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Katherine Reeves ’10 writes about her experience working with Lower Ninth Ward residents

Katie Reeves ’10 (Colorado Springs, Colo.) is a member of Lafayette’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project team. The group is working with residents and institutions in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans to help with the district’s redevelopment, and the initiative is serving as a pilot program for Imagining America, a national consortium of colleges and universities committed to public scholarship. President Bill Clinton recognized EEGLP’s efforts at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference held in New Orleans.

  • EEGLP in New Orleans
  • Pres. Clinton Highlights EEGLP

Reeves writes:

Hurricane Katrina left many displaced, but determined, residents in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward community. As they continually strive to re-brand their community into a “green” neighborhood and to repopulate the area, the Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project aims to facilitate this ambition. For me as a student, this project provides a great opportunity to apply my theoretical knowledge to a real-life situation.

In March, I traveled to New Orleans for the Clinton Global Initiative Conference and had the privilege of exploring the Lower Ninth Ward with two other peers and my advisor. When I visited four months later, I was amazed by the amount of progress the community had made towards repopulating their community. They had formed farmers’ markets and community gardens, and the amount of blighted and abandoned homes had significantly decreased. Although this progress is extremely positive and bodes well for the residents, the community lacks an identity and anchors, which will stabilize the area for sustainable repopulation.

Prior to traveling, we spent months conducting research, trying to understand the history and background of New Orleans and how the hurricane changed the dynamics of the Lower Ninth Ward community. Despite all of our research, I was shocked by how little we understood the community’s deep political, social, racial, and religious layers.

After recognizing this, we spent days interviewing and speaking with residents, community leaders, and government officials. Conducting this “on the ground research” allowed us to understand the complex inter-workings of the district and aided our understanding of how to best facilitate residents’ ambitions without being prescriptive. Through this research, I realized that sustainable economic development must be bottom-up, not top-down. Without this collaborative, reiterative process, we risk creating a development under a framework that lacks sustainability.

Coming from Colorado, I was continually challenged to view the world through the lens of someone living in different circumstances than myself. It was not only a challenge to understand the experiences of a Lower Ninth Ward resident, but also to see through the lenses of my international peer researchers. Each researcher had different experiences, skills, and abilities, which allowed different dimensions of the community to surface. It was difficult at times to see their unique points of view, but the challenge forced me to learn outside the bounds of my personal comfort.

I learned first-hand about author Martha Nussbaum’s “narrative imagination” which requires the ability “to examine ourselves, see ourselves not as citizens but as human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern.” I found myself empathizing with the residents on a very personal level, and I now have a new sensitivity and empathy towards others through this experience.

  • Economics and Business
  • Service Learning
Categorized in: Academic News, Diversity, EEGLP, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students
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