'My mom told me, 'Think of it like study abroad.' " For all
Whitney Wallace knew of New Hampshire, it might as well have been a
foreign country. But when she got word that she could attend college
here for free this semester after evacuating from Dillard University
in New Orleans, she didn't worry about the details. The sophomore
had been sitting at home in Jackson, Miss., for a week when a friend
spotted Franklin Pierce College's scholarship offer on the Internet.
"I just thought, 'Let me hurry up and do it before I change my
mind,' " she says, her slipper-clad feet kicking back and forth as
she relaxes in her dorm on a Friday afternoon.
Ms. Wallace could have stayed closer to home, at any number of
colleges in the region that opened their doors for free to evacuees.
But she and friend Tyger Russell decided to head north for an
adventure instead. Thanks to the Dillard network, five others from
the historically black college found the right academic fit at
Franklin Pierce and arrived here during the first week of September.
Hundreds of schools around the United States are now host to the
diaspora of Gulf Coast students and faculty. Franklin Pierce counts
14 "Katrina scholars" - the rest coming from Tulane and Loyola -
among its 1,600 students. As homework intensifies and the trees take
on the rich hues of fall, the initial flurry of donations and local
media attention is fading. But those little moments of discovery
keep happening - the comparisons of food and weather and culture
that are part of any encounter "abroad."
Dean of admissions Lucy Shonk reassured a number of Dillard
parents who were wary about their children arriving there from a
campus that's almost entirely African-American. With about 7 percent
of the student body from minority groups, Franklin Pierce is diverse
by New Hampshire standards, she says. "It's a place where everybody
gets along ... and it's diverse not just in terms of minorities but
all types of backgrounds." Being in a rural area, she adds, forces
the college to build a strong sense of community and trust.
Phebe Robinson, an African-American admissions counselor and
recent graduate, welcomed students at the airport and introduced
them around campus. On a trip to Wal-Mart, one student got emotional
when she picked out the same notebook she had left behind in the now-
flooded buildings. "She was saying, 'Is this really real? I can't
believe you're paying for all this,' " Robinson says. "I can't
describe how good it was to feel like we were helping."
Soon they had packed their schedules with classes, clubs, and
sports - one young woman from Dillard joined the crew team as a
novice and is hosting a radio show on Tuesday afternoons. "They've
just thrown themselves into this community.... I see them becoming
leaders," Ms. Robinson says.
Wallace says she's excited to be on a campus that to her eyes is
very diverse. "I've met Italians, Japanese.... These are people I
never get to meet on my campus." she says. And some simply defy
categories: "There's this guy," she says, giggling, "he wears tie-
dyed clothes and hangs a stereo around his neck and just starts
On their second day in New Hampshire, Wallace and Ms. Russell
signed up for the campus's traditional Mountain Day. Along with 250
students and faculty, they had their first hiking experience,
climbing to the 3,100-foot summit of nearby Mt. Monadnock. Wallace
cracked jokes all the way up to mask her terror. "At the top, I just
lay there. I didn't want to move.... I thought I was on 'Fear
Factor,' " she says. Russell came away with a postcard-perfect
response: "If I can do this, I can do anything."
Two weeks before, they had been throwing clothes and flip-flops
into bags, thinking they'd be away from Dillard for only a few days,
like last year when they evacuated for hurricane Ivan. Wallace
brought books and her laptop, and the Internet has been a lifeline. …