A Spring Break from the Ordinary: Hundreds of Howard University Students Descended on New Orleans, but Not to Party

By Nealy, Michelle J. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 6, 2006 | Go to article overview
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A Spring Break from the Ordinary: Hundreds of Howard University Students Descended on New Orleans, but Not to Party


Nealy, Michelle J., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


The stereotypical spring break experience generally includes hordes of college students invading Florida's beaches, basking in the sun by day and partying by night. But there are alternatives, and more than 250 Howard University students found one.

They decided to spend their break in New Orleans as part of the university's Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program called "Commissioned: Taking Action and Making Change."

Last month, students and chaperones departed from Washington, D.C., on a 20-hour bus trip to the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged city. Many thought that they would change New Orleans; few expected that New Orleans would change them as well.

An overwhelming number of students chose to participate in the program after it was announced that the students would be traveling to the Crescent City.

"Initially, we had only planned to bring 50 students," says the Rev. Dr. Bernard Richardson, dean of Howard's Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel and the lead organizer of the trip. He says the students' enthusiasm forced his staff to alter their plans.

With the help of donations from Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, deans within the university and members of Rankin Chapel congregation, ASB was able to accommodate everyone who was interested in going on the all-expenses-paid mission.

According to Richardson, the large number of students made a huge impact, "By just being with the community and seeing how [our presence] uplifted the residents in New Orleans and provided a sense of hope. They were encouraged to see so many young college students sacrificing [their time] on their behalf," Richardson says.

Chad Williams-Bey, a junior political science major from Connecticut, decided to make the trip only two days before the group's departure.

"If I had gone home, I would have just spent my spring break hanging out with friends," he says. "The motto for Howard University is 'leadership for America and the global community.' I wanted to make a difference."

While in New Orleans, students worked with Habitat for Humanity and Common Ground Collective, a community-initiated volunteer organization, on restoration projects and community outreach programs.

Throughout the week, most of the students were charged with "gutting," or removing debris, from homes designated as safe to enter by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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