NEWS

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January 15, 2010

Grad student in Haiti “OK”

A message from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was the first thing Chelsey Kivland’s family heard about her, two days after the earthquake.

“Chelsey Kivland wishes to tell you that: I am OK, please contact everyone,” the message, sent to her mother in Prairie Grove, IL, said.

Kivland, a sixth-year anthropology graduate student, was among the many initially missing in Haiti, following Tuesday’s high-magnitude earthquake that killed thousands, including some Americans. The earthquake struck late Tuesday afternoon, devastating the city’s infrastructure and making it difficult to get aidworkers in and information out of the country.

“Time has stood still since Tuesday,” Kivland’s mother, Cynthia, said before she recieved the e-mail. It was just before 8 p.m. Thursday when the clock started moving again. “All your prayers have been answered—she’s alive. That’s all we know!” Cynthia Kivland wrote in an e-mail to family, friends, and journalists, although her sister has since reported she may help with relief efforts.

Kivland, a Fullbright-Hays fellow, had been living in Port-au-Prince for more than two years as a Fulbright Scholar while working on her doctoral dissertation.

Kivland’s exact location at the time of the earthquake was unknown. “Most likely, she would have been on her way home, or home. She wouldn’t have been doing her research that late in the afternoon,” Cynthia said.

Kivland’s family and friends had been in touch with State Department officers and other agencies, and remained hopeful throughout the day. “We have just spread the widest net possible,” Cynthia said before Kivland was found.

They were also heartened by “a friend of a friend,” who saw Kivland’s house still intact, said Greg Beckett (Ph.D ‘09), a friend and colleague of Kivland’s. “Many of the roads are just impassable, so if she was in her field station, she may not have been able to get back to her house.”

Kivland was researching performance in Carnival, working with a class of musicians who critique politics through art. She had been working in Haiti for two years until last September, and returned last month.

She won a Fulbright fellowship, a Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research fellowship, and an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant in 2008. “A triple win like that is quite extraordinary,” anthropology department administrator Annie Chien said in an e-mail interview. After earning a B.A. from Colorado College and an M.A. from Columbia Teacher’s College, she came to the U of C in 2004 looking to get a Ph.D. in sociology. She switched to the anthropology department in 2006.

Joshua Walker, another graduate anthropology student, said Kivland was looking forward to finishing her research in Haiti when they e-mailed last week.

“I think she felt pretty good about her research; she was looking forward to just wrapping up. She had finished the bulk of her research [and was] looking forward to writing her dissertation,” he said.

Walker said many people in the anthropology department had expressed concern over her safety, and the atmosphere was “anxious but hopeful.”

Beckett, who also spent time in Haiti doing anthropological research, said he wasn’t surprised such a disaster could sever communication for so long. “Even at stable times, there would be stretches of four or five days without phone or Internet access,” said Beckett, who is now an assistant professor in the College.

Beckett was in Haiti during the rebellion in 2004, and experienced the chaos of evacuation. “It all happens without being able to get in touch with people.”

University spokesman Steve Kloehn said the University is looking to help any affiliate in Haiti, and those who have family there.

“[The office of] Campus and Student Life is following this most closely, but there’s been a broad-based effort from across a lot of different departments and units in the University to identify what affiliates might be or might have family in Haiti or other connections, and obviously communication is so difficult right now there, that there aren’t a lot of definitive answers,” he said.

While Kivland’s family and friends waited by the phone for any developments, students on campus pledged their support to any of the quake’s survivors.

Fourth-year Adama Wiltshire put together a fundraiser this week in the Reynolds Club, involving the Puerto Rican Students Association, the African and Caribbean Students Association (ACSA), and Beats and Pieces.

Third-year and ACSA president Judith Kituku said ACSA was quick to show its support. “It goes without saying that with this happening to a Caribbean country, it is our obligation to help,” Kituku said.

All donations will be sent through the Red Cross and Partners in Health.

“If we could even raise $700 to give to the Red Cross and Partners in Health, who have a history of working with Haitians to provide health care and food, that could go a long way,” Wiltshire said.

Students, staff, and community members alike have been contributing to the relief effort, said Kituku. “It’s only been 24 hours and we have made some money, and we believe going into next week people will be even more aware.”

—Additional reporting by Asher Klein