By Carl Thomas
The students and administration of Howard University have found themselves at an impasse, and it seems to be getting worse by the day. At the heart of the issue is a seemingly appropriate set of requests from students.
The student requests – which have since become demands – began during a peaceful sit-in within the lobby of Howard’s Blackburn Center Oct. 12. They initially centered primarily around the substandard conditions of the dormitories. Students say rats, roaches and mold are just some of the things they’ve had to deal with in on-campus housing. Students have produced evidence of mold riddled air filters and mushroom growth on ceilings and walls in dorm rooms.
Another concern students voiced was that university administration has made several decisions in recent weeks which some have called unreasonable. One of those decisions, removing the student trustees from the university’s board, has drawn much criticism. The students enlisted the help of The Live Movement, a coalition of students from historically Black colleges and universities to advocate for educational reform and academic advancement of Black education for Black students.
Representatives from The Live Movement requested that a meeting be convened between the school administration and students on Oct. 12. That request was met with officers from the Metropolitan Police Department being called to intervene and remove students. They’ve been there ever since. `
The student demands are simple (and reasonable), an in-person meeting with administrators by the end of the month, voting power for student representatives on the Board of Trustees and further discussion of housing plans for future students. A fourth demand – full immunity from academic discipline for protestors – has been added after many participants were threatened with expulsion if they continued the sit-in.
That was when participation really increased. Instead of running from the threats, hundreds more students joined. The administration then instructed campus security to block food, water, and other resources from entering the building. Students in turn set up a receiving tent outside the building.
“To date, President Frederick hasn’t had a forward-facing town hall with students discussing all the things that are going on on campus,” said Erica England, a Howard senior and student organizer.
The students have garnered media attention and lots of community and celebrity support.
Humanitarian and entertainer Rodney “Red” Grant stood in solitude with students and donated blankets, hats and hot chocolate to students who are encountering what has been an immediate change in weather conditions. Several artists who are signed to 1017 Records, owned by rapper Gucci Mane, were scheduled to perform as part of Howard’s homecoming events, but have decided instead to spend their time on campus protesting with the students.
Howard University administration released a statement on the matter. “The well-being of our students is one of our top concerns and the university continues to offer support to students who report needing assistance,” officials said. “In the past two weeks, university administrators prioritized meeting with the students over lunch and already addressed many of the concerns this group of students has voiced.”
Howard’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Cynthia Evers said in an email to students that the school cannot sustain a tuition cut “when we already charge as much as 50 percent less than peer institutions.”
The true issue is students stay in college for four to five years. Howard University has been host to hundreds of protests, many of which centered around these same issues- such as the last one in 2018. Interestingly enough, one of the “met” demands three years and a pandemic ago included, “The Board agrees to establish a task force, co-chaired by a student, with representation from the Howard student body and Howard administration to review existing grievance mechanisms at the University”.
It appears at Howard University, history truly repeats itself.
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