Aug. 29, 2015, marked a decade since Katrina, one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, made landfall in southeast Louisiana.
Thirty colleges on the Gulf Coast were affected by the hurricane and devastating floods that followed. Fourteen were shut down, with damage estimated at $1.5 billion, and more than 100,000 students were forced to take the semester off or enroll elsewhere.
The California State University system responded by bringing in more than 300 of those students — and CSU East Bay opened its doors to the biggest number.
“The California State University wants to make sure that the educational goals of students are not interrupted by this devastating hurricane,” said now retired CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed at the time. “We will do what we can, as fast as we can, to help out these students and their families.”
“We just had to say, if you were admitted to a school that was affected, just come, and we’ll find the place for you — and they came. A lot of them came,” said Dr. Diana Balgas, special assistant to the vice president of student affairs and director of assessment at CSUEB.
In total, 74 students displaced by Katrina were welcomed to attend Cal State East Bay without transcripts or the ability to immediately pay fees.
They were also exempt from paying non-resident tuition.
“We wanted to show our support for these students in the wake of such a disaster,” said Stan Hébert III, associate vice president and dean of students. “Our efforts included mentoring, clothing donations, housing, textbook scholarships and more to help normalize their transition to our university.”
Jenerro Lockhart (BS ’08 Biological Science, MBA ’11 Business Administration), who was born and raised in New Orleans, was among the first to arrive. Southern University at New Orleans, where he was enrolled, was underwater. Heartbroken and knowing it would be years before the university could rebuild, Lockhart turned his attention toward Cal State East Bay, which he had visited during a recent trip to California to visit a friend. Within weeks of the hurricane, he made the 2,000-mile journey west with only $60 in his pocket.
“I had visited the campus before and kind of wondered what it would be like to go there,” Lockhart said. “I thought that it would be an opportunity to keep my mind from going all over the place and stressing about home and family and stuff, so I decided to just enroll.”
“We worked very quickly at assembling a team of individuals in key areas: admissions, financial aid, and housing,” said Balgas, whose role was to create the Katrina Scholars Program to coordinate services. “We all put our heads together to figure out what we could do and what our response would be, so when we said, ‘Yes! Come to East Bay,’ we had a team in place that could easily serve those students.”
Balgas recalls that some students came with only the clothes on their back, along with immense feelings of worry and guilt about what they had left behind. The students navigated rising floodwaters and closed roads to get out of Louisiana and Mississippi. One student took a boat, then a plane ride, and then hitchhiked on a big rig to get to Cal State East Bay.
“When I evacuated, I packed a few things for a temporary evacuation,” said Kelli Patterson (BA ‘08 Liberal Studies). “When I learned that the school was closed, and we couldn’t even return to gather personal belongings, reality sunk in. I’ll admit I was pretty lost in what to do next.”
“At first it was about survival, family, basic necessities, but then it wasabout looking at their future opportunity and what college meant for them,” said Balgas.
Clothing and fundraising drives were organized and several thousand dollars were raised, mostly in the form of gift cards. Mervyn’s, a Hayward-based department store chain, sponsored a shopping spree and the CSUEB African American Faculty and Staff Association hosted a reception in honor of the incoming students.