William Carey University, The University of Southern Mississippi’s sister school, was devastated in the tornado that struck on Jan. 21. After the storm damage had been assessed, Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett offered the uses of USM resources to displaced students.
Now, 225 William Carey international and out-of-state students are being housed in nine residence halls on the Hattiesburg campus. Additional accommodations are being made to make empty rooms available for Carey students in need of housing.
WCU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and the physical therapy program will continue their classes on USM’s campus. Various buildings on campus including Jones Hall, Cook Library, Joseph Greene Hall and Hickman Hall will host William Carey lectures. William Carey students were also granted access to the Payne Center, the game rooms in R.C. Cook Student Union and library resources. Furthermore, student-athletes are using Southern Miss facilities for sports teams to practice in until William Carey can recover.
The Southern Miss Baptist Student Union extended an offer to William Carey students to attend worship night and free lunch in the week after the tornado. Many students used faith to support one another after their storm- related experiences. A Bible verse, Psalm 46:1, has become a rallying cry for the William Carey community after an undisturbed Bible in the Bass Chapel was found open to the passage, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
A Carey Strong service was held at Temple Baptist Church Jan. 27, where several students including Emily Ennis, Austin Eitel and Branden Walker presented.
“The last thing we wanted to do last Saturday was leave each other and go home and go our separate ways,” said William Carey student Abby Ham about the service. “Just being together and being in the same place will help with a lot of emotional healing.”
Mikaela Green, a sophomore at William Carey, posted a song on YouTube that she wrote and produced alongside Spencer Hollingsworth, a William Carey graduate, entitled “Carey Strong” in which she sings the line, “15 seconds broke our hearts.”
William Carey students have resumed classes, with some classes moved online and across USM’s campus. WCU students are preparing for finals as the end of their winter trimester approaches.
Concerned professors checked on their students’ safety immediately following the storm, posting on discussion boards. However, even in the midst of the destruction on campus, William Carey students have maintained their sense of humor and their friendships. Jennifer Walker, a music therapy major, coined the hashtag #SadersAgainstNaders to embody some of the resilient William Carey spirit.
Many students wrote about what they went through in the early morning hours when the tornado hit. WCU student Ella Kate Rose posted a recollection of events from before and after the storm to Facebook.
“I look around and see an overflowing hallway of familiar and frightening faces,” she said. “Everyone still bracing. It is only then that I realize what is happening, or rather, what has already happened. I gradually begin to hear the soft murmur of the tornado siren above the noise of my racing pulse.”
WCU student Xandra Phillips posted to her blog how she felt on Jan. 21. “I am thankful,” she said. “I am thankful because I am okay. I am thankful because my friends are alive. I am thankful because I attend a school where the faculty and staff have been there since the very first moments, protecting us, loving us, praying for us and fighting for us.”
“That’s the great thing about Hattiesburg,” said WCU President Tommy King. “They come to anyone’s aid when they’re needed, and we’ve found that true again.”
USM President Rodney Bennett released a statement about the efforts to help WCU after the storm.
“Let me be clear that USM is not seeking to establish new avenues for William Carey students to transfer,” he said. “Instead, we are committed to doing all that we can to provide the resources their students need while preserving their experience and identity as William Carey students as much as possible.”
Bennett expressed his pride and appreciation for being a part of a university and community that showed resilience during the hardship.“Let’s get to work,” he said.