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Virginia's Hampton University Offers Free Semester To Displaced Bahamian Students


Hurricane Dorian not only left many people without homes in the Bahamas; it also left the students at the University of The Bahamas without a northern campus. But one college here in the U.S. has opened its doors to those students. Hampton University is a historically black school in Virginia, and it's decided to pay tuition and room and board for these Bahamian students for one semester.

To tell us about those plans, we're joined now by the president of Hampton University, William Harvey.


WILLIAM HARVEY: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

CHANG: So tell me how you arrived at this decision to spend this kind of money to help these students. I mean, we're talking about - what? - around $20,000 per student here.

HARVEY: Well, the president of the University of Bahamas, Dr. Rodney Smith, is my former vice president. And one evening, I called him just to ask how he and his wife and family were doing. He told me they were doing fine but that his north campus had almost been obliterated. So I thought about that overnight, and the next morning, I called him and told him that Hampton would pay room, board and tuition for the students from the north campus.

CHANG: And how did he react?

HARVEY: Oh, he was delighted. But since that time, we have gotten $100,000 from one of our trustees.


HARVEY: And we're going to use that money to try to help pay for I-20s...

CHANG: Visas, you mean.

HARVEY: ...And other kinds of costs for these students.

CHANG: So how many students do you expect to be taking you up on this offer?

HARVEY: Well, I will tell you. Within eight to 10 hours, we had 22 students. By the end of the day, we had 50.


HARVEY: Yesterday, we had 151.

CHANG: A lot of these students who will be arriving on your campus have lost their homes. They may be leaving family behind. I mean, they're entering a whole new community. What are your plans for providing, say, counseling or other mental health services on your campus?

HARVEY: We have had three meetings yesterday. We talked about all of that. We've got dormitory space for them. We've got a counseling center with certified counselors because some of them may have PTSD. They may have some other kinds of mental issues. We've talked to the people in our department of psychology because we're moving to do a number of those things.

CHANG: Now, this is not the first time that Hampton University has offered support to students after a natural disaster. You guys opened your doors after Hurricane Katrina, as well. And I'm just curious. As an HBCU, do you feel a special responsibility when it comes to disasters that disproportionately affect black communities like the 9th Ward or like the Bahamas?

HARVEY: Well, let me just say to you that one of the things that Hampton has done from its very beginning is to provide help to others. We were founded by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, and he was a Union general - a white man - that wanted to provide an education for recently freed slaves. So a part of our DNA is to help people. And we did help the - some of the Katrina victims.

CHANG: Yeah.

HARVEY: I think - I don't remember - I think we had about 40 or 50. This looks like we're going to have more than that. We've gotten a lot of fanfare on this one, but we do a lot of things that people don't know about because we're not doing it for any reason other than it is the right thing to do, and it's the best thing to do. And we're going to continue to do that.

CHANG: Well, I wish you all the best. William Harvey is the president of Hampton University.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

HARVEY: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.