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Centenary College shelters Dillard students fleeing hurricane

 


Centenary College shelters Dillard students fleeing hurricane

Sept. 2, 2005     

A UMNS Report
By Vicki Brown*

Emmanuel Galloway carried only clothes as he and some 250 other Dillard University students fled the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. He watched in horror as one of their buses caught fire, destroying the few belongings those students were taking from New Orleans to Centenary College in Shreveport, La.

Galloway and other Dillard students and faculty staying at Centenary College said people at the college and in the community had been wonderful. Both institutions are related to the United Methodist Church.

Churches, individuals and businesses in Shreveport donated food, clothes, and toiletries, and provided buses, cab fare, and plane fare to get students home. “This is seeing people who walk their faith and live it,” said Freddie Hill, vice president for campus life at Dillard, who traveled with the students to Centenary and has been arranging transportation home.

“We’ve seen day-to-day miracles. We needed a bus to take students home; a church gave us a bus,” Hill said. One man paid $900 for three cabs to drive students home to Dallas.

All of the students who lived on campus were safely evacuated to Centenary, said Marvalene Hughes, who became president of Dillard in July. But, she said, she has no way of knowing if any of the students who lived off campus or faculty are still in New Orleans. Enrollment is about 2,000.

Meanwhile, the campus at Dillard, one of the denomination’s historically black colleges, is flooded with five to eight feet of water. Hughes is struggling to set up a command center and a Web page at www.dillard.edu to stay in touch with students and faculty. While she tries to figure out how to make payroll, she confers with insurers about coverage.

“We don’t know how to assess the damage at this point,” Hughes said. Two engineers trying to assess damage were waiting Thursday to be airlifted out of the city.

“Dillard will be back and better as soon as possible,’’ Hughes vowed, adding that she is investigating alternate sites and any other possibilities that will allow classes to resume.

“We’ve had unbelievable offers,” she said, with some colleges offering free semesters or in-state tuition, and others, including Centenary, extending fall enrollment for students affected by the hurricane.

Hughes, however, worries that students who enroll elsewhere will not return when Dillard reopens. She urged students to wait. “We will re-open and provide two semesters of college this year. We were a great, top-flight university, but we intend to become even better.”

Some students were determined to stick with Dillard.

“I’m going to wait, even if we lose a semester,” said Veronica Sumner, a sophomore from Little Rock, Ark., who was staying with a friend in Shreveport.

Galloway, a sophomore from Dallas, agreed. Evacuated last year because of Hurricane Ivan, he has faith that college officials will get the school operating.

“I stay optimistic,” Galloway says. “It’ll work out for the best.”

Depending on the damage, Hughes said the college might be able to erect temporary buildings at the campus.

The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry will collect donations on behalf of Dillard to help with the university’s hurricane recovery. Staff members are working with college officials to find space to set up a command center in Atlanta or Washington.

The agency pledged to advance Dillard its $250,000 apportionment from the Black College Fund immediately as well as an additional $50,000 from the University College Fund to help with hurricane relief, said the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top staff executive.

Wanda Bigham, staff executive for schools, colleges, and universities, said the agency would pay for transportation home for the students still left at Centenary.

Angella Current-Felder, executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships, said her office has already received calls from students at Tulane and other colleges closed because of the hurricane. New procedures will accommodate loan and scholarship recipients affected by the hurricane. If necessary, special repayment arrangements will be made.
 
Dillard was the only United Methodist-related institution that suffered severe damage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The college had both flooding from the levee break and wind damage from the actual storm. Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., suffered some minor roof damage and has numerous trees down, but expected to resume classes Sept. 5. Rust College in Holly Springs, Miss., and Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., also reported minor weather-related damage.

Del Pino said Centenary’s quick response to aid Dillard shows the “genius of connectionalism” of the United Methodist Church. “In this very traumatic experience, it is possible for us as a denomination to give thanks for the provisions to care for institutions, especially Dillard,” he said.

The Rev. Betsy Eaves, chaplain at Centenary, said despite the strain of the bus fire and leaving their belongings at the dorms in New Orleans, the Dillard students were “in good spirits.”

“They’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the churches and individuals,” Eaves said.

An online link to donate directly to Dillard will be posted soon at www.gbhem.org/hurricaneresponse.html. Contributions can also be mailed to the Dillard Hurricane Relief Fund, c/o the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, P.O. Box 340007, Nashville, Tenn. 37230-0007.

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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