By Micha Green
“I shouldn’t be coughing up blood in the morning,” one journalism student screamed passionately at the Blackburn Takeover press conference on Oct. 25 in front of Howard University in Northwest, D.C.
For two weeks, Howard University students have been organizing around the Blackburn Takeover, protesting and pleading with university officials to listen to the challenges surrounding student housing and needs. Students have complained of rats, roaches, mold in the dorms and other spaces on Howard’s campus, leading to health challenges, such as allergies and coughing up blood. Since their concerns have been ignored by the administration, student leaders and activists have taken over the Armour J. Blackburn University Center to sleep there and in tents outside, until their demands of decent living arrangements are met.
“There’s mold in my dorm- the dorm that I pay $5,000 to live in. There’s mold in my hall. There are five different girls in my hallway that have mold in their dorm. I pay $5,000 for mold in my dorm? I pay $5,000 for rats in my tunnels. I pay $5,000 for roaches everywhere I go? There are rats in the Annex, where we’re supposed to eat- and that’s just what I can see. I don’t know what’s going on in the kitchen back there,” one student, who went by Ty, said during the press conference.
“What do I think of Howard University? I think Howard University needs to get it together, because there’s no reason we should all be out here like this,” Ty added. “We are no longer begging for Howard University to listen to us, because we asked and we cried and we begged and we pleaded and they refused. We are now screaming and shouting.”
Last week, the students released a list of demands for the Administration in order to end the protest. The demands, posted to The Live Movement’s (the Movement organizing the protests) Instagram page, include: 1. An “in-person town hall with President Frederick and Administration scheduled before the end of October.” 2. “Permanently [reinstating] ALL Affiliate Trustee Positions (Students, faculty and alumni) on the Board of Trustees.” 3. The President and Chairman of the Board proposing a meeting with Student Leadership to outline their current ‘Housing Plan’ to protect current and incoming classes at Howard University.” and 4. Legal, disciplinary and academic immunity for all participants, both occupying the inside and outside of Blackburn Building.”
Despite students having to run to class and manage schoolwork, the Blackburn Takeover press conference was an up-close and personal view of what the students have been experiencing.
Many said that Howard was their dream school, some were legacy, while others were first generation college students, but all had one thing in common, they were disappointed in how a place they loved and cared about so much, could possibly ignore the students’ concerns and demands in such an egregious way.
“I am hurt and beyond bewildered that my university, my home, my dream is treating me like a nuisance and an enemy. Our demands are not demanding,” said Channing Hill, a junior majoring in Strategic Legal and Management Communications with a minor in Sociology.
“Today, students, including myself and our counsel, met with the University officials and their counsel. We came to the table hoping to discuss solutions to the rats, mold and infamous homelessness at Howard. And despite the personal sacrifice to my body, my health and my mind; despite the fact that I have slept on the hardest floor in the coldest room I have slept on ever; despite the clear efforts to clean and improve campus housing and public safety at the campus that I love, the University refused to have any discussion with me,” Hill said passionately through a bullhorn. “They refused to have any discussion about our demands and stated that they would not consider them until we end our protest, the protests that we had to have for them to call attention and clean the mold out of rooms.”
One of the biggest disappointments the students have, other than the conditions themselves, is that President Wayne A.I. Frederick, has not shown up to speak to the students himself.
“Frederick would not show up, and as he chose not to show up at the Student Town Hall on the 12th (when the protest kicked off), and as he chose to not show up for 13 days that people have been sleeping on the concrete, that people have been sleeping on the floors of our student center. He’s chosen not to show up today, and this is a pressing matter,” Hill said. “Wayne A.I. Frederick, how do you expect to lead a student body if you refuse to speak with them?”
Hill noted that the activism displayed by the students is exactly what they have been taught at Howard.
“This is what they told us to do in every class, in every room, in every discussion, they tell us to be bold and be courageous, but when we ask them for that same investment that my $48,000 a year puts in they don’t want to discuss it,” Hill explained.
Hill, with the agreement, nods and cheers of other students shared how contradictory the University has been with supporting their students as they demand basic rights.
“I am the epitome of a Howard Student. I am on the speech and debate team. They want to applaud when we beat Harvard, they want to applaud when I move up in the NAACP, they want to applaud in every space that I’ve succeeded, while they actively sit on my back on our own campus,” Hill said. “They put an enormous burden on the students, who only want them to be honest, responsible and accountable. We just want to breathe, and right now I can’t breathe at Howard University. Stop threatening us. Protect us, do your job and respect us, because we are not the enemy.”
“We will not leave. We will not tire, we will fight for this University that we love until it begins to live up to its legacy of ‘in truth and service,’” Hill said, quoting Howard’s motto.
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