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Volume 71, Issue 135, Wednesday, April 26, 2006

News

Katrina evacuees finish year

Help hospitality is much appreciated amid Houston flaws

by CASEY WOOTEN
The Daily Cougar

While many college students who evacuated New Orleans have made the solemn journey back to a city under reconstruction, a highly contested mayoral race and a tenuous future with another hurricane season approaching, some students -- dubbed Katrina Cougars -- stayed at UH just through the spring, and some have decided to settle here for a more permanent stay.

According to the Office of Institutional Research student demographics report for Fall 2005, 762 Katrina evacuees were enrolled at UH. The number decreased considerably this semester to 111 Katrina evacuees, said Susan Moreno, a research associate with the University's OIR. 

The decline in enrollment of Katrina-affected students is attributed to the reopening of many of the universities damaged by the hurricane. 


In September 2005, the University scrambled to make room for 762 Hurricane Katrina evacuees. After two semesters, 111 Katrina Cougars remain, and some plan to make UH their permanent home.

Gregory Bohuslav /The Daily Cougar

Tulane University's Web sites state the university reopened its doors for the spring semester and is offering additional courses over the summer to allow students to catch up. 

Dillard University, which was completely submerged by the storm, held classes at a local Hilton hotel. 

Xavier University underwent hectic repairs to open its doors for the Spring semester, though much of the campus remains damaged. 

While many evacuee students had a difficult time adjusting to life in a sprawling metropolis while attending a new university, some say they have adapted and found their place among the student body. 

April Wheat, a graduate voice student who originally attended Xavier, said she had to adjust when she first came to Houston. Originally from Slidell, La., she said that the first month was the hardest. 

"The campus is so big," Wheat said. "You had to walk back and forth trying to figure out who needs to sign what paper and it was frustrating trying to find everything." 

The size of UH and many of its classes compared to most of the universities in New Orleans made it difficult to adjust. 

Lakeisha Stafford, a biology junior who originally went to Dillard, said she is still adjusting to the larger class sizes. 

"You know Dillard is a small school (of) like 2,000 students," Stafford said. "So to go from having a one-on-one relationship with my instructor and having a class that's no more than like 30 or 50 to having like 500 students is a big difference."

Adjusting to transportation was another major factor for many evacuees from New Orleans. In New Orleans, it was easier to get around without using a car, and the city is friendlier than Houston, evacuees said.

Students from the local universities could find food, area parks and entertainment within walking distance from many of their dorms or apartments.

"I had to start working a lot more," Clement Ekpo, a music sophomore who originally went to Xavier, said about getting around in Houston. 

"You have to pay for gas, have to maintain a car. That's one problem for people from New Orleans; you have to have transportation in this city," Ekpo said.

Despite any initial hang-ups, some students who took refuge in Houston have decided to remain in the city to finish their education. 

Wheat and Ekpo said they plan to remain at UH because they have adjusted to the city and the campus. 

But some students who want to return find their circumstances make it too difficult. Stafford said that she wants to return, but can't for health reasons. 

"That's only because that's where I've been for the last three and a half years," Stafford said. "That's where I developed a family at."

But despite whether evacuee students chose to stay at UH or return to their original universities, they said they remember New Orleans fondly. 

Ekpo said that while he liked New Orleans, he admits that it had its problems, but also said that many people wish to return.

"There was a lot of problems with New Orleans but it was a wonderful place," Ekpo said. "People want to go back; they miss New Orleans. Some people want to stay but more want to go back. I would've thought that a lot of people would want to stay."

Additional reporting by Tecora Biggers, Mohammed Olokode, Sabrina Rodriguez, 
Allison Wardzinski

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