Hurricane refugees finish fall semester at Kent State

Leslie Schelat

For the six students who transferred to Kent State following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the end of the semester is a different experience than it is for most students.

“I hate to leave,” said senior theater major LaMya Holley. “I really like my teachers, just the people I’ve met.”

Holley came to Kent State for the semester from Dillard University in New Orleans with three other theater students and the chair of Dillard’s theater department, Sherri Marina.

Holley was on a train headed for Columbia when she received a phone call from fellow senior theatre major Angela K. Thomas who told her Marina was at Kent State, which was helping students displaced by the hurricane. Holley got off the train immediately.

“I felt more comfortable being here with my (theatre department) chair,” Holley said. “I had more guidance and wasn’t alone.”

Thomas also called junior theatre arts major Katreequia Thompson, who was headed to Dallas to stay with her sister and look for a school to attend there. An hour into her trip, she turned around to join Holley and Thomas at Kent State.

Thomas visited Kent State several times prior her arrival in September and knows Terri Kent, a professor in the theatre department.

“My mom said to call Terri and see what Kent State was doing,” Thomas said. When the opportunity arose to attend school here, she jumped at the chance.

Tony Clinton, a senior speech communication and theatre arts major, was in Florida working at the MTV Video Music Awards when Hurricane Katrina hit, so he immediately flew home to Pittsburgh. After looking into attending Clarion University, he decided to attend Kent State when he discovered the university would waive tuition and room and board.

Clinton is taking one class at Kent State while he continues working on his own business as an audio engineer. His experience here was different than other students because he took only one course in Shakespeare.

“It wasn’t too hard,” Clinton said. “I didn’t have too many places to find.”

Holley had a different experience.

“Kent is unbelievably huge,” Holley said. “For the first week, I’d leave an hour early to make sure I was there on time.” Her former school, Dillard, had a private campus of about 2,100 students and 55 acres, a size that is much smaller than Kent’s 24,000 students and 840 acres.

Another new experience for Dillard’s students is Kent State’s on-campus transportation.

“You have a bus service,” Holley said. At Dillard, a shuttle to off-campus apartments just began last year.

The buses here helped Thomas learn her way around.

“For the first two weeks before I had my car, I was taking the bus,” Thomas said. “I got tours every day.”

After Dillard announced that classes would commence in January on Tulane University’s campus, Holley and Clinton decided they would return to New Orleans. Along with Loyola University New Orleans and Xavier University of New Orleans, students have the option of enrolling in one or both of the two 13-week sessions that are offered. These accelerated semesters will be equivalent to one school year.

By completing these semesters, both Holley and Clinton will graduate from Dillard in May.

“That’s the most important thing to me now – just get a degree,” Holley said. “I really like the school, but I can’t stay.” If Holley remained at Kent State, it would delay her graduation.

Clinton will be returning to the south for school and has to deal with a house and two vehicles that were damaged by the hurricane. The area in which he lived flooded beneath 12 feet of water.

“My house is being gutted out and rebuilt from the frame,” Clinton said.

Thomas will not be returning to Dillard in January. Instead, she will take a 21-hour course load during the spring semester in order to stay on track for a May graduation.

“The city doesn’t have anything to offer,” Thomas said. “I’m kind of scared to go back.”

Instead, Thomas has made herself at home in Kent State’s theatre department. She performed in a lab show and already has applied to continue graduate school here.

“The department here has been very welcoming,” Thomas said.

Holley echoes Thomas’ sentiments and hopes to return to Kent State soon.

“I appreciate the opportunity to come here,” Holley said. “I’d definitely come back to visit.”

Contact general assignment reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].