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By Laura Ewald

In late August, Anthony Coppola was settling into his second year at Tulane Law School—he had a class list, textbooks, three new roommates, and plans to visit a friend’s beach house in Florida for the weekend. He made it to Florida, but under vastly different circumstances; as Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast, Coppola was among thousands whose plans and lives changed in a matter of days.

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs David Johnson discusses class schedules with displaced students from New Orleans during a special orientation session.

Claire Duggan

Coppola and 13 other students from Tulane and Loyola School of Law found new homes at GW Law in September in the wake of the disaster. Faculty and staff worked with the Student Bar Association to help the visitors adjust.

“The faculty is pleased that the Law School is in the position to take in students from New Orleans,” says Renee DeVigne, associate dean for student affairs. “They are happy to be here and grateful for the support, and we have benefited from their presence in our classrooms.”

The new students were welcomed with a breakfast and orientation session Sept. 9. Faculty members gave students course overviews, registration advice, and one-on-one mentoring sessions. Textbook publishers including Aspen, Foundation Press, Thompson-West, and Lexis provided books free of charge to the students, who were also given lockers, laptop computers, mailboxes, and other supplies. The Folger Shakespeare Library donated tickets to Much Ado About Nothing as a chance for the students to experience Washington culture. Those who did not have friends or relatives in the Washington area were given assistance with finding housing and furnishings.

“The support I’ve received has made it a lot easier for me to focus in on my studies,” says Coppola, who is temporarily living with his parents in Vienna, Va. “I’m looking forward to returning to Tulane, but everyone at the Law School has made me feel very welcome here. I’m as settled as I can be under the circumstances.”

The Student Bar Association organized numerous fundraisers and events, from poker tournaments to clothing drives. Students volunteered temporary housing. Through activities such as a baseball outing, they also sought to help the displaced students enjoy social activities with their new peers.

“We realized this wasn’t a one-week deal, so we have focused our efforts on making this a semester-long project to raise money and support,” SBA President Eric Koester says. “I think we’ve realized that this has been a tragedy, but even miles away, we can make an impact, and hopefully we will continue to do so.”

Associate Dean for Student Affairs Renee DeVigne (left) advises visiting 3L Stephanie Bridges, who hopes to return to Loyola School of Law in the spring.

Claire Duggan

The SBA is raising $75,000 for Operation Home Delivery through Habitat for Humanity. With that donation, they will either build a home in Washington to be framed and shipped to the Gulf Coast region or send students to the area to build a home during spring break.

The displaced law students have also received aid from other departments within the University: an employee in GW’s Athletics Department helped 3L Stephanie Bridges and her family by offering them one side of a duplex in Falls Church, Va., and outfitting the home with furniture, bedding, and kitchenware. The duplex is owned by the employee’s brother, who is currently working as a contractor in Iraq.

Bridges and her family evacuated New Orleans just a few hours before Katrina hit the coast, traveling to Atlanta, where family members were waiting. At her husband’s suggestion, Bridges decided to continue her legal education and identified GW Law as a possibility. They arrived in Washington just before the deadline for displaced student enrollment.

Bridges says she and her husband thought it was important for her to continue her education in order to set an example of perseverance and continuity for their children. She is grateful for the support she’s received from GW Law and looks forward to the possibility of returning home for the spring semester—though she says the future still seems unclear. “We are taking things one day at a time.”