Most student groups and advocacy efforts on campus are often centered around putting up posters, tabling in Frist, and listserv solicitations. Students raising funds for Puerto Rico have instead raised awareness at a fraternity party, and are even planning to collaborate with eating clubs this Thursday night on the street. 

Not only that, but the students have made it a multi-group effort. As of Sunday, students have raised approximately $5,000 total in two days, despite a lack of awareness on the issue. 

Diego Negrón-Reichard ‘18 is one of the student leaders in charge of the efforts that have included a photo campaign and a table at Frist Campus Center. He attributes some of his success to the unusual tactics he’s used to raise funds. 

“I was surprised how generous individuals on campus have been, so that’s been very good,” Negrón-Reichard said. “Truly, the number of people contributing, and the amounts [themselves], too, have been impressive.”

In more than ten days since the hurricane on Sept. 20, only five percent of the power grid has been restored, and about 50 percent of the population has drinking water, according to Reuters. The most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in 90 years has also devastated most of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. A recent Washington Post article reports that one of the nation’s only tropical rainforests has been decimated as well.

Negrón-Reichard attributes the fundraising success so far to the collaboration of multiple student organizations—Princeton Advocates for Justice, Princeton Latinos y Amigos, and Princeton University’s Latinx Perspectives Organization—and the outreach of individual students.

“They [the students] may not be personally attached to Puerto Rico the way I am, [so] they may not be seeing pictures of places they grew up in destroyed everyday,” David San Miguel-Tasch ‘20 added in an email, adding “but their sympathy overcomes that and I'm ever so grateful.”

Lily Bou ‘18 is one of those students who is not involved with a larger organization but has still volunteered her time to help fundraise.

“My father’s part Puerto-Rican, and he doesn’t live on the island anymore. But I’ve grown up spending a lot of time there with my family and old friends on the island,” Bou said. “It’s just such a beautiful and special place, so obviously the devastation there following the hurricane is just heartbreaking, for me, on a personal level.”

Negrón-Reichard says lack of awareness is still an issue. He attributes that partly to the media’s coverage of the disaster and President Donald Trump’s reaction. 

“It is, again, a domestic humanitarian crisis, and you’d expect the current administration to react promptly, decisively, which has been the last thing that has happened,” Negrón-Reichard said. “President Trump’s response has been weak, and his tweets and comments have lacked empathy completely.”

A CNN report state that media attention has only ramped up in the past week, and was only a fraction of the coverage that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma received. The past weekend, Trump also made multiple tweets disparaging San Juan’s mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, according to another Washington Post article.

The lack of awareness has already been evident during the fundraising process. Indeed, some student advocates have blamed the University for its silence.

“Several students asked us the other day why we were even collecting funds for Puerto Rico — completely unaware of the destruction caused by the hurricane — and I do feel that Princeton officials' silence is in part to blame for this ignorance,” San Miguel-Tasch noted in an email.

As of yet, no official statement has been released by the University. By contrast, Negrón-Reichard said that Georgetown University issued a response, as well as schools in Florida. Both Negrón-Reichard and San Miguel-Tasch, however, have credited individual administrators and alumni for reaching out with their concern.

According to Negrón-Reichard, a plurality of the individual contributions have come through a Venmo account, and donations have come through tabling at Frist Campus Center and a Sigma Chi event on Sept. 30. Of the money, $1,000 will be donated to Unidos Por Puerto Rico, and the remaining will go to the Puerto Rico Center for a New Economy.

Negrón-Reichard explained that because Venmo doesn’t take a cut of the donation, it’s essentially like the GoFundMe 'Students for Puerto Rico,' but without the fee. Social media also allowed the students to raise more than $2,000 before they initiated their other efforts. 

“They’re focusing on immediate relief, so rescue, temporary/permanent relief, and, third, they’re going to focus on long-term sustainability,” Negrón-Reichard said.

The recovery will take years. Negrón-Reichard hopes to continue intense fundraising for two to three more weeks before focusing on education and awareness.

“I’m not giving up. I’m going to keep pushing everyday,” Negrón-Reichard said.

For him and other students, the crisis has reinforced their connection to Puerto Rico.

“[Being in the States] makes you lose sight of how much Puerto Rico contributed to my formation, and this crisis has done two things for me: it has awakened and made me remember how important the island is to me. Two, it has reminded me of my responsibility to the island,” Negrón-Reichard said.

This Thursday night, several eating clubs yet to be confirmed will be accepting donations. Additionally, on Oct. 20, the students will be holding a rally with music and speeches to raise money and awareness. 

Contributions can also be made through Venmo to the handle diego-negronreichard.

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