We must learn from tragedies

by Betty Rosa

On Board Online • September 18, 2017

Betty Rosa
Regents Chancellor

I write this column on Sunday, Sept. 10, while images of Hurricane Irma's destructive path whirl on my television screen. As I write, the storm just made landfall on Florida's west coast. The expected storm surge has yet to hit, and I pray for everyone in harm's way. This newest destruction comes as the good people of Texas and Louisiana are just beginning to put their lives back together following Harvey's devastation last week.

Appropriately, the nation's attention is focused on helping the victims of Harvey and Irma in whatever ways we can. At the same time, however, it feels like storms of another kind have pummeled our great country. Last month, the nation witnessed the death of a peaceful protestor. We were also stunned by the reluctance of the president to speak out forcefully against the racists, bigots and anti-Semites who had gathered, with ill intent, that tragic day in Charlottesville.

Then the president announced his intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, immediately placing in limbo the lives of some 800,000 human beings. This is what it looks like when whole groups are pitted against another, when some are scapegoated and held out as part of the problem - when the truth is the complete opposite.

DACA participants, called Dreamers, are Americans in every way except for their immigration status. They want nothing more than to continue doing what they have already been doing - contributing as productive, hard-working, taxpaying members of our communities.

Florida and Texas are home to many of the country's DACA recipients (only California has more Dreamers than Texas). And now they must try to rebuild their lives, torn apart not only by a devastating storm, but also by a devastating executive action that leaves them uncertain as to whether they can continue to live in America - the only home so many of them have ever known. My heart aches.

During the media coverage of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I have heard some good news. Repeatedly, newscasters have mentioned how much the experts have learned since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005. The science that enables meteorologists to accurately predict the size, strength and track of storms has improved dramatically over the years. We have also learned how to better prepare for these storms and their aftermath.

Also, federal, state and local governments have gotten better at communicating and coordinating their efforts. They train together and respond together. And in post-Andrew Florida, building codes now require structures to be built to better withstand powerful storms.

We must learn from tragedies. That is how societies and civilizations advance. We survive, then we get better.

So, as school begins this year, what lessons can be learned? I hope that we will all learn from the president's decision to end the DACA program. I hope it will teach us a lesson in civics and show us how true leaders respond to a crisis, as Americans of all stripes demand that Congress act to restore the rights of Dreamers. We need to re-establish the ideals of tolerance and inclusiveness that have been at the very core of our nation since its founding.

Katrina taught us how to build stronger levees. But it taught us something else, too. Katrina showed us, in stunningly tragic ways, what happens when we treat an entire group of people differently, when we ignore the needs of an entire segment of our population. More than 1,800 people in Louisiana died because their lives were not valued in the same way as others' lives. As a society, we cannot allow that to ever happen again. That is a lesson we must all learn.


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