New Orleans Post-Katrina: Dillard University Students Start School in Luxury
Free cable TV, rooms with a view and twice-a-week maid service — the New Orleans Hilton Riverside trumps a stay in a dormitory any day, say Dillard University students who started their first day of classes at the upscale hotel this week.
The campus of the 135-year-old historically Black university was flooded by Hurricane Katrina barely two weeks after the start of the fall term, and the students had to finish the semester at other schools across the country.
Other area schools, including Tulane University, the University of New Orleans and Loyola University, are reopening their campuses this month, but Dillard is still closed because of severe flood and fire damage estimated at $400 million.
Roughly half of Dillard’s pre-Katrina 2,200 students have returned for this semester, and 800 are living at the Hilton, along the Mississippi River.
“I see all the boats and ships that pass by. It’s nice,” freshman Alexander Bumpers said of his 12th floor room.
Students toting backpacks, wearing headphones and talking on cell phones mingled in the glass-ceiling atrium of the hotel between classes.
Most classes are scheduled at the hotel, but some also are being held at the nearby World Trade Center, or at Tulane and Xavier universities. Student fees have not increased from last semester, university spokeswoman Wendy Waren said. The cost for them to stay at the Hilton is being subsidized with insurance money, she said.
Students like Bumpers did not have to travel far to get to class this week. They just took the elevator from their rooms down to the second floor, where more than a dozen makeshift classrooms have been set up in a large open room using tall gray carpeted cubicle walls for dividers.
In each “room,” rows of long tables and chairs, rather than individual desks commonly seen in classrooms, face an instructor and a large white marker board. There were no windows, posters or fancy educational props, but the students didn’t seem to mind.
“This is luxury,” said junior Lionetta Terrell as a server prepared her a plate of red beans and rice with all the trimmings — smothered greens, cornbread and apple pie — at a cafe in the hotel atrium.
The hotel provides students three meals a day Monday through Friday and lunch and dinner on weekends. It also has a student post office and free laundry facilities with donated washers and dryers.
The Hilton Riverside usually caters to conferences at the nearby Convention Center, which has sat vacant since being used as a temporary shelter in the aftermath of Katrina.
Now roughly 30 percent of the hotel’s 1,600 rooms are being occupied by Dillard students, said Hilton general manager Fred Sawyers. The hotel is also housing hurricane relief workers, hotel employees left homeless by the storm, evacuees and some tourists.
“There’s no business right now, no conventions,” Sawyers said.
— Associated Press
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