Protest over: Howard University strikes a deal with students after 33-day standoff

Student organizer: 'We came, we saw, we declared and we won. We challenged the lack of accountability and lack of safety.'
By: | November 15, 2021
Photo courtesy of Jacob Bellevue

Students who had been protesting residential living conditions for more than a month at Howard University reached an agreement Monday with the administration to end their sit-in. Terms of that deal were not released and will remain protected, according to Donald Temple, an attorney representing the students.

The 33-day stand, which included around 200 students setting up their own tent city and occupying the Blackburn Recreation Center on campus, ends a contentious battle between administration and students who claimed their dorms were infested with mold and that roaches were present in a dining hall. Several social media posts over the past few weeks showed running water on floors and exposed drywall, though the university initially said a cracked pipe was to blame.

“The students courageously journeyed on a path towards greater university accountability and transparency and public safety,” Temple said during a press conference on BlackStarNetwork at which several students were present.

The protests gained national attention and even a visit to campus from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sustained a fall but came back to try to forge a solution between students and President Dr. Wayne Frederick.

Frederick responded late Monday afternoon in a video and short letter to the Howard community that focused more on unity, the institution’s master plan and the bringing together of the community than the housing situation. He continued to condemn the protests that occurred, saying he expected “expect non-student protesters to depart the surrounding area – and to end their occupation of the campus.”

As for the agreement and individuals leaving the Rec Center and surrounding area, Frederick said: “This is a welcome development and a necessary conclusion to a challenging few weeks for everyone involved. This type of protest to occupy a building and the negative effect of doing so were felt throughout campus. Protest drives change. I accept and applaud it. I do however struggle with the type of protest that jeopardizes student safety, the very thing that students said prompted their concerns.

“The health and well-being of our students is the most important part of my job as president. As I have said before, even one issue in one of our dormitories is too many, and we will continue to remain vigilant in our pledge to maintain safe and high-end housing.”

Earlier in the day, student leaders did not wait to share their agreement or their strong words for the administration, gathering with Temple to make their announcement

“We were fed up. We had enough. And we were ready to make change for our beloved Howard University by holding the administration accountable by any means necessary,” Howard University senior Aniyah Vines said.

The protests began on Oct. 12 soon gained the backing of several groups, including the LIVE Movement and the Howard chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. The student occupation of the Blackburn Center was met initially with resistance from the university, which indicated at the time that some of the protestors could face Student Code of Conduct violations. But they held their ground and then some, adding a sea of tents outside the Center.

“We spent 33 days challenging the Howard University administration … saying that not only did our lives matter but that our voices mattered and our concerns mattered,” said student organizer Channing Hill. “We spent 33 days fighting for the first-class housing that Rev. Jesse Jackson said we were entitled to. We came, we saw, we declared and we won. We won for Howard students. We won for Howard University. We challenged the lack of accountability and lack of safety and the lack of our ability to even say there was a problem. Today is a new day.”

In addition to the reports of poor residential conditions, students also asked for other changes, including the inclusion of student representation on the university’s Board of Trustees, particularly during the still-developing COVID-19 pandemic. It is unclear whether the new arrangement will give them more of a voice. They also called for a town hall with Frederick and other administrators and have asked the university to unveil a plan for addressing the housing concerns.

In a recent published Lookbook from the university, Howard has invested $171 million in recent years into housing, including its Harriet Tubman Quadrangle, Axis, Effingham Apartments and Howard Manor.