By Micha Green
Student activists at Howard University were surprised this past weekend when celebrity and alumna Debbie Allen stumbled into the middle of their protest.
For more than four weeks, they have been begging for four demands: An in-person Town Hall meeting with President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the Administration, permanently reinstate student, faculty and alumni positions on the Board of Trustees, President and Chair of the Board schedule a meeting with the students outlining the “Housing Plan,” and legal, disciplinary and academic immunity for the student protestors.
After continued cries for their demands to be met, press coverage and celebrity intrigue and intervention, President Frederick stated that the students have his ‘undivided attention;’ however, for the students, words are not enough.
“We want to assure our students that they have our undivided attention and we will hold our campus housing providers accountable to ensure their living accommodations are always exceeding residents’ expectations,” Frederick said. “This effort involves nearly every unit in the University.”
Despite the President’s words to students in a question and answer session part of the State of the University Address, the students are underwhelmed with Frederick’s words and outraged by his actions.
This fall, as student complaints arose, Howard identified 41 dormitory rooms affected by mold, which, according to a press release submitted to the AFRO, is less than one percent of the total rooms on campus. The press release explains that Howard offered all affected students opportunities to be relocated and that the Institution began what is referred to as the “hyper care” strategy, which is an administrative initiative meant to ensure healthy and safe student housing.`
Even with these announcements last Friday, Nov. 5, students are displeased their needs have not been met. The call for an in-person Town Hall initially had the caveat of by the end of October, which has come and gone.
Allen listened to the students’ needs and demands and promised she would look into their requests.
“Howard University helped me become who I am. We always had a voice as students. Always,” Allen said. “I’m going to go in there and see what’s up,” the multifaceted artist assured the students.
Later, Allen was filmed visiting her sister actress and Howard University Dean of the College of Fine Arts Phylicia Rashad. Rashad encouraged Allen to stay out of the student’s protests and suggested through her comments that the students were continuing protests despite the fact that President Frederick and the Administration had addressed their concerns.
However, activists have told the AFRO that demands still aren’t met.
Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a D.C. based activist organization is helping rally petitions so student demands and needs are met now and beyond these 2021 concerns.
“Certain residential buildings don’t have Wi-Fi at all since school started, and in my building the Wi-fi goes out whenever it wants, but I still have class and attendance and expected to be in class virtually,” said Autumn Hester, a freshman Psychology major from Atlanta, who is working alongside Harriet’s Wildest Dreams.
Three-fourths of Hester’s classes are virtual and the fourth is actually a hybrid in-person and virtual model.
“It’s hard to attend these classes, when attendance is mandatory and attendance counts towards your grade, when the Wi-Fi cuts out, any second, any time, but you’re still being forced to turn things in on deadline. And the school will say things like the Wi-Fi is working, the Wi-Fi works, where it wants to work. And sometimes even the library Wi-Fi goes out and that’s where teachers direct their students when they use the excuse ‘the Wi-Fi isn’t working,’ well the library Wi-Fi is not working,” Hester said.
“We just need a way to get to our virtual classes, provided by the school,” the freshman activist added.
However, Wi-Fi is not the only trial Hester has faced. She is one of the 60 to 100 students sleeping in tents in order to avoid mold, fungi, rats and other critters.
“The very first week that I got onto campus, there was a campus-wide AC outage. It was the hottest time of the year and in my dorm, it was 92 degrees and it took the University about two weeks to fix it. Some people’s AC’s still weren’t working. And then after that, people started noticing mold in their rooms. Specifically me, I had mold in my vents, but there were people who had it worse, where they were coughing up blood and getting hospitalized because of the mold. For me, personally, I just had mold in my AC, and it was causing my roommate and I to get sick, and we kept getting tested over and over for COVID because we had the same symptoms, but it kept coming back negative until we checked the AC and I saw what was growing on them,” Hester explained. “So whenever we put in a maintenance request for the company Corvias, which is who manages and cleans and operates the residential facilities, they would choose when they wanted to come and when they wanted to let us suffer, and a lot of times they just let us suffer. They didn’t clean it, and they also have a history of doing these types of things for different institutions that they manage. They have a history of having mold in their facilities, rats, mice, everything. So it’s not a new thing, but Howard hired them anyway, which shows their appreciation of their students. They don’t care about their students, they care about their money.”
While she said that she can safely be in her room to do work for the time being, she is waiting for the mold to grow back yet again, since it’s already been wiped twice of mold, versus working to fully eradicate the issue.
At this juncture, Hester and Harriet’s Wildest Dreams are adding to and supporting the demands of The Live Movement, which initially posted their requests to end the protest.
“We want to break the 40-year contract with Corvias, financial compensation for damaged items and for housing and free health care for students affected by any environment growth, and then inspections and testing by non-Howard health inspectors and free housing for students who have been affected, and adequate education resources, which includes Wi-fi and tutors,” Hester said.
Despite the challenges, Hester said she still loves Howard and wants to remain a student there.
“I care very deeply for Howard. I feel like the culture surrounding HBCUs, and specifically Howard, is completely unmatched, and I knew that coming into it,” Hester said. “It’s so completely different when you actually live it and experience it. I feel like Administration is separate from the students and the faculty, because the students and the faculty and the staff- they are amazing. And they all need to be appreciated. It’s just the Administration needs to function less like a business and more like a school.”
At this juncture, the student activists are remaining at their beloved University but do not plan on letting up until their demands are met. With the cold weather, Hester said students are still in need of warm blankets and pillows. The Live Movement also posted that they need hot food and beverages to keep them warm throughout the night.
Finally, the activists are accepting financial donations using CashApp or Venmo at $TheLiveMovement.
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