Dillard Notables of 2021: #3 COVID Creativity and Ida Improvisations


So many leaders in all industries had to learn how to do everything differently. Higher education is no different. It was an interesting year, tough because everything kept (and keeps) changing, but in many ways exciting because you had no idea what was coming next.

One of my takeaways? Everyone should stop doing strategic plans longer than three years. The past two years alone have shown this is foolish. I mean, did anyone predict Omicron would disrupt spring 2022 like it is doing?

I think you have to be thankful anyway for the challenges, especially because it made us more creative. We saw it at Dillard just like so many campuses.

We were able to share the lessons from fall 2020 with institutions across Louisiana, really highlighting the remarkable work of student leaders in helping us manage COVID.

COVID provided a great field experience for nursing students who were needed BEFORE they graduated to help address the issues raised during this pandemic.

The creativity was really seen in the Humanities. Art students were able to memorialize this period with their paintings.

Theater students combined the viral pandemic with the racial one, as the nation still wrestled with the effects of George Floyd’s death and subsequent issues.

Our artist in residence, PJ Morton, hosted a Dillard’s Got Talent competition with the winner earning a recording deal with his record company. Our theater students learned how to produce an event using COVID protocols.

Our winner, Sharandall Lewis, was excellent!

Our mock trial team competed virtually all year long, learning how to use the technology while arguing their cases.

And they were successful in a number of tournaments.

We were able to hold traditional events that we lost in 2020, like Honors Day. To maintain distance, we held two ceremonies on different days, one for freshmen and sophomores, the other for juniors and seniors.

We were able to hold white coat ceremonies for our pre health students,

and the pinning ceremony for the nursing graduates.

In 2020 we had to do a virtual degree conferral ceremony, but in 2021 we were able to revive our traditional commencement on the Avenue of Oaks.

While the virus rates were low, fall 2021 was shaping up to be “close” to normal. Parents dropped off the students to begin their college careers.

We debuted our new newborn teaching lab, and we hosted the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.

It was all good… until August 29th.

On the anniversary of Katrina and Isaac, Ida created a winding path of destruction across Southeastern Louisiana.

Lots of branches were down, a big window was blown out of Lawless Chapel, but there was no catastrophic structural damage on campus. But the power lines to the city were blown down, causing the city to lose ALL POWER. It would take about 8 days before the campus got power, which meant lots of cleaning and drying out buildings, and then finding new problems in buildings.

Ida caused us to close the Gardens apartments for almost a month. About 120 students had to be relocated to a number of places, including the Hilton Riverside hotel.

We raised tens of thousands of dollars to help students get home while campus was closed. Those who couldn’t leave before the storm hit rode it out on campus (about 60 students). They were then taken to Mobile, AL for staging where we could get them home.

We had lots of people step up and help students in Mobile, including the University of South Alabama and the 100 Black Men of Mobile, and in other places, like Little Rock, Philander Smith College and local alums stepped up.

But we slowly got back to the new normal, including Founder’s Day,

an event with actress Jurnee Smollett,

and the annual Ortique lecture with Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

I won back my belt in the Bleu and White game. In a stressful year with COVID and Ida, sometimes the little things have greater meaning. We all have to find those little things as we head into 2022 with a surging Omicron virus (or as I call him, Omarion).

The Prez




7th president of Dillard University

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Walter M. Kimbrough

Walter M. Kimbrough

7th president of Dillard University

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