Students who returned to New Orleans area universities began the school year amid the noise and bustle of rebuilding, hopeful that their campuses were getting back to normal- if such a state is possible two years after the devastating blow of Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina forced over thousands of students to attend host institutions during the fall of 2005. College students’ return to the city is not only a major source of revenue for New Orleans, but it also plays an intricate part in revitalizing the city.
College students must play a major role in the rebuilding of New Orleans, said Marcus Littles of the Louisiana Disaster Relief Foundation.
“Students learn to be civically engaged if they are civically engaged in college. Students cannot just be contained in their college bubble,” the hurricane recovery activist told an audience gathered at Dillard University to commemorate the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Dillard President Dr. Marvalene Hughes told those at the forum that students are eager to be part of the recovery efforts.
Students attending Dillard are required to obtain a minimum of 120 community service hours upon graduation.
“Since Katrina, students have asked to take that limit off because they know they will exceed that,” Hughes said.
About 300 residents, students, alumni and activists filled Dillard’s Lawless Memorial Chapel to participate in the Aug. 28 forum as part of the week-long commemoration organized to focus attention on the conditions still facing the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The event featured activists who discussed such issues as affordable housing, quality education and environmental safety.
“The federal government should take over the responsibility of redeveloping and repairing this infrastructure, getting these schools rebuilt, getting these clinics back in and getting these libraries back up,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. “I believe that the federal government should do what it is designed to do.”
Community organizers expressed concern at the forum about lack of progress in the rebuilding of the entire Gulf Coast region. Groups of business, civic and entertainment organizations expressed those concerns to government officials.
“We will not rebuild a stronger region unless we take additional steps to ensure quality housing, jobs, and education are new commitments,” said Dominique Duval-Diop, senior associate for PolicyLink, a nonprofit organization promoting economic development in the Gulf Coast.
But Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., said the recovery is not just a state and local problem.
“We want to make sure people across the country understand that this is a national issue because of the incompetence of the administration, after the storm,” he said.
According to Jefferson, 58 of 128 schools are open in New Orleans and the New Orleans school district is about $60 million in debt.
Jefferson also announced that about 60 percent of New Orleans residents have returned, up from about 50 percent this time last year.
According to a report compiled by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a non-profit group found that fewer black students are enrolling in New Orleans schools. Though still the majority, black students make up 89 percent of the student body in Orleans Parish, down from 93 percent pre-Katrina, the report stated.
College students comprise a significant part of the returning population. Administrators report that enrollment has climbed to between 60 percent and 75 percent of pre-Katrina levels at most of the New Orleans universities.
After Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast region many universities came together to help in the rebuilding process of New Orleans.
“As college students we have a large voice,” said Christopher Stewart, a Dillard senior political science major from Dallas. “Being active around Hurricane Katrina projects is a way we can help rebuild and improve the communities in which we attend school every day.”