Trinity Community Rallies to Help Puerto Rican Scholars, Students, Residents

Initiatives Under Way to Assist Those Affected by Devastating Hurricane Maria

La Voz Latina members Giana Moreno ’20 and Neve Rivera ’20 seek donations during Homecoming to help those in Puerto Rico and Mexico affected by recent natural disasters.
Hartford, Connecticut, November 14, 2017 – With Puerto Rico still struggling to recover from the devastation of September’s Hurricane Maria, which left millions there without electricity, running water, and shelter, the Trinity College community has started several initiatives with both short- and long-term goals for helping scholars, students, and the general population of the island.

Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Language and Culture Studies Anne Lambright said that Trinity’s Trinity College for Puerto Rico (TCforPR) fund, which currently has a balance of more than $10,000, in part from $5,000 donations from the offices of Dean of the Faculty Tim Cresswell and President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, will be used primarily to support scholars from Puerto Rico and to provide them with academic and lab opportunities to further their research and dissertations. Lambright said, “We have resources that could have a lot of impact by providing these short-term grants.”

Lambright said Trinity’s Center for Caribbean Studies, led by Professor of Fine Arts Pablo Delano and Professor of History and International Studies Dario Euraque, will be the organizing force for scholars who can use Trinity’s services.

Departments have been responding in multiple ways. “The Language and Culture Studies Department has decided to have its annual distinguished lecturer be Puerto Rican scholar, theater artist, and pedagogue Rosa Luisa Márquez,” Lambright said.

Associate Professor of Psychology Laura Holt ’00 plans to work with Blanca Ortiz-Torres, a psychology professor at the University of Puerto Rico, to create a shared project related to “Community Psychology.” According to Lambright, “Ortiz-Torres is using her graduate students to go around to different shelters [in Puerto Rico] to figure out needs for their emotional health, and as they are doing that, they are also gathering information for research.” Holt added that Trinity students may be able to support the research by assisting with data transcription and interpretation while learning about people’s experiences responding to this disaster.

Lambright said the challenges faced by academics in Puerto Rico are enormous. “A friend of mine who is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao did start teaching at the end of October, but initially he was teaching in a tent,” she said.

Angel B. Pérez, Trinity’s vice president for enrollment and student success, is leading relief efforts at Trinity for students enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico. Trinity plans to take in five students starting in the spring of 2018. So far, three students have applied, Pérez said. Trinity is among several mainland colleges to offer spots to students from the island.

Pérez has expertise helping universities and colleges in need. “When I was at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, I took in students from Tulane and Loyola for Hurricane Katrina, so I had experience in this area and was able to reach out to the president of the University of Puerto Rico and offer five spots at Trinity, all expenses paid,” Pérez said. The five students will be funded by Trinity’s financial aid resources.

Pérez said he wants to emphasize that this is not a transfer program. “When you have a crisis like this, the thing a university will worry about the most is losing its students,” he said. “It’s really more of a study-away program.”

The student body at Trinity also has shown dedication to helping Puerto Rico. La Voz Latina (LVL) has initiated numerous fundraisers to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. LVL President A’Kala P.G. Chaires ’18 said that the student organization has set up tables for two weeks at Mather Dining Hall, asking students and faculty directly for donations for both Puerto Rico and Mexico. “That was really successful,” she said. “We raised over $300 in the cashbox alone.”

LVL also is eager to support the five University of Puerto Rico students who will be joining Trinity in the spring. “We’ve discussed having a dinner to welcome them to campus, giving them a tour of the community that surrounds the school, and introducing them to the house, La Eracra, just so they know that it’s there for them to use if they need a place to go,” Chaires said.

LVL and faculty members, including Lecturer and Language Coordinator in Language and Culture Studies Aidalí Aponte-Avilés, hope to organize a service trip to Puerto Rico during the summer of 2018. “Some will be helping to rebuild, others will be working with the elderly or with children, and some will be conducting research to see what has evolved from the aftermath of the storm. Everyone will have their hands in something different,” Chaires said.

To fund the service trip, LVL’s community service chairs, Giana Moreno ’20 and Yisbell Marrero ’20, who also have spearheaded the organization of the trip, are “working to procure grants so that the cost of the trip is fully covered. We don’t want to exclude anyone because they can’t afford to go. We would like as many people as possible to participate,” Chaires said.

Lambright hopes students and faculty will continue to strengthen ties with scholars and students in Puerto Rico. “This is an issue that—while the lights will eventually come back on—is going to take years of rebuilding,” Lambright said. “The idea behind the TCforPR fund and getting scholars here is to build sustainable relationships that will support scholarly endeavors on the island or here and collaboration that will last for many years. We are really trying to not just solve an immediate problem but also to develop deep and mutually beneficial relationships that are sustainable and will have impact many years from now.”

Those wishing to make a tax-deductible contribution to the TCforPR fund may do so by calling Trinity’s 24-hour gift line at 1-800-771-6184 or by going to the Trinity College online donation form and following these instructions: Select “I want to choose designations”; in the pop-up window, check the “Other” box and press “Continue”; and in the “Other Designations” field, type “Trinity for Puerto Rico.”

Story and photos by Amanda Lafferty '21