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OLLU fire: The day after ...

Nearly a year ago I was a college senior anxiously awaiting graduation, searching for a job, and avoiding my impending adulthood at all costs. My safe haven wasn't the bar or some guy's house — it was school. I happen to be a graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University and as University President Tessa Martinez Pollack said at a prayer service held earlier today, "Each one of us has been dealt an enormous loss."

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photos by jennifer herrera

Yesterday night a four-alarm fire broke out in Main building of OLLU, burning until the wee hours of the morning (KENS coverage of OLLU fire). Today, I toured the campus along with Current production manager and fellow OLLU alum Fred Valenzuela. As we drove down Commerce Street, we witnessed bumper-to-bumper traffic on 24th Street and found ourselves in a state of disbelief — professors comforted students while faculty gathered for the prayer service. Pollack was calm although visibly shaken and let her guard down a bit during the service.

As always the spirit of the university reigns. Without a doubt, every person I've come in contact with since last night that has ties to OLLU is confident that the university will rebuild. "The proud, historic beacon of hope we lost last night belongs not only to the University, it belongs to the entire community far and near," Pollack said. "We need the support and help of all who enjoy the glory of the view to share in the labors of our new challenges." As former staff members of the OLLU student newspaper, the Lake Front, we found ourselves huddled along with the staff outside of the University Wellness and Activities Center. Assistant Professor of Communication Arts Kay O'Donnell described the actions of the staff as "Herculean." Within a few hours students had managed to acquire donations from Best Buy, and nearby Lanier High School had offered up a lab for Lake Front staffers to use so they can crank out their final issue of the semester. A fund for the university has also been set up to provide assistance in restoration efforts.

Coverage of the inferno in the local media was a bit hit-and-miss. Last night I found myself glued to the tube as our local stations featured non-stop coverage of the blaze. KENS on-air personality Karen Grace is a visiting instructor at OLLU and knows it (she is also an alum and the poster child of a job well done by the communication-arts department). Her counterpart Chris Marrou was his usual jackass self, going so far as asking a Congregation of Divine Providence sister whether the event has shaken her faith.

I woke up this morning to our obnoxious daily, which ran the oh-so-clever headline "OUR LADY OF THE LAKE BURNS." Real classy, guys. The five-person team of reporters that compiled information for the piece managed to report with an agenda — focus on the past issues of the small, homely university. The story was worthy of all of its above-the-fold coverage, and its sweet anecdotes took a sour turn in the fifth paragraph with the following statement: "The loss of the Main Building is a devastating blow for a university that's been bleeding students for a decade, leading to budget cuts, layoffs, sinking morale and questions about whether the university would survive in the city's competitive higher education market." Sure, the university has had its troubles in the past, but bringing them up in a time like this is totally uncalled for, especially in a city that prides itself on its Catholic beliefs and upbringing. E-N got their facts right, but they managed to open the story with a slant that felt almost like tabloid coverage — it lacked heart, something that OLLU is really all about.

Posted by Jennifer Herrera on 5/7/2008
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