Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Puerto Rico tragedy affects PSUC student

Three weeks ago, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, but the storm’s effects have surged as far as Plattsburgh and beyond.

Though only one PSUC, student, who could not be reached for comment, is listed as having a home address in Puerto Rico, a number of students struggle to locate and help family members who live on the island.

PSUC junior Victoria Torres has a set of grandparents, two uncles and cousins all trying to survive “unbearable” conditions.

“We’re getting phone calls from them every couple days because they’re starving,” Torres said. “There is no food. There is no water.”

Torres said her uncles Che and Jose Martinez have taken in Che’s daughter Evelyn after her home was destroyed in the storm. Torres is able to keep in contact with her cousin, the only one of the three with cell service.

According to official data, less than 33 percent of the island’s cell towers have been restored, and it’s expected to take months to get the power grid back up, Reuters reported.

Torres’ family has sent money and supplies to relatives, but the problem only expands as resources take weeks to reach the island and longer to reach their destinations.

“My grandparents, on the other side of the island, call us just to cry,” Torres said.

Olga Torres, 83, and Rafael Torres, 85, lost an entire beach house and are stuck inside their residential home.

Her grandfather makes his living as a crab fisherman, but the storm claimed his boat.

“I don’t know how they’re doing it,” Torres said.

Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman says the school, and the SUNY system, are doing their best to express care and concern for those affected students.
“For those that identify themselves, people are actively touching base with them, or making referrals to our counseling center,” Hartman said.

In an effort to provide some relief to families from the island, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked both SUNY and CUNY to consider giving students from Puerto Rico or US Virgin Islands in-state tuition rates.

On Oct. 6, SUNY’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution to do so.

Still unknown whether these students will receive some refund for the fall semester, they will catch the financial break, at minimum, for the spring semester.
“There was a message out to faculty and staff to keep in mind the emotional toll over these events,” Hartman said.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s Hispanic/Latino community accounted for about nine percent of the overall population, with 570 students identifying as such in fall 2016 and is the school’s second largest ethnic group.

Still Torres, who’s wrote the Student Association several times about feeling under-represented by her university, doesn’t feel enough is being done to serve her community.

“I’ve had one professor who went out of her way to make me, and others, feel OK,” Torres said. She was her only professor to mention the string of recent major hurricanes in any of her classes.

Torres previously expressed her frustration with the Student Association, which is responsible for the display of several countries’ flags in the Angell College Center. However, since her enrollment in 2015, she’s noticed Puerto Rico’s flag has remained eerily absent.

Torres plans to keep writing the organization.

If that doesn’t work, she’ll hang one herself.

Email Rebecca Natale at news@cardinalpointsonline.com

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