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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New Orleans Bus Trip: The Big “Not So” Easy

Alphan Gunaydin)
Students pose in front of their bus in New Orleans (Photo

A scheduling error on a recent return trip from New Orleans is forcing Student Life to re-examine their current travel policy. The proposed change comes after a group of students assisting in the clean-up effort in New Orleans nearly had to abandon their work a day early in order to board a bus headed back for Boston.

The trouble came when a Crystal Line bus driver showed up on Jan. 10 to pick up the 51 UMass Boston participants who, at the time, were in the middle of gutting vacant houses that had been abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. This unexpected news of their early departure shocked the students, who had arrived in New Orleans thinking that their scheduled departure date was Jan. 11.

By the time word got sent to the volunteers, they were all scattered throughout the area working, and it would have taken hours to gather everybody to board. Professor of Sociology Estelle Disch, who joined the group going down to New Orleans after hearing about it from Muna Kangsen, was one of the humanitarians asked to leave her job early and found the whole scenario unreasonable.

“Getting the group together on the bus would have been difficult because we weren’t packed, and some people were visiting folks they knew,” Disch said. “I think it was very stressful in the moment because it was, like, wait a minute, what is going on here? And there were 26 of us gutting a house and we had made a commitment, and we didn’t want to interrupt that.”

Upon hearing of the mix-up, Student Life told Crystal Line to inform the students that they needed to board the bus immediately. The bus driver was legally and contractually obligated to be on the road for a maximum of 11 hours. Student Life could not directly contact the Student Group in New Orleans, thus they demanded that Crystal Line wrangle up all the volunteers for a sudden departure. Rescheduling a new bus would push the cost of the trip beyond Student Life’s initial budget.

The students, unable to meet the time constraints set by Crystal Line and Student Life, remained in New Orleans until the next morning.

“It was stressful in the moment because Student Life wasn’t sure Crystal could fix it. So their impulse was to say ‘Get on the bus,’ without talking it through with them,” Disch said. “I said that it was not a feasible plan. There was really no effective way of getting the group on the bus in time to meet those drivers appropriately.”

Disch does not believe that the mix up was a major issue, but merely “a bureaucratic mess up. It was a minor glitch that got resolved within a couple of hours.

Student Life is taking the initiative to see that nothing like this happens in the future, and in their planning are working on finding some directives to prevent any confusion in the future.

“I think we need to outline in our new policy really solid ways to communicate,” Assistant Dean of Students Joyce Morgan said. “Not that the communication wasn’t good in this case, or intended to be good, but we need to be sure that we have all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. We need to develop a good way to communicate to be sure there isn’t any future breakdown.”

As a result of the New Orleans bus mishap, Student Senate plans to readjust some of their policies towards funding for UMass Boston student trips. “Going forward this spring, the Senate must improve our current funding process to better support our programmers and enable Senators to have a better perspective on programming,” Senate President Michael Metzger said.

In fact, many in the trip felt the blame should not lie on the Student Life alone, but rather on the transport service, who failed to mention the date of departure to their bus driver Ed. “In every conversation [Ed and the students] were on the same page that we were leaving the 11th to come home,” Disch said. “Wherever the mess up was, Crystal certainly was imperfect in its communications.” Without direct contact between the students and Student Life, Crystal Line Bus was the only means of communication that these two groups had.

Disch still believes there needs to be some better oversight as to how things are done, and who oversees it. “When there is a trip like this everybody needs to see the contract and get the dates straight,” she said.

Student Life stresses that whatever their new policy will be, it will not be because of what happened on the New Orleans trip. Whatever policies may be changed will be done so only to further the improvements on student travel.

“The New Orleans trip was not the reason that we are going to look at our travel policies,” Morgan said. “It was just the most recent one where we eventually said, ‘ok, here is what we need to work on, here is what we need to finalize, here is what we need to improve so that there is not problems.'”