The Black Studies Dept. and the Center for Black Studies are looking to engage students, faculty and staff in a panel discussion about race as it relates to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts this afternoon.

The program, “Race and Response in the Wake of Katrina,” will feature four speakers from three campus departments – environmental studies, black studies and sociology – along with Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, said Chryss Yost, publications manager for the Center for Black Studies. Additionally, Yost said, Tulane University graduate student Nathan Bassiouni will present pictures he took while rescuing hurricane victims. The panel will be held today in the MultiCultural Center Theater from 2 to 6 p.m., followed by time for audience questions and refreshments.

“We hope that this panel will open the channels of communication between people, so that we can be better prepared in the event of another natural disaster,” Yost said.

Yost said today’s panel discussion and many similar conventions around the U.S. were inspired in part by the comment singer Kanye West made in which he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” She said the purpose of the panel is not to attack President Bush, but to open up dialogue and be ready for another natural disaster. Everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, can agree that the response to help hurricane victims occurred too late, Yost said.

Blum will be on the panel discussing what the municipal, state and national governments are expected to do during a crisis and what should have happened in New Orleans and the surrounding areas before and after the hurricane.

“We are all trying to make sense of the tragedy,” Blum said. “It may take a while, but this is a good way to start.”

Another presenter, black studies professor Gaye Johnson, said she will talk about the grassroots response to Katrina that filled the void left by the inadequate federal response to the crisis. .

“I would like to discuss the way that the politicians and policymakers with the highest profiles try to make the U.S. seem to be the most generous country in the world,” Johnson said. “This has been contradicted by the relief systems that were instituted during Katrina.”

Environmental studies professor William Freudenburg said he will discuss the idea that Katrina was actually composed of four disasters. Besides the hurricane itself, the problems were compounded by the breakdown of support systems such as the police or coast guard and the breakdown of physical barriers like the levees protecting New Orleans. Freudenbug said the fourth disaster in the chain of events was the U.S. government’s lack of a plan to repair the emotional and physical drama wrought upon Louisiana by the hurricane.

Bassiouni said the photographs he will present to the panel were taken while he was helping storm victims in New Orleans. He said he responded to a request Louisiana Senator Marie Landrieu made over the radio asking citizens who owned boats to assist people who did not have any other way to escape the floodplain. Bassiouni said this was the only communication he heard from the federal government in the three days after Katrina struck.

“The photos demonstrate the lack of federal response and resources after the hurricane,” Bassiouni said.

Other panel speakers include George Lipsitz, Howard Winant and moderator Carl Guti