Dominican honored by "Katrina Class" in New Orleans

Dominican University of California is one of 637 colleges that will be honored on Saturday as Loyola University of New Orleans Class of 2009 dedicates a sculptural bench to pay tribute to schools that took in displaced students in the semester following Hurricane Katrina.

Members of the Class of 2009 were freshmen when Katrina came ashore in New Orleans in 2005. After the hurricane and subsequent levee failures, Loyola and other New Orleans colleges and universities were forced to suspend classes, and students scattered to colleges and law schools across North America. Seven New Orleans college students – including three from Loyola -- were initially sent to Dominican’s San Rafael campus.

In the months – and in some cases years – the students were able to return to Loyola and other Gulf Coast universities damaged by the hurricane. Takarah Barnes, who was a freshman at Xavier University of Louisiana, remained at Dominican and is currently finishing classes this fall to earn her degree in biology in December.

Barnes, who is from  Vallejo, is proud that Dominican is being recognized at Loyola University on Saturday. The bench, by New Orleans metal artist David Borgerding, incorporates the names of each of the schools into the piece, which is shaped like the spiral of a hurricane.

“I’m really glad Dominican is going to be mentioned,” Barnes said. “I think it’s amazing they are being honored . They should.”

The University paid all Barnes’ tuition, housing and book expenses for the first semester after she arrived her freshman year. Barnes had been staying with relatives in Texas for a month following her evacuation from New Orleans.  She was attending Xavier, in her second week as a pre-med student, when weather and news reports indicated Hurricane Katrina’s route would take it to New Orleans.

“I’m from California and I’m like `What is a hurricane?’ ” Barnes said.

Barnes eventually packed her belongings and rode with friends to Texas. Had she remained in New Orleans, she had been told she and other Xavier students would have had to seek shelter in the Louisiana Superdome. That facility was badly damaged and became the epicenter for fear and frustration following the hurricane.

“Thank God I wasn’t there,” Barnes said.

Barnes decided to come back to the Bay Area to attend college and her aunt, Nicole Barnett, worked as an instructor in the nursing program at Dominican. Barnes had taken a tour of the Dominican campus as a senior in high school but decided she wanted to leave the Bay Area to attend college.

“After being here I definitely love going to a smaller school,” Barnes said. “I was thinking, `I came here before. I liked it. Why not give it a try.’ That’s what kept me here.”