When sophomore Margaret Johnson thinks of home, she remembers after-school beach trips and getting her boating license when she was 11.
“Before my friends and I got our driver's license, we would get on the boat and go to each other's houses,” she says.
When Johnson heard predictions that the worst storm to hit the Carolinas was on its way, those warm thoughts she held for home turned to fear.
“It freaked me out because my dad, he normally never gets scared about this stuff,” she said. “He's like, ‘We know what to do, it's going to be fine,’ but this time was different.”
According to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, the current death toll from Florence is 36 people in the state. Nearly 70,000 people have requested federal disaster assistance as areas affected by the storm just begin to recover.
While Johnson evacuated to Connecticut, junior Madison Foster was evacuating to Virginia on a road trip with friends.
“We made a hurricane playlist to listen on the way have been, like kind of make jokes about it, but we also had serious concerns,” she said.
During her time away from Elon, Foster decided to collect her thoughts in an article posted on the Odyssey, entitled “15 Thoughts That Flood Your Mind When You Evacuate,” filled with jokes about Florence.
Foster wasn’t the only one making jokes. Elon students took to social media to post about their evacuation trips, calling them “hurrications.” Pictures of road trips, home-cooked meals and even Disney World filled Instagram, with some even “thanking” the hurricane for the days off.
Elon 2018 graduate Grom Current’s evacuation plans lead her back to Elon, where she’s staying with friends until she’s able to safely return to her home in Wilmington and survey the damage. Current says her trip was hardly a vacation.
“Every hour we get like an update that was like, ‘10 more people have died,’ and ‘This highway shut down,’” she said. “By the weekend we kind of just turned off our alerts and were just like, ‘We can't listen to it anymore.’”
While Johnson saw posts from her friends celebrating the hurricane, she was anxiously waiting to hear from her dad, who decided to stay to watch over their home which sits right on the water.
“Every time I'd hear from him it would be like one or two texts a day, so that would kind of get me through and let me know he's okay.”
Sarah Jane McDonald, president of Students for Peace and Social Justice, says she was disappointed in posts from students making light of the hurricane. She says she blames it on the Elon bubble.
“We're so busy here at Elon and so it's easy to be in that silo of I need to focus on myself, my studies, my clubs, that sort of thing,” McDonald said. “For the students from who were affected directly, it's on their mind every day. They probably aren't even talking about it all the time, but it's weighing really heavily on them.”
Bilal Ghandour, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychology, says people don’t realize the impact of their words, and the internet is a breeding ground for this.
“Part of it is ignorance. The other part of it I think is the surprise factor or the excitement factor that there always is online. You want to try to do something that's going to attract attention and focus,” Ghandour said. “Any form of extreme comment usually is not measured because you don't have the fear of people reacting to what you say immediately. Nobody would dare say if I was sitting with you and four others, ‘Hey, Hurrication!’ This is absolutely not acceptable.”
“It definitely hurts a little bit because for someone to thank something that could have destroyed everything in someone else's life,” Johnson said.
L. D. Russell, senior lecturer in religious studies and the adviser to Students for Peace and Social Justice, says Elon students need to create connections with students from different backgrounds to foster empathy.
“I really think a major thrust right now is greater diversity – diversity of the student body, diversity among faculty and administration,” he said. “It's long been time for that to happen, but it is happening, and that's going to help a great deal, when young people rub elbows with people who come from different backgrounds.”
Ghandour says this empathy is reached through communication.
“For those who fear to talk about their circumstance, to actually speak up and be comfortable about it. And those who tend to nothing at all and just take things for granted. Just pay a little bit more attention to what's happening around you.”
Johnson says at the end of the day, North Carolina is everyone’s home, and students should act like it.
“Everyone that goes to Elon is so proud to call it their home. I know I am,” she said. “So it's difficult when there's parts of North Carolina that are being really, really impacted. A lot of the Elon population is ignoring it and taking it almost as a joke, because it's definitely not.”
Foster said she didn’t mean to hurt anyone who was affected by the Hurricane in her article, and intended for it to be relatable to Elon students.
“I would definitely apologize, but ultimately, I made the choice to create the article and it's my personal belief and opinions, which are different from people who would be directly affected.”
McDonald says apologizing isn’t something to be afraid of.
“I do think that recognizing when you've messed up and when you've grown from that is totally cool and not something that you should be ashamed of,” she said.
Russell says that this growth is important in moving on from tragedy as a community.
“In that move there is at least hope of progress; really to feel what that person is feeling and try to understand why that person feels that they do in hopes that they will do the same,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all in this together. We sink or we swim."
While Johnson’s house survived the storm, she hopes that people who made the comments will open their hearts to helping members of the community who have been impacted.
“Donate materials and whatever you can, or go to the places, the neighboring communities that might have been impacted and see what you can do to help there,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and people to rebuild North Carolina as a whole to the place that it was before.”