Katrina and Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Dr. Michael Lomax

By now we've all seen the devastation that Hurricane Katrina has wrought on hundreds of thousands of people, who are now slowly beginning to recover their broken lives. One recovery effort about which the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is deeply concerned is the attempt of thousands of college students to get their academic lives back on track.

6,500 students who had started their fall semesters at Xavier and Dillard Universities in New Orleans are scrambling to continue their education; some are enrolling, at least temporarily, at other schools. Also of concern are the approximately 7,500 students at other historically black colleges and universities whose homes are in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and whose families may have seen their homes and jobs disappear. These students will need help replacing the educational support in which their families had helped them to invest.

The UNCF has established a Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund to help these young men and women keep their educations going. Anybody who would like to help in this effort can visit our website for more information.

One impact of Katrina is of special concern to those who care about women in IT. For as hard and as costly as it will be to rebuild the shattered physical plants and scattered student bodies of Dillard and Xavier, it will be even harder to re-create the special dynamic they had nurtured for women studying computer and information sciences.

Both schools were becoming magnets for young women interested in science and technology. As I told the Houston Chronicle, these were schools on a roll. Women represented 75 percent of the two schools' graduates in computer and information sciences. These young women were among the brightest and most highly motivated of our students, and we hope they will move quickly to continue their education at other schools while Dillard and Xavier get back on their feet.

UNCF will do everything we can to help these schools not only re-open but re-build, to become even stronger and more competitive than before. But what about the students? Will they come back to the "new" Xavier and Dillard?

We hope that a lot of them will feel like LaToya Roberts, a junior at Dillard who told the Chronicle that she "will go back whenever and wherever Dillard reopens.

"I have too much invested."



Dr. Michael Lomax is President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Negro College Fund, Inc., and a member of the NCWIT Executive Advisory Council.