Having watched the Katrina disaster unfold during the past week, I, for one, am hoping the college is thinking of using its intellectual resources to explore why things went so wrong in a course or series of lectures, perhaps over Winter Study.

The ripple effects of Katrina — the devastation, the deaths, the suicides, the higher energy prices, the shifting of families — will affect our lives in the years to come. In addition, this episode is full of intersecting dynamics and myriad shades of grey. (For a fascinating yet depressing read, check out this description of trying to get out of New Orleans last week.)

Accordingly, Katrina deserves to be studied with all the multi-disciplinary rigor that Williams can muster. It is both a relevant and difficult problem that can be turned into a learning experience that will stick with today’s students for the rest of their lives.

This could be a Winter Study course, or to make it more accessible to more students and the Williamstown community at large, perhaps a series of lectures/discussions held in the ’62 Theatre.

As an example of what I mean, following is a tentative syllabus.

History Department — The history of New Orleans — why it was established at the mouth of the Mississippi, and the impact of its French roots on its current government and mores.
Economics Department — New Orleans’ evolving relation to the U.S. economy over the years (transportation, energy, tourist industry).
Earth Sciences/Geology — Why New Orleans is below water level, the levee system, and how the hurricane made a hash of it.
Sociology — The cultural makeup of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and any previous studies of black/white relations in the area.
Political Science — The dance between the federal and state government in such crises — how the National Guard, FEMA, and other agencies are supposed to work together.
Psychology — How people cope with such stress, and family dynamics in refugee camps.
Art/English/Dance — The cultural riches of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and what it will mean to the country if the inhabitants of the area now stay away.
Computer Science — how computer simulations described possible flooding, and then how satellite images helped people estimate damage and understand what had happened.

Today’s Williams graduates are teachers, lawyers, judges, politicians, physicians, and others who typically have a disproportionate impact on their community. Today’s students will follow in their footsteps. By dissecting Katrina, hopefully they will gain the tools and insight that will help them master the yet unforeseen crises that they will confront after they graduate.

Enough of the pontificating. So what do you think? As an alum, (1) do you think the college should consider it, (2) would you be willing to offer your expertise to generate some of the courseware/presentations, and (3) would you be interested in reading the course work/transcripts if it were put on?

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