Indiana University Political Science Associate Professor Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh (a native of Louisiana), and African-American and African Diaspora Studies (History) Professor A.B. Assensoh (a native of Ghana) are graduates of Dillard University in new Orleans, Louisiana. They co-authored the guest column below about their undergraduate alma mater, Dillard University, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) that was devastated in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Their guest column appeared in the Monday (October 17, 2005; page A6) issue of "Herald-Times", the major city newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, as well as in Indiana University's campus newspaper, "Indiana Daily Student". It is with permission that their article is published here.

"Rebuilding New Orleans: Colleges, universities are priorities"


"The Herald-Times titled its latest story on New Orleans, "Struggling for normal in New Orleans" (Oct. 9). Before that, a front-page story that underscored the plight of Dillard University and Xavier University of Louisiana, the two prestigious black universities in New Orleans, was in The New York Times, and titled: "Storms Stretch Thin Safety Net For 2 College," (Sept. 25).

Both Dillard and Xavier Universities have played major roles in America's post-slave trade south by being in the forefront of the education of some of the best black pharmacists, medical doctors, educators, business executives and legal professionals. Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Revius O. Ortique, for example, is a 1947 graduate of Dillard University. Dr. Ruth Simmons, the current President of Brown University, (an Ivy League institution) is a graduate of Dillard University; civil rights leader and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, too, once attended Dillard University. There are many others, including several of Dillard University alumni and alumna, who have held (and continue to hold) important national, local and international positions.

There is also Southern University in New Orleans (SUNO), a satellite campus of Southern University in Baton Rouge, which has produced some of the best male and female minority military leaders of the country, including one of the leading military commanders of the areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Several leading minority agriculturalists, architects and engineers have also passed through Southern University doors.

The aftermath of the two recent hurricanes was not a pretty sight. Reportedly, there is a pile of rubble on the Dillard University campus, which was the result of some modular student homes being razed to the ground by fire. The university's book store is described in pathetic terms, as what is reported to be the left overs include the soggy morass of ruined books and backpacks as well as notebooks.

In the same city were Tulane and Loyola Universities. Yet, as reportedly, Dillard and Xavier Universities "suffered far worse damage than their wealthier counterparts on higher ground and have tiny endowments, limited resources and students who are almost all dependent on financial aid," (NYT, September 25). Dr. Norman C. Francis, an excellent and dedicated educator, has headed Xavier for 38 years, while Dr. Marvalene Hughes, for several years a dedicated and successful university president in the California University System, became Dillard's first substantive female President on July 1, 2005.

Comparatively, both Dillard and Xavier, as battered academic institutions with unlimited usefulness, need a lot of help. While both historically-black institutions have "restricted" endowments of about $50 million each, Tulane University alone, for example, is reported to have no less than an endowment of $745 million. The appeal is for empathetic onlookers and helpers to come to the assistance of Dillard and Xavier and, if possible, their richer, predominantly-white educational counterparts. Assistance in the form of money, volunteer teaching efforts, books, skills and time will be appreciated. Also, several people are appropriately quoting the Asian axiom that it is nice to feed the hungry with fish, but it is much better to teach the hungry how to fish for themselves.

Therefore, while it is appreciated that students of Dillard, Xavier and other affected area universities are being pitied and absorbed for temporary admissions by educational institutions outside Louisiana, it will worth the while of the affected institutions if help is extended to help rebuild them. Otherwise, in the end, graduates of these institutions, who are working hard at other institutions throughout the country, may painfully look back and, euphemistically, quote as part of their anguish the prophetic title of Professor John McCluskey, Jr.'s novel, and say: "Look What They Done to My [our intellectual] Song."