Poets help Puerto Rico recover after Hurricane Maria

Autumn Dixon
Assist. News Editor

The Hurricane Relief Committee was established by Philosophy Department and Whittier Scholars Program Coordinator Administrative Assistant Joanna Diaz and Associate Dean of Students Josh Hartman at the beginning of the semester. The initial Student-L email announcing the Committee’s mission stated, “We thought that, since many folks may already be planning their own relief efforts, we can try to combine and/or work together to enhance our collective ability to support our neighbors who are affected by the storm.”  

Hurricane Maria hit land in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, destoying homes and endangering the lives of millions who live there. Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, officially claimed a total of 97 lives, with death tolls still rising and hundreds of others missing. This hits close to home for many at Whittier College, who are now looking to help those affected through the Hurricane Relief Committee.

Diaz says the Hurricane Relief Committee is trying to help Puerto Rico by providing an educational platform for students to learn about Puerto Rico’s current situation, as well as the politics that forced the island into the situation. The Committee is encouraging the community to become active advocates for policies that will help the island recover. Diaz encouraged students to get involved in the Hurricane Relief Committee. “It will take the entire Whittier College community coming together to make a meaningful impact for the people of Puerto Rico,” said Diaz.

The Jones Act, or the Merchant Marines Act of 1920, has proven to be an issue in other countries aiding Puerto Rico. This law states that the island of Puerto Rico can only receive goods from the United States with American personnel overlooking the transaction. Because of this, other countries are being charged a high tariff whenthey ship goods to aid Puerto Rico, resulting in less countries sending resources — such as food and water—that could save the lives of those affected.

Hurricane Relief Committee Representative third-year Cristian Alcantara says the committee is different in the sense that it places a larger emphasis on smaller cities that have been overlooked by other fundraisers. “Especially in smaller cities, it’s harder to focus on products like food and water because there are no places to buy them,” said Alcantara. 

Although the hurricane hit the island well over a month ago, the committee believes it is important to keep pushing for change because of the island’s desperate state. Most of the island has been without power for over a month, with no promise of it returning soon. In addition to the lack of electricity, the territory is also facing a water crisis. Some homes are left without running water, and those who do have running water say it is unsafe to use. Doctors have been treating symptoms related to unclean water, which has claimed two lives. 

Some potential projects for the Committee include conducting a variety of fundraisers on and off campus, as well as working to provide an alternative study trip where students can help the island first hand. “Every individual has something they can offer,” said Diaz, “be it time, energy, knowledge, funding, or any other resource that we can share with the people of Puerto Rico.” 

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There are issues with shipping items to Puerto Rico, so the best and easiest way for students to help is by directly funding the committee until a reliable method of shipping necessary goods is found. The easiest and most efficient way for students to help the committee is by attending weekly committee meetings, held Tuesdays at 5 p.m. at the Dean of Students office. There, students can voice their opinions on the best ways to spread awareness and contribute to the relief. Students are also encouraged to attend an educational event with both staff and student speakers on the matter. Assistant Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine will be speaking at the event about “a little bit of background about the political relationship  between the United States and Puerto Rico.” She hopes to provide context for the situation “in the ongoing conversations between Puerto Rico and the U.S. about sovereignty.” The event will be on  Nov. 27 in Villalobos Hall from 11a.m.—2 p.m.