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CCU Atheneum: Salma Oubkkou excitedly greeting friends upon arrival back to campus.
Salma Oubkkou excitedly greeting friends upon arrival back to campus.

University evacuation to Clemson leaves lasting impact on faculty, staff and students

by Melanie Smith
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On Sept. 14, Hurricane Florence made landfall, impacting the Grand Strand area with high winds and excessive rain, subsequently flooding Conway. The storm disrupted the normal fall semester schedule and negatively impacted the lives and homes of dozens of the CCU community. But, Florence had an unexpectedly positive effect on a handful of CCU employees, including faculty member and graduate student Salma Oubkkou.

Oubkkou was one of the handful of faculty and staff members who evacuated with CCU students to Clemson University. The faculty and staff members accompanied more than 50 students who evacuated with University Housing on Sept. 11, traveling via bus about four hours to Greenville, S.C.

Clemson and CCU have a relationship when it comes to hurricane evacuations. Clemson housed a group of CCU students two years ago during Hurricane Matthew in Clemson House, an old residence hall that was scheduled for demolition. Fast forward to this year, when Clemson had another empty residence hall waiting for the wrecking ball. This time around, the residence hall was named Johnstone Hall, built in 1954 (the same year CCU was founded).

While in Johnstone Hall, students, faculty and staff created a new normal for the nearly three-week stay. While faculty and staff continued to work remotely, students were granted access to laundry services, three meals a day in the dining halls and memberships to the campus recreation center. For the University Housing staff who evacuated, including David Betsch, director of resident success, tasks included creating programs or integrating CCU students into existing programs of Clemson’s housing office. Students also spent time getting caught up on school work, as well as attending a football game at the stadium known as “Death Valley.”

Mayor of Clemson

April Betsch, the director of CHANT411, traveled with husband David to work alongside him and keep the family together during the storm. With experience working in housing at the University of South Florida, April is accustomed to the responsibility of evacuating with students in emergency situations. Having evacuated for Hurricane Matthew, the Betsches had been through this experience not too long ago. The only difference for them this time was bringing along Cooper, their 16-month-old son, who created a positive experience for students and faculty.

Cooper went from giving high-fives to students to being greeted by them on a daily basis, welcomed by phrases like, “What’s up, Coop?” As the evacuation period lengthened, Clemson students and staff started to recognize him as well. He was the “mayor of Clemson” according to April, smiling, waving and high-fiving everyone he saw, bringing positivity and laughter to a stressful situation.

The trip left a lasting impact on Cooper as well as the Chanticleers he interacted with. Oubkkou, a Fulbright scholar from Morocco, adored Cooper, and expressed her admiration for his ability to light up a room by gifting him a stuffed panda bear nearly as big as he is. April said the panda is now Cooper’s new best friend.

“Cooper has a lot of stuffed animals at home, and I think he’s just not at an age to care. But with panda bear, he does [care],” April said. “Even when we drove home, he held onto it for the entire drive.”

International affair

Hurricane Florence was Oubkkou's first hurricane experience. She is studying school principal and educational leadership while teaching Arabic. Oubkkou believes evacuating with younger students was beneficial for them, as they were able to get to know a faculty member.

“They were inquiring about my teaching experience, my students and syllabus. They were also so enthusiastic to know about Morocco,” Oubkkou said. “I shared with them pictures of my family, ceremonies, beautiful destinations and recipes. I taught some how to write their names and say basic statements in Arabic.”

Simultaneously, the interactions Oubkkou shared with the students allowed her to gain perspective on them as well. Through the stories and experiences she heard, she was able to gain knowledge on how to interact with students at an American university. Overall, she believes the faculty/staff/student journey was a give and take experience.

In addition, the trip allowed Oubkkou to celebrate cultural diversity, giving the experience a special twist. The students who evacuated were from all over, ranging from Saudi Arabia, China and Japan to South America, North America and Taiwan. Through socializing and enjoying the “little things” on a daily basis, Oubkkou felt that difference was celebrated all around.

“We subverted borders and broke the walls of difference to become one,” Oubkkou said. “The evacuation was a platform for eliminating stereotypes and prejudices, and having the chance to voice out and show to the real world the real me away from media and misconceptions.”

Evacuating with the University allowed Oubkkou to experience what it truly means to “feel the teal.” Reflecting on the trip, Oubkkou says she feels proud to be a Chanticleer.

A new normal

While students, faculty and staff members attempted to transfer their normal routines to Clemson, homesickness was still evident. April recalls students trying to stay busy, whether going to the gym or getting caught up on class work, in order to override feelings of missing home.

“I was super impressed with them [students] being able to stay focused,” April said. “… but they were definitely really homesick and wanting to come back to Coastal.”

Something that helped students, faculty and staff feel the sense of “home” was doing things together as a CCU family. Staff members were with the students through the whole experience, eating in the dining halls and doing everything with them. While this was also a change of pace for staff, April said accompanying students is a crucial part of working at a university.

“It doesn’t faze us, it’s a part of it,” April said. “We’re happy to do what we’re able to do in order to take care of our students.”

Oubkkou paid tribute to the staff members who provided support and strength to everyone throughout the entirety of the experience.

“We applauded them at the end and thanked them,” Oubkkou said. “The staff members made us proud to be part of Teal Nation.”


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