Black colleges fight to recover

Southern University at New Orleans, Xavier University and Dillard University make up. New Orleans’ three historically Black colleges, and all three are still struggling in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

SUNO is the only one of the schools where students, faculty and staff are still located in temporary facilities, unable to return to campus. But all three are coping with debt, reduced enrollments and millions of dollars in losses as well as limited resources. Yet administrators at the schools are guardedly optimistic about making a comeback.

The colleges have made technological improvements. SUNO now offers classes and degree programs via the Internet. Xavier, meanwhile, is expanding its renowned pharmacy program after receiving a $12.5 million grant from the nation of Qatar.

Qatar may have been more generous to the colleges than the U.S. government, according to the federal board that oversees the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities. Board consultant William “Bud” Blakey said the Gulf colleges “didn’t get the kind of a share that they needed given the damage that was inflicted.”

SUNO remains particularly vulnerable, Blakey said. “And the question of its survivability as an independent entity and as a baccalaureate-degree institution is open right now.”

All three schools are recognized for producing thousands of pharmacists, musicians and business leaders in a city that was largely Black and mostly poor. Such colleges play an important role in guaranteeing access to higher education for African Americans who have faced and continue to face racist barriers in college admissions.

Black/Brown unity meeting

Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are hosting a joint training conference and “Black/Brown Unity” banquet on Nov. 10-11 in Jackson, Miss. Concerned about treatment of Latino immigrants, African Americans and others in the wake of the hurricane, the two groups are joining forces for human rights, workers rights and civil rights throughout the South and especially in the Gulf Coast states.

Rents skyrocket

Thousands of former residents cannot move back to New Orleans because of a metro-wide shortage of low-cost apartments. Before Katrina, a third of renters paid $500 or less for their dwelling each month. Post-Katrina, the average advertised rate for apartments in Orleans Parish has skyrocketed 70 percent, from slightly under $800 to $1,357 a month. Rents also have shot up in the suburbs.

The Brookings Institution reports that a lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest impediments to the rebirth of New Orleans.

One of the largest suppliers of low-priced apartments was the Housing Authority of New Orleans, which typically charged residents $85 a month for an apartment at one of the city’s public housing developments. But HANO has brought back just 1,100 of the 5,100 public housing units that were occupied before Katrina, and it plans to demolish the rest. HANO favors a privatized housing market.

Sewage may save wetlands

Tens of millions of gallons of treated sewage from New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish would be pumped into severely eroded coastal marshes to the east of the city under a plan to revitalize 10,000 of acres of wetlands.

The $40 million project would create the largest “wetlands treatment” system of its kind in the world, according to local officials and state scientists.

The project, which is still being refined, calls for diverting sewage plant discharge that now ends up in the Mississippi River and instead pumping it into wetlands. Backers of the plan compare piping in treated wastewater to delivering a steady stream of liquid fertilizer. They say it would accelerate plant growth and, eventually, reverse decades of erosion.

“This is a viable resource that should be utilized. To put it in the river is a miscarriage if the marsh could benefit,” environmental affairs chief Gordon Austin said.

Before the treated sewage is piped out to the marshes, Austin said, it would go through the same two-stage treatment process as currently used: a mechanical treatment to remove most solids, followed by a biological treatment to kill off potentially harmful bacteria.

Gulf Coast Update is compiled by Terrie Albano ( Sources include Black College Wire,, MIRA! Action!, and The Times Picayune.