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In this week’s episode of The Bruno Brief, we hear from students studying remotely in Texas about their situations on the ground in light of the winter storm which hit the state hard two weeks ago. We talk to senior staff writer Liza Mullett ’22, who spoke to three students who grappled with online school while, in some cases, lacking electricity, heat and running water.



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Ben Glickman 

I'm Ben Glickman, and you're listening to The Bruno Brief from The Brown Daily Herald and WBRU. Each week, we take you inside one of The Brown Daily Herald’s top stories. 

Brown students living in Texas were hit hard by the winter storm two weeks ago that caused a power grid failure and left homes across the state without heat, running water or electricity. We're joined by senior staff writer Liza Mullett, who reported on how remote students are navigating the aftermath of the crisis in Texas. Liza, thanks for being with us 

Liza Mullett 

Thanks so much for having me

Ben Glickman 

I'm sure many of our listeners have already read a lot of the news about the storm in Texas. But you spoke directly with some Brown students about their experiences during the storm. There are 287 students from Texas enrolled at Brown, and obviously not all of them are in Texas right now, but some of them were studying remotely from their home state when the storm hit. Did you get a sense of what the general feeling was among the students in Texas.

Liza Mullett 

So I spoke to three students who are from Texas and studying remotely from there. And the general consensus was a feeling of chaos and uncertainty during the storm. The three students I spoke to all lost power, some lost water, and academics were pushed to the back burner. And the focus is just on dealing with the unprecedented cold, the power outages and all the chaos that came with it.

Ben Glickman 

Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like on the ground for these students?

Liza Mullett 

So on the ground, a lot of students experienced everything from food shortages in their own homes to really long gas station lines. I spoke to Giovanna Milano, who is from McAllen, Texas, and that is a city close to the border with Mexico in southern Texas — really not used to this type of cold. 

Giovanna Milano 

Us Texans aren't prepared for this weather that usually doesn't get below, you know, 50, especially where I'm from. So our power went out at about 1 p.m. on Monday, and I was in the middle of a Zoom meeting and it cut me off. I was like, oh, it’s okay, I'll be back, whatever. And it didn't come back. We didn't have power for about five days. Our grocery stores were emptied, even fast food restaurants and stuff had to close early because they didn't have any more food. People were really panicking. Gas stations — my dad would wake up at five in the morning to go fill up the car with gas. And I remember Wednesday, he was like, yeah, there's no more gas. It was just scary to be in McAllen while this is all happening, especially because we didn't know when the power was gonna come back on. And I have class. I couldn't even watch the news. Like, I didn't know what was going on with the rest of the state.

Ben Glickman 

Liza, who else did you speak to specifically? Can you tell us a little bit about their experiences?

Liza Mullett 

I also spoke to John Lin. He's from Houston and he's in the class of 2023. He said that his family was unable to access their refrigerator and most of their food. The day before the storm hit, they filled up their bathtubs with water just because they knew they wouldn't have access to water.

John Lin 

I wasn't concerned for my life because we don't have anyone who is on life support, who needs oxygen machines. But my parents were especially frustrated because we don't have water, we don't have electricity, we don't have any of these basic essentials. It was pretty bad.

Ben Glickman 

Were there any other anecdotes that students told you about how life has been turned upside down by this storm?

Liza Mullett 

Yeah, the story that stuck out to me the most was definitely speaking to Marie-Anne Barrón. She's currently dealing with her house being entirely flooded. So currently, she is living in her cousin's house temporarily, with her mother, grandmother and her grandmother's husband.

Marie-Anne Barrón 

Tuesday, we got power at noon. And we were like, thank God. We were turning on the lights. We were charging things. We were turning on space heaters. We were just doing everything we hadn't been able to do for 30-plus hours at that point. We sat down to have lunch. And as we're sitting down to have lunch, we notice that there's water falling from the ceiling. We were like, Oh, what's that about? And then we hear a loud boom, like something thudded and we were like, that is not good. My mom and I raced upstairs. We didn't even need to race upstairs because you could see the damage on the first floor. My mom was the only one who went up into the attic, I didn't go with her, and she said it looked like a Las Vegas water show, of just pipes and water just bursting everywhere. You could see it coming out of the air vents. You could see it coming out of the electrical outlets. You could feel the walls, they were damp. And the thud that we had heard was the bathroom ceiling, which is also our attic floor, caving in. So it was just basically flooding. We didn't even have enough towels or pots or bowls to hold the water. So it was just … It was so bad.

Ben Glickman 

It seems like these conditions that some of the students you spoke to are living under would make online school basically impossible. What did your sources say about how professors have responded to the situation?

Liza Mullett

I have to say the recurring theme with everyone, beyond the chaos and the disruption of life, was that professors have been extremely understanding and accommodating with the loss of power, as well as being in a situation where your house is freezing, dark, with no running water. Especially with Marie-Anne, she told me that her professors have been extremely understanding, given that she is currently displaced from her home. And she said that she's hoping to go back to school by the first week of March. But she said that her professors have told her she can take her time given her dire situation.

Ben Glickman 

It seems like a lot of students are displaced and are without Wi-Fi. Has Brown done anything to support these students financially during this crisis?

Liza Mullett 

Yeah, so this came up a lot in my conversation with Marie-Anne. She is part of the U-FLi, or undocumented, first-generation and low-income student community. So she said she has been really struggling, her family has been really struggling to afford all of the repairs to the damage that her house has sustained. And her sorority Alpha Chi Omega set up a GoFundMe page to help her family cover the costs of these damages. But she said she has already drained her savings and her checking account. So she's really looking to the University for assistance. Students like Marie-Anne can apply for E-Gap funds for emergency situations that cover non-academic needs or crisis expenses. So for example, students can apply for funds if they have a lack of winter clothing or are lacking other essentials in a situation like this. Marie-Anne has applied for E-Gap funds, just given her financial situation. I also spoke to Dean of the College Rashid Zia. And he told us in an email that his colleagues in the College, as well as student support services and the U-FLi Center, have been in touch with students and faculty just to help ensure instructor flexibility and help explain how students can apply for these E-Gap funds. So there are definitely support structures in place to help these students get the financial assistance they need.

Ben Glickman 

In the views of the students that you spoke to, has what the University provided financially in the form of E-Gap funds been sufficient in light of this crisis?

Liza Mullett 

So when I spoke to several students, Marie-Anne was the one who was saying that she really wished or was hoping that the University could definitely pull through for her.

Marie-Anne Barrón 

Even though individual administrators and individual professors are wonderful, the institution is not really providing the most help. They're saying, “We hope your teachers will be providing flexibility,” and that's very appreciated, but also we need monetary help. I need a safe place to live. I need a stable place to live. I am temporarily houseless. And I don't think Brown has realized that that's the situation I'm in right now. Not just, oh, there's something that's leaking and I want it fixed.

Ben Glickman 

What are the limits of E-Gap funding? Are there restrictions on what it can be used for?

Liza Mullett 

Yeah, so according to Dean Zia, not all E-Gap applications can be fully funded due to, as he said, important federal guidelines that restrict what they can fund. So for instance, expenses already covered by financial aid cannot be funded through E-Gap. So although E-Gap really seeks to support students as much as they can, not everything can be fully fulfilled.

Ben Glickman 

And what does Marie-Anne need these financial resources for at this moment, in the midst of this crisis in Texas?

Liza Mullett 

Yeah, so obviously, currently Marie-Anne has a lot of expenses to cover. But she is asking the University for assistance for alternative housing. She said that the per-night rates of the hotels in her area have dramatically increased just because of people flocking to hotels given the damage to their houses. So she can't currently afford these kind of increased prices. So currently, like I said before, she is in a situation where her family is living with her cousins, temporarily, but again, there is risk for her family with COVID. So Marie-Anne was reaching out to the University in hopes that they could support her through aid for alternative housing at the moment.

Ben Glickman 

And without access to that E-Gap funding for alternative housing, how is Marie Anne making do?

Liza Mullett 

So as I mentioned before, her sorority Alpha Chi Omega has been really instrumental, she said, in supporting her and her family. They have set up a GoFundMe page that has pulled in thousands of dollars to help her family.

Marie-Anne Barrón 

I literally am only going to be able to afford the things that my house needs to be fixed because of the GoFundMe that they set up and that's still after draining my savings and my checking. I'm a U-FLi student so like, that's also why I was really hoping Brown would pull through for their U-FLi students. 

Liza Mullett 

She's currently in a really difficult situation. She said she's unsure about what the future is gonna hold.

Ben Glickman 

And more generally, how did the students you spoke to feel about the situation in Texas moving forward?

Liza Mullett 

Every student I spoke to really expressed frustration with the state and kind of a lack of hope for the future, about how the situation is going to be resolved. Texas has an independent power grid that is less regulated than other power systems across the country. When I spoke to John Lin, he expressed frustration saying this is all human-caused.

John Lin 

All of this could have been avoidable. This is 100 percent the responsibility of the state of Texas. The state government knew about this ahead of time. This actually happened a decade ago in Dallas. I think they called it the Dallas Super Freeze because it happened the week before the Super Bowl. But the Texas government didn't change anything, even though federal regulators recommended changes. And now millions of Texans are suffering for no good reason.

Ben Glickman 

Liza, thanks for being with us.

Liza Mullett 

Thanks so much for having me.

Ben Glickman 

In other news, the University this week signed agreements to consolidate a statewide academic health system, along with healthcare giants Lifespan and Care New England. Over five years, Brown has committed to investing $125 million in the merger, which aims to bring together resources from hospitals, along with research and education from Brown’s Alpert Medical School. 

This has been The Bruno Brief. Our show is produced by Livi Burdette, Corey Gelb-Bicknell, and me. The Bruno Brief is an equal partnership between WBRU and The Brown Daily Herald. I'm Ben Glickman, thanks for listening. We'll see you next week.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

____________________

Produced by: Olivia Burdette, Ben Glickman and Corey Gelb-Bicknell

Music: 

Denzel Sprak by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue)

Gullwing Sailor by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue)

Um Pepino by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue)

Special thanks to Emily Teng and Olivia Burdette for cover design.



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