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After the storm: Living in Tucson, Louisiana style

Photos by Josh Fields/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Undeclared freshman Hal Miller is back on the UA campus after his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Miller hopes to use the disaster as a new opportunity to succeed at the UA.
By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 23, 2005
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A day in the life of a Katrina transfer student

By the looks of his smiling face and calm demeanor, you wouldn't guess Justin Spicer began his semester more than 1,400 miles and one enormous natural disaster away.

But the biology sophomore and former Xavier University of Louisiana student said despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the stress of having to restart the semester at a different school, he is determined to continue his education uninterrupted.

"I got to Tucson on the 6th and had a full schedule of classes that same day," Spicer said. "The teachers were all willing to work with me and have been good about taking my situation into consideration."

The transition between schools left Spicer one major short and with a radically different schedule from the one he had at Xavier.

"At Xavier I was a biology and pre-med double major, but they handle pre-med differently out here and I am not in the program yet," Spicer said. "My classes are totally different. I went from molecular biology and other science courses to English classes like Eroticism and Love in the Middle Ages."

Despite the changes, Spicer said, he is not worried about the transition negatively affecting his grade point average.

"If anything, I think my grades will improve this semester," Spicer said. "The classes I have here this semester are much easier than what I was taking at Xavier."

Since getting settled in his dorm room at Posada San Pedro Residence Hall, Spicer spends his days studying, working out and playing video games with his roommate. He said he also would like to get involved with local community services, tutoring school children like he did in Louisiana.

Spicer's hobbies also include producing hip-hop artists, something he has been unable to work on since his computer has not yet made it to Arizona.

"I lost a lot in my dorm room there - a sofa, mattress, about five G's worth of clothes - but I did escape with what was most important: my car and my computer," Spicer said.

He also works 30 hours a week at Radio Shack, a job he was able to transfer from Louisiana after the storm, and is entertaining ideas of trying out for the football team next semester. Spicer said he has quickly developed an affinity for the campus and the sense of community and school spirit, something he did not find on the small Xavier campus.

"I don't know if it's that there's more students or more money, but this place has a whole lot that Xavier never had," Spicer said. "The Rec Center is great; I'm in there every other day working out. And that stadium and McKale Center ... Xavier didn't have anything like that."

Regardless of the new opportunities UA holds for him, Spicer said, there is still a lot about New Orleans that he misses.

"The food, the jazz culture, the lovely ladies; I miss everything about New Orleans," Spicer said.

Getting used to Tucson

Biology sophomore Justin Spicer catches up on his classwork in his room at Posada San Pedro Residence Hall. Spicer lost many of his personal belongings at his former school, Xavier University of Louisiana, including $5,000 worth of clothes.

David Levkowitz arrived in Tucson just before Labor Day, fleeing the chaos of Hurricane Katrina and his classes and the University of New Orleans for the safety of his family in Tucson.

Now, he is continuing his anthropology degree at the UA, although he said it is too early to tell whether he will return to New Orleans for his degree or not.

"It really depends on how long it takes the school to recover and how well I end up doing here," Levkowitz said. "Going back may not be an option."

Levkowitz said his family in Louisiana was lucky. His parents returned to their home 30 miles outside of New Orleans on Saturday to find it had escaped serious flooding and suffered only minor damage from wind and fallen trees. Levkowitz has been staying with his grandmother since his arrival. His father graduated from the UA, and though he has visited Tucson many times in his youth, he is finding some things difficult to get used to.

"It's really hot and dry. I find I have to drink a lot more water to get through the day," Levkowitz said.

The soft-spoken junior has been busy since his arrival at the UA, catching up on his class work as well as helping out at his uncle's lighting store on the weekends.

"I haven't had much time to check out the campus since I got here," Levkowitz said. "Once I'm on top of my reading, I hope to explore more."

He said he hopes to find others on campus that enjoy computer and role-playing games and perhaps form a gaming group on campus.

Levkowitz said he likes the UA campus and the strong sense of community he has found here.

But there is still a lot about the Big Easy that he misses.

"I know New Orleans so much better. I feel like a stranger here," he said. "It's harder to find places and to meet people."

Levkowitz has thrown himself into his schoolwork since his arrival, spending most of his free hours doing schoolwork at the Manuel T. Pacheco Integrated Learning Center. He said he is confident his grades will not be affected by the midsemester transition, despite an entirely new course load from the schedule he began with at UNO.

"The administration was able to get me into classes that count towards my degree, but they're not what I had at UNO," Levkowitz said. "The teachers have been very understanding about everything, but I still have a lot to make up."

Hurricane gives troubled student second chance

Anthropology junior David Levkowitz takes notes during his Biology 181 class in the Social Sciences building. Levkowitz has spent most of his time working on schoolwork, and is still trying to adjust to Tucson.

When Hal Miller finally arrived at his home in New Orleans at the end of the summer, he thought his luck couldn't get any worse.

Miller took a leave of absence from the UA following a disappointing first year. His grades were poor because of problems with depression and insomnia, and dozens of tickets had left him unable to park on campus.

While driving across Texas he fell asleep at the wheel, overcorrecting his car on a highway slick with rain and careening into a stand of trees.

"I was lucky to get away from that with only a few small injuries," Miller said. "The next day I looked at the car and just couldn't believe I had survived it."

But things seemed to be looking up as Miller finally arrived home and registered for classes at UNO.

"I was happy to be back home with my little brother and my pet cockatiel Benji," Miller said.

But two weeks later his life was turned upside down. His house was wrecked, his family was once again fragmented and Miller was back at the UA.

"My parents are in Lafayette, and my brother's going to school in Houston now," Miller said. "Benji was left in New Orleans, and he actually survived the storm, but he escaped from his cage when my parents went back to salvage what was left of the house."

Miller's home was flooded up to the second story, destroying any hopes of him returning in the near future.

"I could go back but there's no place to go to," Miller said. "Nothing will ever be the same."

Now the undeclared freshman says he has been given a second chance to excel at the UA, but that things are more difficult than last semester.

"I don't have my car anymore, so it's hard to get around," Miller said. "My parents used to call me every day, now I can't even call them. I just get a busy signal."

Since his return, Miller has been trying to make sense of what has happened to his home, poring over newspaper clippings collected since he arrived in Tucson. Miller is also looking for job to occupy his time.

"A job would keep me on task," he said.

But Miller has been having trouble finding work in Arizona because his Social Security card and birth certificate were lost in the hurricane.

But despite his hardships, Miller is optimistic about his second crack at the UA.

"This experience has given me a second chance," Miller said. "I wanted to come back, because I would like to leave this school on good terms. But I still want to go home."

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