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Published: Friday, 12/2/2005

BGSU conference targets range of Katrina's effects

BOWLING GREEN - A Bowling Green State University conference will delve into the roles poverty, race, and class played before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.

Sponsored by the BGSU Center for Family and Demographic Research and the Department of Sociology, it will run from noon to 2 p.m. today in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union.

Laura Sanchez, assistant director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research, said three educators who taught and lived in New Orleans will talk about their experiences fleeing the hurricane as well as their views and research into problems that have plagued the city after the storm.

The panelists include Joel Devine, chairman of the department of sociology at Tulane University; James Elliott, a professor in the same department, and Petrice Sams-Abiodun, associate director of the Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy at Loyola University.

"This is the worst natural disaster in this country's history and it's going to change culture," said Ms. Sanchez, who taught at Tulane for six years until 2001, when she moved to Bowling Green.

"It's something that should be talked about every day. The people of New Orleans are spread all across the country, and their lives changed without a moment's notice."

Ms. Sanchez said the biggest change in New Orleans has been its racial composition. African-Americans made up the majority of the population before the hurricane and played a big part in its rich heritage. She said most of New Orleans' population is now white and could change its cultural and political landscape.

She said the three panelists, who all have done work on poverty, class, and race in New Orleans, will be able to provide unusual insights into what is happening in the city.

Ms. Sanchez said since they also are area evacuees, they will able to tell personal stories of leaving the city and talk about what it means on a level beyond statistics and political decisions.

Gary Lee, chairman of BGSU's sociology department, said the hurricane drove home larger issues about poverty, race, and class, but public officials and experts must first work on the specific problems exposed by Hurricane Katrina.

"We don't have these issues sorted out yet," Mr. Lee said. "I don't think the public and my profession will ever reach a clear consensus on it. But I think it made visible the extreme poverty people live in and how it hinders them."



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