By June Carolyn Erlick
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Arsalan Suleman, a third-year Harvard Law School student from Kenner,Louisiana, was one of the 240 students from 57 law schools who traveled to hurricane-affected regions in Louisiana and Mississippi to provide legal assistance. Columbia Law School was the only school that had more students than Harvard.
“I spent part of January 2006 in New Orleans working with the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund in a project assisting a group of workers camped out on Scout Island, City Park,” wrote Suleman in an e-mail. “many of the workers were Latinos from Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American countries. Unfortunately, the conditions at the campgrounds were very poor, including deficient water supplies, nonexistent lighting, large mud puddles, and mosquitoes. The workers were paying rent to camp there, so we were working on ensuring better conditions at the camp grounds for them in addition to informing them of their labor rights.
“Quite concerning was the lack of access to legal services for the workers, as many of them were victims of contractors who disappeared without paying them. The camp ground was closed a few months after our project—I often wonder what many of them did after that, given the short supply of housing in New Orleans. Hopefully they found places to live, and in better conditions than at City Park,” she asserts.
The Harvard Law School community has provided a variety of financial assistance, community service, public education, and legal aid and research. Overall, the school contributed more than $100,000 in support. In addition to monetary donations by individual sections, faculty, staff, and students, several fund-raising events were held, including a local jazzfest to raise money for the Red Cross and for Hope Haven, a children’s shelter destroyed by the hurricane. The HLS office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs has worked closely with the Student Hurricane Network, a national group of volunteer law students who are coordinating relief efforts.