Mold, water leaks? Howard students protest, sit in over housing conditions

Rallies continue at university student center over what they say are safety concerns in buildings.

Howard University students are continuing to hold a sit-in at the Blackburn University Center, demanding change over what they say are poor conditions in residence halls and a lack of representation now on its Board of Trustees.

The students’ group, which includes HBCU reform advocates Live Movement, has posted several videos that have gone viral showing mold in dorm rooms, running water on floors and walls torn apart that university officials said were necessary to complete repairs of a cracked pipe. They also claim infestation of rodents is occurring in other buildings on campus, including a dining hall, and say not enough COVID-19 tests are being conducted (Howard conducted more than 65,000 tests since August, with 469 coming positive).

Students have been staging protests since Tuesday after a town hall that was hosted by the university’s student association did not include the attendance of top administrators or President Dr. Wayne Frederick, with whom they wanted to address their concerns. They said they are willing to wait it out until demands are met.

“We have our rights, and we are going to be posting them on the doors,” Howard University senior Aniyah Vines said outside the Blackburn Center in a video posted on Twitter. “None of our demands have been met. That means we’re not leaving. We’re not going anywhere. We’re tired of empty promises. Enough is enough.”

Dr. Cynthia Evers, Vice President of Student Affairs, responded with four separate statements on the protests, addressing the housing situation at Howard, the Board of Trustees’ decision to vacate student representation at meetings and support they say is available to students through various campus departments.

“The well-being of our students is always one of our top concerns, and we will also support the right to a peaceful protest,” she wrote. “The Office of Student Affairs continues to provide support to students who come to us in need.”

Photo courtesy of Bryanna Amanda Deras

But Evers said “a small group interrupted the constructive dialogue and instigated a sit-in … and moved to occupy the building” and could face potential discipline for violations of Howard’s Student Code of Conduct. Meanwhile, Vines said student protestors faced “intimidation” from police, with students having to lock arms to remain in the building.

Students thus far refuse to give in, and though there were only a dozen or so that remained inside the building overnight, about a hundred protestors took part in a peaceful but vocal demonstration outside of it on Tuesday. They are demanding that:

  • “Howard host an in-person town hall by the end of the month that includes Frederick and other administrators
  • The university reinstate affiliate trustee positions (students, faculty and alumni) on the Board of Trustees with voting power, and
  • That the president and chairman of the board propose a meeting with student leadership outlining their housing plan to protect the incoming classes of Howard’s immediate future.”

Howard University features several housing options for students, including its North Hall and Bethune Annex, which have been cited by students as less than desirable. Evers said the occupancy rate this fall was at 94% and that Howard addressed concerns, though she did not say whether the issues brought now by students—reports of black mold and water leaks—were among those discussed. She said beds increased by 15% this year over last year (5,714 total), but it is unclear whether those data account for the pandemic-interrupted academic year in 2020, when residence halls were closed last August. This year, students who pay anywhere from $7,000 to more than $10,000 annually for triple-occupancy to single-occupancy rooms, have been on campus for the fall semester since mid-August.

“In preparation for the 2021-22 academic year, we also subsidized the rents at two new off-campus apartments, which accounted for an additional 700 beds for our students,” Evers said in her statement.

As for a meeting requested by students with trustees, Evers said it “has been addressed by the Board of Trustees and will be discussed at the Student Life Committee town hall that is scheduled for this month. University administrators also have sat down with student leaders for lunch to open up a dialogue about their concerns over the past two weeks.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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