Freshmen, prospective students reflect on Hurricane Irma

Many factors contribute to a student’s decision of where to attend college, but natural disasters probably aren’t among them. However, for freshmen at UM who were only in school for two weeks and a day before classes were canceled for almost three weeks, Hurricane Irma reminded students of what comes along with living in Miami.

Freshman Aaliyah Johnson, a New York native, said she wished she had been able to get a ticket to go home, but she ended up staying with an aunt in Georgia.

“I wish I had more time and I wish I had money to get a ticket because the prices all went up to get back home, but I found a way,” said Johnson, a health science major. “I knew hurricanes were a possibility here, and I wouldn’t change by going to a different school; I like it here.”

The university has seen many hurricanes and derives traditions and symbols from the “Great Miami” hurricane of 1926 that struck the brand new campus in the first year of its operation. Hurricanes Andrew, Wilma and Matthew have reached campus in more recent years.

Andrew, which hit 25 years ago, was the most impactful, closing campus for about three weeks and causing 400 faculty and staff members to lose their homes. Since then, the city and the university have taken serious hurricane safety measures and faced minor impacts from Wilma in 2005 and Matthew in 2016.

For Victoria Walters, a freshman from Baltimore majoring in entrepreneurship, hurricanes seem more manageable than other natural disasters. Hurricane forecasting gives enough warning for people to have time to evacuate. Walters said she sees this is an advantage compared to places more susceptible to disasters like earthquakes.

Two UM students experienced this when they unexpectedly faced major earthquakes after evacuating to Mexico.

While 36 percent of undergraduate students at UM were from Florida in 2016, according to the UM Fact Book, many come from areas that never experience hurricanes. Undergraduates from midwestern and western states comprised 8 percent and 5 percent of the student body, respectively.

Walters doesn’t think that the hurricane will impact students’ decisions to come to UM, even if those students come from places where hurricanes happen less frequently.

“I have a friend who’s actually applying here, and it didn’t really make a difference to her,” Walters said. “She knows about it, but she’s like ‘Well, you got home safe, so I’ll be fine.’”

Cooper Kaplan, a freshman from Orlando, went home to help his family prepare for the storm. While they experienced minimal damage, he was disappointed that it felt like school was starting over after almost three weeks off of classes.

“Hopefully the school doesn’t make us leave and we can stay here,” Kaplan said of the potential for future storms. “I’d prefer that.”

Although UM has weathered many storms, this was the first time that campus was ever evacuated. Even during Hurricane Andrew, students and families there for freshman orientation were housed together in the dorms.

While freshmen deal with this interruption to their first semester, high school seniors apply to and tour UM with Hurricane Irma in mind.

Emmy Rycyzya, a high school senior from outside of Philadelphia, visited UM for the first time Sept. 23. Her first impression of the school included the damage and cleanup underway on campus, but she said it wouldn’t affect her decision to apply here because she saw an organized effort.

“All the students were safe, so they have safety measures to make sure people get out,” Rycyzya said.

High school senior Mary Kelly Cardillo, a Tampa resident, said she is used to hurricanes. Cardillo toured UM with a friend and her mother, Allison Wipfil.

“I did notice more breakage here,” Wipfli said. “It definitely wouldn’t affect a decision to come here, maybe somebody from up north though.”

The Miami Hurricane reached out to the Office of Undergraduate Admission for a comment on how hurricanes impact undergraduate applications. The office declined to comment.

The President’s 100 (P100), a selective group of students that give campus tours to prospective applicants, often receive questions about hurricanes. Senior Nicolle Mazzei, a P100 member, said she has been asked about the hurricane season in Miami and the university’s related policies.

“I would tell the parent or student not to be concerned because the university has a system already set in place for when a hurricane is approaching, and after experiencing Irma, the system definitely works,” Mazzei said.