HBCU Faculty And Community Groups Offer Plans For Future Hurricanes
By Pearl Stewart
JACKSON, MISSDays after the current hurricane season began, a consortium of academics and community organizers gathered in Jackson, Miss., to confront the likely possibility that Katrina was not their last deadly storm.
The need for clear, well-researched disaster plans that includes civic engagement was the focus of the symposium, “Response to Community Crisis: Lessons from Recent Hurricanes.” The three-day event held earlier this month was sponsored by Tougaloo College and included the HBCU Faculty Development Network and Campus Compact,a group of college presidents committed to involving the academy in civic causes.
“HBCUs are very vulnerable in this kind of crisis because they tend to be very old and to have old institutional resources,” said Dr. Joseph Stevenson, director of Jackson State’s executive doctoral program. “We have to apply and leverage knowledge within the institution and with each other.”
Stevenson was among several presenters who discussed the specific threat of hurricanes to historically Black colleges and universities, as demonstrated by the devastation of Xavier University of Louisiana, Southern University New Orleans and Dillard University during Hurricane Katrina. All three campuses were closed for the fall semester. Xavier reopened in January while Southern moved many of its operations to its Baton Rouge campus and opened a temporary trailer campus in New Orleans. Dillard held classes for 1,048 students in the Hilton hotel in downtown New Orleans, and the campus is slated to reopen on Sept. 25.Presenters offered case studies and best practices for preparing campuses for disasters and for using physical and intellectual institutional resources to help needy populations in the surrounding communities. “Where are the nearest health facilities? Where do you get 5,000 bottles of water? How do you move students out of the area?” were among the questions Stevenson said the plans should address.The Jackson State presenters recommended that Dillard, SUNO and Xavier collaborate on a joint emergency preparedness plan, developed with the assistance of government and private funding.Others suggested special planning for preserving archives and collections, developing community-campus partnerships with organizations such as United Way and faith-based programs, and assisting elderly citizens and residents of nursing homes in their communities.Charlotte Hurst, a Dillard University nursing professor, said Dillard’s strategic planning includes a component for helping to meet the needs of the elderly, including such practical items as survival kits, ID and medical information cards.“We are putting Dillard together with the community for recovery,” she said, outlining a program developed by Dillard President Marvalene Hughes, titled “A Katrina Recovery Initiative,” which includes oral history interviews, artistic programs and a summer institute research camp.Presenters also recommended that institutions develop risk-assessment plans to determine how much loss — direct and indirect — they might sustain in major disasters.The participants from New Orleans campuses provided vivid portrayals, not only of the damage immediately after the hurricane, but also of the condition of the affected areas today. One of the major problems, said Xavier assistant dean of students Kimberly Reese, is the need to provide services for the workers.
“Xavier is providing housing for groups that are rebuilding New Orleans,” she said. “We have opened our buildings to community groups.” She also said there is a need for summer camps and activities for children, so that parents who have returned to the city can work on rebuilding. “The level of stress is very, very high, so it’s important to promote healthy lifestyles for the community.”
Agencies providing resources for the initiatives discussed at the conference include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, associate vice president for research at Florida A&M University, said the losses to institutions are more than physical. “Since Katrina, there is much more awareness of how a natural disaster can affect the research and service mission of the institutions. How do you put a price tag on that?”
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