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Oct. 20, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 4

Belle Liang

BC Professor, Students Designing Web Forum for Youths Affected by Katrina

By Greg Frost
Staff Writer

The devastation unleashed by Hurricane Katrina has been all too visible. But less obvious is the psychic toll the disaster is taking on people, says Asst. Prof. Belle Liang (LSOE), especially adolescents displaced by the storm.

In addition to requiring basics like food, water, clothing and shelter, says Liang, young people affected by the disaster have a need for friends and community. That is why she and more than 40 graduate and undergraduate students are planning a Web site that will give adolescents displaced by Katrina a safe forum to express themselves and connect with each other in creative ways.

The project, called GenerationPulse, will gather and display writings and visual art from adolescents directly and indirectly affected by Katrina.

"We need to turn to meeting the less visible yet compelling needs that youth have following the disaster. And of course what comes to mind for youth is they lost their communities, their schools, connections with their friends," Liang said. "For youth, friends and community are paramount."

To create the site, Liang and her students are teaming up with Instructional Design and eTeaching Services Director Elizabeth Clark and Graduate Web Designer Darren Abrecht.

"None of this would be possible without such generous colleagues who are going beyond the call of duty in providing not only technical expertise, but wise counsel on all the logistical and philosophical aspects involved in designing a website for youth," Liang says.

The official site is scheduled to be launched in December, but a temporary site housed at www.bc.edu/GenPulse will soon begin seeking contributions from students aged 13 to 25. Liang's call for participation is aimed not just at adolescent victims of the disaster but anyone in the age group, including from within the BC community, who wants to help out.

Apart from a few blogs associated with specific schools in New Orleans, Liang says she has not seen a place online where young people from across schools can respond to the destruction by unleashing their collective talents.

"Youth don't have to do much to join in creating GenerationPulse - just send in something, even as little as a few sentences, a drawing, or photograph they've taken that expresses feelings about moving, missing friends, a person or experience that has given them hope," she said.

The Internet is an ideal venue for the project since a majority of teens and young adults from across socioeconomic lines are already online, she says. But Liang emphasizes that the site will be kept as secure as possible to protect users' identities.

"It's a tradeoff for safety over the benefits of live interaction. I think that many youth would love to be able to write directly to each other and exchange contact information, but the dangers of those would be obvious," she says. "This way, they can still share experiences and support, but in a safe community."

Contributions can be easily submitted online at the temporary site and may include essays, poetry, prose, and journal entries, as well as visual art, such as paintings, drawings, even doodles and photography. As an added incentive, many entries will be awarded prizes that range from movie tickets to iPods.

Liang envisions that the site will remain up and running long after the Katrina mess is cleaned up, and that it will be continually improved to attract a wide range of adolescents who want to bring together their technological savvy, valuable ideas, and longings for connection in creative ways.

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