By Sam P.K. Collins, The Washington Informer
On October 13, a student-led protest at Howard University’s (HU) Blackburn University Center entered its first full day as more than 50 young people continued to demand a meeting with HU President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the fulfillment of other requests.
At the culmination of a student-led town hall the night before, several dozen students stayed in Blackburn well past closing hours as part of what’s been called “The Blackburn Takeover.” Administrators have since shut down the building.
Though a university official reportedly attempted to quell the protest, students remained inside, sporting their pajamas, planting their sleeping bags on the floor and circulating calls for supplies on social media.
By Wednesday morning protesters circumvented security guards stationed outside of Blackburn to pass out doughnuts to their peers who couldn’t enter the building for breakfast.
Aniyah Vines, a senior and leader of The Live Movement, an organization which has coordinated the protest in conjunction with HU’s Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), said protesters won’t stop until Frederick agrees to meet with students before the end of the month and HU’s Board of Trustees reinstates its student, faculty and alumni positions.
Protesters also demanded that Frederick and the Board of Trustees collaborate with students in the formation of a plan to combat what’s been described as a housing crisis.
“It’s time for President Frederick to make time for us, and not photo ops with [U.S. Vice President] Kamala Harris,” said Vines, a 21-year-old senior. “Right now with the housing crisis, students are sleeping in their cars and going to Burr [gymnasium] to shower. Black mold [in the dorms] is making people throw up and [administrators] are literally telling students their experiences are false.”
At the start of the academic year, HU faced a housing shortage that sparked outrage on social media and a protest on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Howard Place in Northwest. Around that time, the university also dealt with a slight increase in Covid-19 cases and a cyber attack that brought campus activity to a standstill for nearly a week.
HU Vice President for Student Affairs Cynthia Evers released a statement Oct. 13 imploring protesters to vacate Blackburn and meet with the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards before noon.
In response to students’ housing concerns, Evers said that 94 percent of dorms are currently occupied. She also said that the university has and continues to address mold and HVAC issues.
In regards to discussions about Board of Trustees appointments, a Student Life Committee town hall has been scheduled for later this month. Evers lambasted what she described as protesters’ efforts to discredit HU leadership, recounting that administrators met with students over the previous two weeks.
However, students participating in “The Blackburn Takeover” said their peers have felt ignored by HU administrators long before the pandemic. No administrator reportedly attended the Oct. 12, night town hall, hosted by the HU Student Association.
For some people, problems with HU run a bit deeper.
One student who requested anonymity said even with the money pouring into the university, she still struggles to find resources to help her tackle an outstanding balance that threatens her chances of graduating on time.
“There’s a lot of BS. Students don’t have housing or tuition,” the student said. “I haven’t gotten responses to my emails in over a month [nor] are there any staff working in financial aid. I haven’t been able to register for the spring.”