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Traditionally African-American University Re-Opens in New Orleans


Among the colleges and universities that re-opened this month in New Orleans, after having lost a semester to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, was the nation's only traditionally African-American Catholic University. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, Xavier University is an important part of the city's educational and cultural identity.

The cleanup is in its final stages now and Xavier University is up and running. Students all attended out-of-state schools last semester, but they returned to Xavier as soon as they could.

"It is a small environment where everyone knows each other. It is like family and the professors are here to help you,” said one student.

Dr. Norman Francis is now in his 38th year as president of Xavier University. He says he was not surprised that more than 75 percent of pre-Katrina students opted to return this semester.

He says colleges that target the needs of African-American students help reduce the educational disparity between whites and blacks in the United States. "The disparity is still larger than it should be and, if there were not African-American, or black, colleges educating young African-Americans, that disparity would be greater than it is today."

But damage from flood waters made Xavier's campus uninhabitable for a few months. Dr. Francis says the restoration of this university is part of the overall effort to bring back New Orleans.

"We know what it cost to renovate this place in four months, it is at least $20-plus-million already, and yet we know that is money well spent, because it is an investment in the future," said the school president.

The challenge faced by Xavier was overwhelming. Many dorm rooms had to be totally refurbished because of water and mold damage. New chairs were needed in many lecture halls.

Water also damaged a lot of expensive laboratory equipment in Xavier's School of Pharmacy, according to spokesman Warren Bell. "This was an electron-scanning microscope set up in here for a research project. Because the water came in 18 or 20 inches high on this first floor, it was enough to cause serious damage to the electrical components that are contained in equipment like this. It is part of the reason why our damage total reflects not only the damage to the buildings, but you also have serious damage in terms of lost equipment that was, in this case, less than two years old."

Xavier University has counted on support from charitable donors, alumni, faculty and staff. That's because of the university's special quality, according to returning Student Body President Regina McCutcheon.

"The love students have for Xavier is phenomenal. We spent the whole semester going to other universities talking about Xavier,” she said. “There is nothing that can replace the experience that we have had here."

Now, they don’t have to.