12) 8.66 6.56 0.000
State/Local Gov. (Range = 2 - 8) 5.31 3.77 0.000
Media (Range = 2 - 8) 4.67 4.29 0.000

* Lower means = higher trust

Table 5 IES Mean Scores among College Students from New Orleans
Universities and Mississippi State University

 New Orleans T-Test Sig.
 Universities MSU (one-tailed)

Total Scale 28.49 12.21 .000
 (Range = 0 - 75)
Intrusive Stress Subscale 14.26 6.29 .000
 (Range = 0 - 35)
Avoidance Behavior 14.37 6.02 .000
 (Range = 0 - 40)

Table 6 GHQ Mean Scores among College Students from New Orleans
universities and Mississippi State University

 New Orleans T-Test Sig.
 Universities MSU (one-tailed)

Total GHQ (Range = 0 - 12) 5.34 1.72 .000
Depression (Range = 0 - 4) 1.95 .52 .000
Social Dysfunction (Range = 0 - 6) 2.91 1.04 .000
Loss of Confidence (Range = 0 - 2) .57 .16 .000
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Author:Gill, Duane A.; Ladd, Anthony E.; Marszalek, John
Publication:Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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