Q&A: Karin Klinger

November 17, 2005
Karin Klinger is assistant director for student organizational development in Baylor's Student Activities Office. She discusses some of the things the University did to help displaced students who came here in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

BaylorNews: How long have you been at Baylor?

Karin Klinger: I started my job here in July 2005.

What are the parameters of your job?

I work with all of Baylor's community service programs as well as all of our student organizations, so I have a wide purview of things that I do. I also work with student government and with student leadership in general, but community service takes up most of my time.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, how did your office get involved? What were the first needs you responded to?

We got involved very soon after the storm hit. We were talking with a couple of student workers in our office who are from Louisiana, asking them, "How is this affecting you? Is there anything we can be doing for you?" My graduate assistant, Missy Davis, and I were talking, and we realized that since we work in community service, we needed to do something. She and I went in and talked with Scott Wade, the director of student activities, and he said, "You're right. We should do something with this." The next day I was in a meeting at the president's office with folks from the Executive Council, the School of Social Work, the Provost's Office and the general counsel -- a wide variety of people from the university. Everyone talked about specific things they were doing so that we could try to form a collective effort. It became clear very quickly that our students were going to be dramatically impacted, and that there was going to be a great need from out-of-state institutions that were closed at that point. We had the opportunity to offer enrollment to students who were displaced by the hurricane, and we did that.

How many students transferred to Baylor because of Hurricane Katrina?

We've got 25 students currently enrolled. We quickly put together an orientation packet for all of our new students that provided them with a lot of information, and we assisted them in finding housing. We housed as many as we possibly could on campus, but most of them ended up not living on campus because we have such a large freshman class this year. The majority live off campus, and we were able to find them housing at extremely discounted rates if they wanted their own places. In several instances they're living in homes with staff and faculty members or current students.

Were Baylor students involved in this process as well?

Yes. Our office quickly put together a program to encourage our student organizations to adopt a displaced student, and we had lots of organizations volunteer to do that. In fact, we had one very small student organization that had received its charter only about a month prior to the hurricane, but that didn't stop the members from stepping up and adopting a displaced student. They took him shopping and dropped a quick $600 on his textbooks. I thought wow, you guys are good.

To get these students in here so quickly, did Baylor have to take their word that they were in good standing at another university, or was there a way to check transcripts or other records?

There was so little documentation available at that moment that we just asked the students for information. Are you in good financial standing? Yes, okay. What was your major, what was your GPA? Good, well, come on in. In order to meet their academic needs, we didn't consider these people as transfer students. They are technically considered transient students who are non-degree seeking, so that makes it a little bit easier for credits they earn here to count for academic credit at their home institution. It also relieves us from the pressure of having to evaluate transcripts and other things we would normally have to do.

How difficult was it to get displaced students into classes in the middle of a semester?

Most of these students started classes about three weeks late, which is tough. One of the reasons we couldn't admit any freshman was because we just didn't have any openings in the classes for them. We admitted only sophomores, juniors, seniors and some grad students. Once they were enrolled, one of the biggest challenges was to match them up with classes pertinent to their degree plans. We partnered with academic advising on that, and they were fantastic. They called each faculty member directly and got written permission from them saying it was okay for these students to come into their classes late. And now that they're in, we're all doing what we need to to get them up to speed.

Are most of the students planning to stay at Baylor, or will they go back when conditions allow it?

That's interesting. One of the students who joined us from a hurricane-affected institution said, "Where was Baylor when I was a freshman? I would have loved to have been here all four years. I've absolutely fallen in love with Baylor." The sad part is she's a senior with a major that we don't offer, so she can't stay here. On the other side of that coin we have a lot of students who are homesick, and they want to get back to life as normal. Several of the students we admitted are seniors and are looking to graduate. A couple of them were supposed to graduate in December, but it's not going to happen for them now. They'll have to wait until May. A lot of the displaced students are in an academic situation where they won't have the option of staying unless they want to add a couple of years to their degree plans.

Now that these students have gotten oriented a bit better, are the student groups that helped them at first still maintaining contact with them?

Absolutely. In fact, I got a phone call this afternoon from one of our students. She said she'd lost the phone number of one of her contacts from the organization, and I gave her that. Our students are going to take that person on a shopping trip. She's almost out of clothing, and it's fantastic because she's been adopted by a men's residence hall floor. The guys are taking her shopping and they don't know what they're doing. We've had some fun stories of different things that these students are doing, just stepping outside of their comfort zone and doing what they can to help these new students feel as at home as possible.

I guess most of the students who came here didn't bring much with them.

Well, we have a couple of students who came with a carload of stuff. Some of the students who were displaced were not from areas impacted by the hurricane, so they have a lot of financial resources and have material goods. But we've also got the opposite end of the spectrum, where we literally have one student who joined us who had to swim through New Orleans to get to the Superdome. When he got there, he was forced to change his clothes give them up to be burned because they were contaminated when he swam through that water. So, he had only the clothes on his back when he came here. There is a whole spectrum of experiences.

Is Baylor offering any counseling to these students?

Yes. A lot of them are doing some good things for themselves in terms of joining support groups, and those kinds of things that the Counseling Center has been helping them with. The Counseling Center been great in providing resources to our new students.

Hurricane Rita didn't affect us as directly as Katrina did, in the sense that we were not faced with displaced students needing to enroll. But did Baylor and your office play any part in helping evacuees?

Yes. We helped at the shelters Baylor provided at the Ferrell Center and at Eastland Lakes. I spent some quality time out at Eastland Lakes hanging out with families that didn't know if their home was going to be there when they went back. It was an intensive strain for them.

How many people were out there where you were?

At Eastland Lakes we had 8 to 10 families, about 25 to 30 people in all.

What were you doing with the families there?

Hanging out with them, playing games with the kids, interacting with them. It was interesting because I don't speak any Spanish, and I was in the minority there. Most of the people spoke only Spanish, so some Baylor staff who spoke Spanish came out and helped, and they were thinking ahead. They brought Spanish language videos for the families to watch. It was a collective community effort to help these people.

Are there plans for Baylor people to do any more hurricane relief work in the future?

We have these great plans to go and do some relief work, do some clearing of debris, cleaning out houses and tearing things down. We want to rebuild some other stuff over fall break, and we had hoped to go into Louisiana, but when Rita came through all of those plans went out the window. Now, we've already got our plans laid out for spring break, and there is about a 90 percent chance that we'll be in New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity. We're excited about that.

Overall, do you think Baylor did a good job of responding quickly and adequately to the needs brought on by the hurricanes?

I really think so. For being located in Waco, Texas, there is very little you can do to anticipate the needs that might reach us all the way from New Orleans. I don't think anyone ever thought we would need to open our doors to students from an institution closed down because of a natural disaster. I feel like Baylor did a great job of responding appropriately to the needs of the moment and the emergencies at hand. The staff and faculty were incredibly gracious.
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