We can try to avoid making choices by doing nothing, but even that is a decision.
– Gary Collins
Volume 73 | Issue 6
November 2005

Union Spotlight: Jacob L. Reddix Campus Union at Jackson State University

Jackson State University
Jacob L. Reddix Campus Union

During the normal school year, students at Jackson State University, in Jackson, Miss., visit the Jacob L. Reddix Campus Union for a variety of services. They shop at the campus bookstore, get haircuts at the barber and beauty shops inside. They eat at the campus grille housed in the four-story building, and take money out of its three ATM machines. But when winds and rain from Hurricane Katrina shut down power to the campus for three days, students relied on the union to provide more vital needs—shelter, food, and companionship.

About 250 female students who were unable to evacuate the campus left their residence halls to stay in the brick college union, said Verlesser Williams, assistant to the union director. Male students in the same situation were housed in the library. Both groups stayed until power was restored to the campus. Residence life and union staff, as well as campus administrators, stayed with them.

“We were there the entire time,” said Williams, “to support the students, and monitor the safety of students, and just to be there for them.” Counselors also were on site.

Students most affected included first-year students and those with family in New Orleans. “For some students, especially freshmen, who were away from home, it was a little bit scary,” said Williams. Although the campus was not in the direct path of the hurricane, “the wind was so high, and the rain was so heavy.”Staff kept students occupied with games and activities, and used large generators for lighting and other essentials. Since electricity was limited, students and staff did not see or hear a news report until several days after the hurricane hit, and were unaware of the extent of the storm’s damage.

“Students who had family members in areas affected, and those students from New Orleans were probably really worried about home,” said Williams. “A lot of students didn’t know what was happening there once the power went out.”

Damage to the JSU campus and union building was minor. Problems were limited to wind and rain damage. The union building had some water leaks, said Williams, but “other than that, it held up pretty good.”

Closed for two weeks immediately following the storm, things have now returned to normal at JSU. Classes resumed Sept. 12, and homecoming went off as planned. Some students are devoting their time to helping hurricane victims. Valerie Shelby, director of community service and the service learning center at JSU, said many have volunteered with local agencies, doing things like sorting donations of clothes and supplies.

However, many students who would normally volunteer are instead focusing on their own situations, struggling to help friends and family members closer to the Gulf Coast who lost their homes or livelihoods. “Some of our students are trying to get reestablished themselves,” said Shelby. “We have a graduate student, and his family is from New Orleans. They had 13 people in a two-room apartment,” after the hurricane, she said. “They are just now finding housing for them.”

In addition to students’ ongoing short-term volunteer assignments, Shelby said her office is planning a more intensive aid projects during holiday and spring breaks.

Urban, public, four-year, historically black university

BUILT: 1968