BYU Today

Law School Opens Doors to Katrina Refugee


On Aug. 29, 2005, the weather in Provo was warm and the buzz of the first day of a new semester filled the air. But as students swarmed campus that day, another story was unfolding a couple of thousand miles away.

In New Orleans that morning, Hurricane Katrina made landfall at 7 a.m.

With a bookbag of homework and one change of clothes, Tulane law student Lacey E. Maddox had flown to South Carolina the Saturday before. Tulane told its students that school would resume the following Wednesday, and Maddox expected to soon return to her normal life and education.

But the levees broke, the city flooded, and Maddox’s future became submerged in uncertainty.

Her neighborhood, north of Tulane, was flooded with 4 to 5 feet of water. Along with her jewelry and irreplaceable mementos, Maddox lost her 1994 Jaguar to the monster hurricane, the costliest natural disaster in United States history.

“What’s going to happen with my life?” Maddox thought as she watched the scenes in New Orleans unfold on her parents’ television.

A few days later, on Sept. 7, she made landfall in Provo as a BYU Law Student.

Shawn Patten, her supervisor from her Judge Advocate General (JAG) internship with the Army in Germany, e-mailed suggesting BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School as a possible temporary replacement and offered her a car to drive and a place to stay with his father, Kelton S. Patten (BS ’86) and his family in Orem.

BYU accepted Maddox as a visiting student for one semester. “Shorts aren’t going to do me much good here,” the Southern girl thought, anticipating the weather as she packed her bags for Utah.

BYU law students welcomed Maddox with open arms.

“When I first got here, everybody asked what they could do, if I needed anything,” Maddox said. “It really impressed me a lot.”

Maddox said she enjoyed the smaller classes at BYU and felt a better sense of community.

Although Maddox found herself a winter coat and a niche at BYU, she still craved Southern hospitality, saying she missed the gumbo as much as her own apartment.

She returned to Tulane in January and will graduate in May, just in time to miss the 2006 hurricane season and to leave to find a job.

“There’s no way I’d live in an area that is hurricane prone again,” she said.