Six months ago New Orleans's Xavier University was riding high on its Newsweek ranking as the nation's hottest premed school, while nearby Dillard was being touted as one of the South's top colleges. But today the schools, which along with Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) make up the city's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), are still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Xavier sustained damage to every building. Dillard lost three residence halls, and its buildings were filled with five to eight feet of water. At SUNO waters rose to eight feet, nearly ruining the university's valuable African art collection. The institutions faced a combined loss of more than a half billion dollars, forcing them to cut staff significantly.
But don't count them out. Last fall, administrators, many homeless themselves, started planning the schools' comeback. They were helped by a promised $30 million grant to local schools from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Now, with FEMA's assistance, SUNO has gone mobile, housing students and holding classes in trailers. Xavier, where crews began repairs last September, reopened in January, and Dillard, currently operating in temporary quarters, expects to welcome students back to its campus next fall.
New Orleans HBCUs are on the mend, but they still need our help. Call your congressional representatives and encourage them not to forget our schools as they plan assistance for Louisiana. And give to the United Negro College Fund (800-332-UNCF or uncf.org), which is helping to support affected HBCUs.