skreed

Skirting the Ceiling: Hope in the Aftermath of Harvey

To celebrate the end of the first week of school and the start of 2L year, Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and wreaked widespread havoc on a city that houses a population similar to that of the entire state of Delaware.

As a citizen of Houston, I saw firsthand the damage my childhood neighborhood took from a tornado and subsequent flooding that drove thousands from their homes. I watched on the news as flooding caused evacuations, explosions, power outages, and contamination of drinking water due to chemical plant and water treatment plants’ inundation. Each and every day, we woke up news of events like this and to the fact that it was still raining.

Each storm survivor has a unique story to tell, and as a law student at the University of Houston, I had my own set of concerns.

When Tropical storm Allison hit in the early 2000s, floodwater destroyed huge portions of the library. As the value of a law school’s library is factored into a school’s national ranking, the loss reflected in the slide in rankings the following year. As the rain continued to fall, we wondered if Harvey could take a toll not just on the present and the future of our city but on our future careers.

Speaking of our future careers, Harvey hit Houston and the law school, in the middle of the OCI process. As Harvey strengthened in the Gulf, some of my classmates had already gone to callback interviews and received offers, while others were anticipating them the following week. As we watched the storm roll through Rockport and Corpus Christi, law students furiously emailed back and forth with recruiters to reschedule interviews that would be rescheduled yet again once we realized the whole city would be shut down for a week.

When Harvey moved in-land, we “returned to reality.” Although, to be honest, I don’t know what’s more real than experiencing a natural disaster lay waste to your homes and ransack your sense of safety and normalcy. With that return came a second start to the semester and the resumption of the OCI process.

Can you imagine going to a class where half of the people are missing due to flooded freeways, cars, and houses? I’ve had a professor inquire, “For those who haven’t done the reading, did you not do so due to the need to deal with storm damage, the loss of your textbook due to ‘drowning,’ or the delayed arrival of your textbook due to the fact all non-emergent shipments were cancelled?”

Can you imagine going to a callback interview after having to evacuate your home, stay in a pop-up disaster relief shelter, and return to your house only to begin demolition yourself? Forget the tried-and-true “Tell me about yourself,” the new opening line for the callback interview is, “So how did you make out in the storm?”

How are any of us supposed to answer these questions?

For the better part of a year, I’ve written about gender-issues that divide people. The humanitarian response to Hurricane Harvey is overwhelming. We’ve received an incredible outpouring of monetary support from across the state and the nation. I’ve observed law students coming together to clean out each other’s family homes and BigLaw attorneys meeting with the newly-homeless to give legal advice about renter’s rights for free. We truly witnessed people coming together for the greater good.

Yet, even in times of great unity, some walls still stand. While volunteering for a legal aid service at a disaster relief center, I watched multiple storm survivors openly and explicitly refuse to speak with an attorney that is an expert disaster relief law because she is a woman. These survivors stood in mismatched, freshly donated clothes and held tightly to their gender-biases despite everything they owned being swept away by the flooding. They denied offers for advice and assistance from the female attorney multiple times. In response, the female disaster law attorney at first sat there awkwardly, then smiled and invited them to wait as long as they'd like for the male attorney, before moving on to the FEMA registration line to offer her desperately needed services to others in need. The storm survivors who insisted on speaking with a male attorney waited for the better part of an hour and eventually spoke to him about their concerns. Afterwards, they expressed their extreme gratitude for his expertise and thanked him for his generosity. 

Just like the city of Houston can, and will, recover, we as a society can rise up and move forward. Destroying gender-bias and confronting gender-issues is challenging, but I’ve seen the strength, in the people, in the community. It can be done, and I am now more confident than ever that it will be done.

1 Comments

alexislamb

Great read! My family just survived a direct hit by Irma on Marco Island. Thank you so much for sharing, and share this everywhere!

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

Newsletter

Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe