Introduction: Hurricane Katrina and African American Students

By Franklin, V. P. | The Journal of African American History, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Hurricane Katrina and African American Students


Franklin, V. P., The Journal of African American History


Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 resulted in the worst man-made disaster in U.S. history, and African Americans in the Gulf Region were the greatest victims of the death and destruction, and the governmental neglect and malfeasance that followed in its wake. (1) This symposium examines several greatly overlooked aspects of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the people and institutions of New Orleans, Louisiana. Since August 2005 there have been scores of books and hundreds of articles on the short- and long-term effects of the storm on neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities, and the hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf Region. Specific reports on the impact of the hurricane on the educational institutions in the region have been written that focused on the devastation as well as the recovery efforts. However, there have been few efforts to document the experiences of African American college students who were forced to evacuate and were displaced from their campuses for six months or up to a year. There have also been numerous reports, articles, and studies of the rebuilding of the New Orleans Public Schools and the attempts to provide adequate facilities for the thousands of returning students. However, there has been little critical evaluation of the educational strategies being pursued to restore public schooling to the overwhelmingly African American school system. (2)

This symposium on "Hurricane Katrina and African American Students" seeks to document the experiences and conditions for black students in New Orleans before, during, and after the storm. In "Hurricane Katrina through the Eyes of African American College Students: The Making of a Documentary," Clyde C. Robertson presents the results of his in-depth interviews with three Dillard University and two Xavier University students on their experiences before, during, and after the hurricane. Robertson's larger project was to make a documentary film based on the student interviews. In this essay Robertson describes the background of the project and offers excerpts from the interviews with the five students. Through the voices of the African American students we learn exactly what happened to them and how they handled the disruption and displacement. The students' experiences were distinctive and varied, from being evacuated on a bus, which caught on fire, to being trapped in a dormitory for days as the waters rose and not knowing how or when they would be rescued. Robertson found that the one thing they all had in common was the strong desire to return to their home campuses once their universities were reopened.

Once the students returned to their campuses, they became immersed in the recovery efforts. Gloria C. Love, in "A Katrina Recovery Initiative: Dillard University Student Projects, January-July 2006," provides a report on the numerous activities organized to assist in the recovery efforts. The Dillard University campus had over $400 million in damages and while the campus was being restored, classes were held in the Hilton Hotel in downtown New Orleans. Students volunteered to participate in various recovery programs taking place in the city and the essay describes the range of programs in which students engaged and for which they received academic credit toward graduation. In addition, Love presents the results of a survey developed by the faculty and students and administered to over 270 returning Dillard students on their experiences during and after the storm. In many ways the responses to the large survey reflected those of the five students interviewed for the documentary film. …

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