Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sociology Assignment: When Visual Images of Hurricane Sandy Got Personal

Leah sitting on top of her destroyed belongings after the storm.

Note from Dr. Demetra Pappas: In late-October 2012, I was preparing to give a midterm essay to my Sociology class. Then Hurricane Sandy hit and I decided to provide an out-of-class exercise option for my students.  This visual sociology exercise allowed students to capture something that touched them personally about the storm. One by Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou told the story of their friend, Leah Vanden Bosch, whose home in Long Beach was destroyed.  

Posted by Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou, LONG BEACH, NY -- Television viewers from around the world saw image after image of the devastation Hurricane Sandy caused -- a storm that quickly became known as the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. In fact it was the strongest storm to hit the Tristate region. Those of us in the area who escaped its devastation breathed a sigh of relief. But that relief was quickly quelled by personal news reels of the devastation friends and family experienced. Witnessing this brings the social and visual constructions of disaster into a very harsh and personal perspective that cannot be experienced by viewing images on TV, the internet, or in newspapers. 

 Sewer water surged out of Leah's bathtub during the storm.

Our friend Leah Vanden Bosch's house was severely flooded by Sandy. She had recently moved to Long Beach, Long Island in May of 2012 and loved living five blocks from the beach. The idea of having to evacuate or lose her home had never crossed her mind. Thankfully, she packed a few boxes, placed all her valuables and sentimental belongings on her bed, adhered to the evacuation protocols, and stayed with a friend on higher ground for the duration of storm. Once Sandy had passed she returned. The look on her face as she sits on top of all her destroyed belongings tells a deeply personal story of how people experience natural disaster. Her home had been flooded with three to four feet of water, sewage had surged out of the bathtub drain eventually covering the once beige floors all over the house, and knocking the refrigerator violently to the wall. Basically everything was destroyed except what she had placed on her bed. Leah stood in shock as she showed us the pictures she took of what was left of her home, and the storm as it surged on Long Beach. She is now living with the Haskopoulos family until she finds a new home. So perhaps, because of her social support networks she is one of the lucky ones.

     Leah's destroyed belongings piled curbside for pick up by Sanitation.

Leah’s fence surrounding the property outside her home. The muddy residue is a clear indication of how high the water level from the storm surge reached.

Leah's floors were once beige. The refrigerator no longer works.

The stormy ocean swallowed sand dunes created to keep the water from the boardwalk.

 Again, the floors were beige before the storm.

Valia Haskopoulos and Kelsey Papanicolaou are students at St Francis College and were in Dr. Pappas's class. Images by Leah Vanden Bosch and Kelsey Papanicolaou. Photo captions by Valia Haskopoulas.  

Dr. Demetra M. Pappas, who holds a JD from Fordham University School of Law, an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy from the London School of Economics and a PhD from the LSE (Department of Law and Department of Sociology).  She currently teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College, where she was named 2011/2012 Faculty Member of the Year.  Her first book, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, which was published by Greenwood Press in 2012, has been nominated for the 2013 British Society of Criminology Book Prize.

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