Students Travel to Puerto Rico to Study the Effects of Hurricane Maria

The students spent a week working with local grassroots organizations and linking their microbiology and history coursework to firsthand experiences
June 13th, 2019 by 

Students and professors walk down a street in Puerto Rico
Students and professors walk around Urbe Apie in Caguas, Puerto Rico, where young activists have renovated abandoned buildings into shared community spaces. Photo by Angel Carrillo '19

It’s one thing to study the effects of a hurricane in a classroom setting, learning about the biology behind the devastation or the history of the country it hit. It’s a whole other ballgame to visit the place you’ve been talking about and see the effects firsthand. And that’s exactly what 11 students from the combined courses “Microbiology of a Hurricane” and “America’s Colony” did.

Madeline Vargas, professor of biology, and Rosa Carrasquillo, professor of history, took the group of students on a five-day study trip to the island of Puerto Rico. There, they ventured far beyond the usual sun and sea holiday to meet and work alongside grassroots organizations making an impact in recovery from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria.

“Instead of hearing about issues from a textbook or professor, we were hearing them from the people who were living through them,” says Katherine O’Malley ’21, a biology major with a concentration in Latin American, Latinx and Caribbean Studies. “Particularly, hearing the stories from people about how they made it through Hurricane Maria was much more powerful than anything I could have read. Everyone was so willing to share and talk to people they had just met about such difficult times in their lives.”

On the itinerary: Students toured a self-sustaining farm in the mountains, installed drainage in an urban community garden and helped plant coconuts on the beach as part of an organization called Coconut Revolution. They also met with young activists who’ve rehabbed formerly abandoned buildings in Caguas, a hard-hit city 20 minutes south of San Juan, and created a soup kitchen and other community spaces.

Students hit the ground well prepared to look at the complex intersection of health, politics and public policy given the way the coursework was structured. While they enrolled in one of the two classes, they also met jointly with their course counterparts six or so times throughout the semester.

Carrasquillo urged to her students, United States citizens, the importance of learning about Puerto Rico and its relationship with the United States. “It’s their history, too,” she says. “Most people do not want to know it or don’t care about knowing it, but it’s part of that history, right? No one is going to be proud of the history of colonialism, and so it’s easier to ignore it and to intentionally not to learn about it. For instance, in class, it was easy for students to think about solutions where Puerto Ricans were completely ignored. They were challenged not to ignore Puerto Ricans.”

Students found the mix challenging — and intriguing. “One way we found common ground was by reading articles surrounding diseases from older scientific journals,” says O’Malley.

“Students from microbiology read with a scientific lens and investigated the microbe and its properties, while history students were able to place the article into a broader context and see what was happening at the time it was published. It was really cool to see the different perspectives coming together when met together.”

Going from classroom to on-the-ground meetings brought the impact to life. “When we toured a university, we saw a graduate student giving a PowerPoint slide show on hurricane damage,” says Vargas. “She had to stop several times because she was very emotional, and she just kept saying, ‘I haven’t seen these pictures since it happened, I took them and I didn’t want to look at them.’ You don’t see that in the news.”

That mission to go beyond what’s reported drove the learning both before and during the trip.

“One of the things that became very evident for students, I hope, was that Maria was just another crisis, right?” Carrasquillo says. “The context of Maria’s devastation was the financial crisis of a public debt of over 74 billion dollars. This financial crisis is still more damaging to most Puerto Ricans today. As we walked around the University of Puerto Rico, for instance, we can see how all the libraries, the satellite libraries were closed — all of them. The bookstore was closed and then when we went through the tour of the town, we saw more of the economic devastation. It’s really surreal; it looked like a bomb went off.”

“You can’t teach that,” Vargas added.

And the impact carried back to campus. “Sometimes it is easy to compare myself to what the majority of other people have and what I don’t,” says Sienna Ablorh ’21, a history and psychology double major with a concentration in Africana Studies. “But, seeing that people went without electricity, clean water and gas for so long after Hurricane Maria reminded me that I too, am privileged.”

Ablorh was surprised at how much information about Hurricane Maria she didn’t know.

“People were willing to share to help educate me in a way where it was empowering and I didn’t feel bad for not knowing. There were misreported things following the hurricane, and some things weren’t even reported at all; so it was hard for an outsider to fully know everything. But, everyone who survived had a story to tell and a lesson to learn from.”

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Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
11/17/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/18/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
11/18/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
11/18/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
11/18/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
11/18/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/18/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
11/19/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


Student Integrity and Community Standards Open Forum
11/19/2019
Student Affairs
Hogan Center Ballroom & 328
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
11/19/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/19/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/20/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Sales Club Meetings
11/20/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Holy Cross Sales Group explore the sales and management industries of business and the...
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
11/20/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 406(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
11/20/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/20/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
11/21/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


HCSIF: TMT Sector Meeting
11/21/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


HC Student Investment Fund Meeting
11/21/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/21/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


MID Club
11/22/2019
Classics
FENW 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/22/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
11/23/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
11/24/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
11/25/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
11/25/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
11/25/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/25/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
11/26/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
11/26/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
11/26/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
11/27/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
11/28/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
12/2/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
12/2/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
12/2/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
12/2/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/2/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
12/3/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


CBL Dialogue Session
12/3/2019
J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
12/3/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/3/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Sales Club Meetings
12/4/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Holy Cross Sales Group explore the sales and management industries of business and the...
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
12/4/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
12/4/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 406(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Venezuelan theologian Rafael Luciani on Pope Francis's vision for Latin America
12/4/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
SMITH Rehm Lib
Rafael Luciani, a leading Latin American theologian and associate professor of the practice...
See More >>


English Honors Midwinter Celebration
12/4/2019
English
Hogan Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Senior thesis writers in the English Department will present works-in-progress...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/4/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
12/5/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


HCSIF: TMT Sector Meeting
12/5/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


HC Student Investment Fund Meeting
12/5/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 404
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/5/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


MID Club
12/6/2019
Classics
FENW 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/6/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
12/7/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Wind Ensemble Winter Concert
12/8/2019
Music
Hogan Center Ballroom & 328

See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
12/8/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Student Investment Fund
12/9/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 519
Members of HC SIF gain technical skills, experience and knowledge in the fields of...
See More >>


The Agency Club Meeting
12/9/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Agency educates students interested in learning about the fields of public relations,...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
12/9/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/9/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Ciocca Center: Finance Club Meetings
12/10/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 212
The Finance Club focuses on all facets of Wall Street, including sales and trading and investment...
See More >>


RA Mentoring Program
12/10/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Hogan Center 408(09)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/10/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Women in Business Club Meeting
12/11/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The annual Holy Cross Women in Business Conference (11/2/19) is expanding to create a year-round...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/11/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Advent Festival of Lessons & Carols
12/12/2019
Featured
St Joseph Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Advent Festival of Lessons & Carols Holy Cross College Choir...
See More >>


Real Estate Club Meetings
12/12/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
STEIN 216
The Real Estate Club exposes students to a broad range of topics including residential, commercial,...
See More >>


HCSIF: TMT Sector Meeting
12/12/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 405
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


HC Student Investment Fund Meeting
12/12/2019
Ciocca Center for Business
Hogan Center 404
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/12/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


MID Club
12/13/2019
Classics
FENW 420
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art Of Nepal
12/13/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal
12/14/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
OKANE Cantor Art Gallery
This exhibition, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art &...
See More >>


Philosophy Phriends Meeting
12/16/2019
Philosophy
SMITH 501
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
1/27/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
1/27/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
1/29/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 410
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Cabaret
1/30/2020
Featured
OKANE Fenwick Theatre
"Cabaret"Book by Joe MasteroffMusic by John KanderLyrics by Fred EbbThis celebrated...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/3/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/5/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/10/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
2/10/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/12/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 401
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 406(09)
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 402(03)
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Manuscripts Hack-A-Thon
2/15/2020
Classics
Hogan Center 320
A one-day workshop for secondary school teachers and students to learn how to read...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/17/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/19/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/24/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
2/24/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 2
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 3
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 4
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


National Eating Disorder Awareness Screening Day
2/25/2020
Counseling Center
Hogan Center Lobby Table 5
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
2/26/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
3/9/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Multicultural Peer Educators Meeting
3/9/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
3/11/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Night of the Living Museum Exhibit
3/23/2020
Office of Multicultural Education
Hogan Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl

See More >>


Lecture: Homeric Scholar Emily Wilson on War , Homecoming, Heroism, Truth
3/24/2020
McFarland Center for Religion
Kimball Hall Seelos Theater
Emily Wilson, the first woman to write an English translation of the Odyssey,...
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SMITHLABS 154
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SMITHLABS 155
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SMITHLABS SPILLANE
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Women in Science Conference
3/28/2020
Biology
SWORD Swords Atrium
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Classics Homerathon
4/20/2020
Classics
Hogan Center Outdoor Oval

See More >>


Holy Cross Concert Band Spring Concert
4/26/2020
Music
Hogan Center Ballroom & 328

See More >>

See All