Flooded Venice could change the future of Rome program


On Nov. 12, Venice was hit by its worst flood since 1966. The University of Dallas Rome students traveled to Venice on Thursday, Nov 14. Upon arrival, the students found a damp city and experienced a rising tide the next morning. 

According to Benjamin Gibbs, director of student affairs on the Rome campus, the flooding did not stop the mission of the program. 

“In respect to Fall 2019 trip and the historic flooding that we’ve seen all the activities on the first day were able to be completed without any issue. Where we ran into trouble was on the second day. The second morning actually when the acqua alta came in we had to cancel a number of tours.”

Students were given plastic rain boots to compensate for the high tides. One group was stranded on a vaporetto dock for four hours when the high tide came in and the vaporetto shut down because of the high waters. 

Gibbs led a tour himself to the Jewish ghetto where he and over a dozen students were stopped in their tracks by high tides. In total, five tours were canceled. 

“We attempted to go into the Jewish ghetto, but ran into really high waters once we got to the neighborhood that the ghetto was in so we canceled that tour. We cancelled the tour of the Doge’s palace because that’s right off of St. Mark’s and then a few other site visits in a local church was canceled because the Dominicans that run that church were shutting the church down as we arrived,” said Gibbs. “They were also concerned that anybody that came to visit the church might not be able to get back towards sorta the main parts of the city if they didn’t take the Vaporetto soon because rap services shut down for about two to three hours.”

Due to the flooding, the mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, called for a state of emergency, and later tweeted that: 

“These are the effects of climate change.”  

Rome program director Dr. Peter Hatlie assured students of their safety, and did not require anyone to participate on Friday.  

“I can tell you that it affected me profoundly. I have been through earthquakes, not really devastating ones and I have been in difficult situations, but this thing,” he said as he tapped his chest with his hand, “cut really deep.” 

“It was one of those wake-up calls,” he added. 

“One piece of advice I heard, had a profound impact on me: we all would be doing Venice a favor by not going there,” Hatlie said. 

The University News asked Hatlie whether or not the Venice trip would continue. 

“Going forward I have to let the dust settle and just decide what we would do going forward. You have to look at past precedent. Is this just a one-off thing? I think we have to wait for scientists and engineers to find out if this was an anomaly or whether it’s something of the future.” 

“It’s a very good question, the beautiful thing about Italy is that there are many many alternatives, super-rich places and we could find alternatives to Venice” Hatlie said. “If I had been convinced that there had been any safety or security [issue, then] we wouldn’t have gone.” 

In an email to The University News, Professor of English Dr. Scott Crider discussed his experience in Venice and wrote that, “The 2019 Fall Romers responded to the historical disaster with good cheer and spirited courage.” 

Prior to departure for Venice, the students spent a day and night in Assisi where Dr. Crider delivered an introduction speech discussing St. Francis’ “Canticle of Creatures.” 

“Pope Francis Laudato Si’: Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home is the most important book of my lifetime,” Crider wrote in an email. “Under the influence of St. Francis’ ‘Canticle of the Creatures,’ the Pope includes the love of nature with the love of God and neighbor to provide a vision of the human duty and opportunity to care for our ‘common home,’ Earth, including her resources, species and people.” 

Crider reminded students of Pope Francis’ encyclical which preceded the students’ trip to Venice and the effect of global warming on the earth. 

“The science of climate change is necessary, but not sufficient; we need a moral, spiritual vision to understand it, and Pope Francis provides it to Christian and non-Christian alike,” Crider wrote.


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