UT making accommodations to help students affected by Harvey

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- The University of Texas Austin is among the universities throughout Texas working to support students who had been living in or attending schools in areas hard hit by Harvey.

UT spokesman J.B. Bird told KXAN that about 40 percent of the school's undergraduates are from counties affected by the storm. The university reached out to those students and asked them to fill out absence forms if they can, and told faculty to make accommodations for them.

"In our memory there hasn't been an event like this that has impacted so many students," Bird said.

During Hurricane Katrina, UT welcomed in 350 students whose universities were impacted by the storm.

The University of Northern Texas is doing the same and working to quickly enroll college students for the fall semester.

On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Education also activated its emergency response contact center to help school districts, colleges and universities recover. It has told federal student loan servicers to be flexible with student borrowers affected by Harvey. Borrowers can call 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) for more information.

Students who cannot make it to campus on time due to Harvey can fill out a form for a class absence request. As of Thursday, Bird said that over 1,500 students have filled out the form already because they are having trouble arriving to campus.

Sophomore Dhvani Shukla has already filled one out. She packed her car at her home in Baytown Saturday, planning to drive to UT the following day. But when she awoke, her car and her driveway were flooded.

Her car is now totaled due to the flood. The water rose around her home to the point where she and her family had to be rescued by boat Tuesday morning. She hopes she will be able drive to campus this weekend.

"It's hard to not be able to sit in on lectures and compare notes with people and other stuff," Shukla said. "Even when I head back to Austin, my parents and family will have to re-locate, work on the house. The wooden floors were lifted off the ground, the house isn't livable any more."

She hopes other students and Texas community members step up to help places like her hometown.

Many other students made it onto campus in time for classes, but still bear the emotional burden of hearing about their family's recovery from afar.

Senior Austin Michals who is from outside of Houston learned Sunday that his family was evacuating their home.

"There's a foot of water in our house, but they got all the kids out, there were 4 kids under the age of 8," Michals said of his family. He is starting off the school year thinking about when he will be able to go back to Houston to help his family rebuild.

"It's kind of heart breaking really, I see my neighborhood is completely underwater, I see the city I grew up in is completely underwater, I see the football stadium, the baseball stadium -- everything is flooded and hard to imagine that things that are so familiar look completely different," Michals said.

It's a feeling compounded by stress over getting behind in the classroom

"My buddy texted me today saying he had to go home to help evacuate his grandmother because there was a flood warning -- because it's only getting worse in some areas -- and he was asking if I could take some notes for him in class tomorrow," Michals said.

University students and employees can also apply for assistance with books, gear, supplies, and support through the University Co-Op.

UT is making changes to activities on campus as a result of Harvey, the Gone to Texas celebration scheduled for Tuesday night was canceled.

"We hate to cancel the Gone to Texas rally, it's a celebratory event," Bird said. "But with the terrible loss of life in Houston and this ongoing tragedy that's affecting so many members of our community, we just felt it was important to maintain a focus on responding to that event and honoring the suffering that is going on."

The university is also offering counseling support for students impacted by Harvey, the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center is offering drop in group for those impacted by the hurricane every day this week from 3-4 p.m., no appointment needed.

UT students are also mobilizing various relief efforts to help out those impacted by Harvey, you can find a list of the projects they are working on here. 

"Obviously the most important thing in a time like this is to take care of your own safety and your loved ones, and to be attending to family and that's gotta come first," J.B. Bird said. "The university is going to be here and we're here with these students, we're going to stand with them through this tragedy."

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