“You have to, quite literally, tell your family ‘I can’t help you,’” Mark Ditman said. As associate vice president of Housing and Dining, he is one of 50 H&D staff members who rode out Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath on campus alongside the students they help feed and house.
Susann Glenn, H&D’s manager of communications, also stayed on campus while her family dealt with Hurricane Harvey at home. A third of the houses in her neighborhood flooded, and water crept up her driveway.
“As a mom, it’s sometimes hard to take care of 4000 students while my kids are at home,” Glenn said. “But they know what we’re doing is important here. You all don’t have any place to go. My family could leave if they needed to.”
During an emergency event like a hurricane, Housing and Dining splits into two camps: the rideout crew, and the recovery crew. The rideout crew stays on or close to campus during the emergency to ensure Rice students are cared for, and the recovery crew stays at home until the emergency is over, at which point they come back to work. Those with dependents to care for, such as small children or seniors, are on the recovery crew.
Glenn and Ditman said staff typically volunteer to help in these types of emergency situations.
“I would argue that almost everybody here is not here because they are required to be, but because they chose to be here,” Ditman said.
Five H&D staff members stayed on campus in the North and Seibel servery offices as well as the offices in the main H&D building while the rest of the total rideout crew, which is about a third of the total H&D staff, stayed at the Wyndham hotel in Rice Village.
Glenn said those in the rideout team support each other like a family.
“Mark [Ditman] and I have walked this campus so many times, hugging, talking to people, making sure they're okay, making sure they're getting rest,” she said.
H&D administrators thought the storm might not hit Houston as predicted on Saturday when there was little rainfall for most of the day. Then heavy rain hit Saturday night and didn’t stop until Tuesday afternoon. Ditman said he had to weigh whether to tell his family to evacuate and risk getting trapped on the freeway or stay and risk being flooded out of their home.
“Once your family can't leave, that becomes a stress point for people,” Ditman said.
Since flooding lasted longer than expected, some staff members on the rideout crew ran low on clean socks and underwear as well as toiletries such as contact lens solution. Lovett College set up a collections box for H&D staff. Other colleges have made signs and videos expressing appreciation for H&D.
Now that roads are clear, the recovery crew has returned to campus, and staff members who remained during the storm have gone home. Those still under a mandatory evacuation order are staying with friends and family, according to Glenn.
Student and faculty volunteers filled in to help H&D maintain colleges throughout the storm. At Sid Richardson College, the magister, resident associates and students helped Chef Sarah cook meals at Sid from Sunday to Wednesday. H&D administrators determined it would be safer for Sid students to remain in their college for meals rather than eat at another servery.
“The students here greatly appreciated not having to go outside and it was a very important community activity for the college during a difficult time,” Ken Whitmire, the Sid Richardson College magister, said.
At Hanszen, staff asked students to clean tables after meals and mop and sweep the commons. Students also took care of their own trash collection.
Conrado Asenjo Molina, a Hanszen junior, spread the word on the Hanszen listserv.
“I am very happy to see our community come together to help out during this time, and give a helping hand to those who have taken care of us during such a difficult time for our city,” Molina said.