Spurred by the reportedly “unlivable” housing conditions at Howard University, students and community members are staging a sit-in turned live-in at the Blackburn student center to make their grievances heard. Among chief complaints include reports of expired air filters, rodent and insect infestations, moldy walls and a lack of urgency from administrators. Though reported to administration, many demonstrators have expressed that such conditions have festered since the beginning of the school year — so much so that they’ve organized with a camp-like set up on campus to encourage immediate action.
The demonstration, popularly referred to as the #BlackburnTakeover on social media, is being led by senior Aniyah Vines and has rounded over 100 students, alumni and local businesses in support of the movement. District of Columbia chapters of organizations like Freedom Fighters, Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, and Until Freedom have also stood in solidarity. Now, as the sit-in sees its first week of protest, students have survived visits from the Metropolitan Police of DC, a false fire alarm believed to be set off by university officials, and campus police intervention. But still, they continue to stand firm in their decision to occupy the center.
Demands have been communicated via The Live Movement’s Instagram account with the hope of coming to a mutual agreement, but student leaders remain dissatisfied. Here’s what they want the public and university officials to know:
A proper in-person town hall meeting with Howard University president, administration and the entire student body needs to take place
The first demand from organizers states that there must be a call for an in-person town hall meeting that would include Howard University President Wayne Frederick, administration officials, and the entire student body. While a meeting was held on the afternoon of Oct. 12, prior to the first night of occupation, it was not a town hall, but a pre-planned meeting scheduled primarily to speak with the Howard University Student Association President Kylie Burke. It was also stopped by university officials close to an hour and thirty minutes before the scheduled end time. Feeling unheard and dismissed, the student body followed Vines and other student leaders to the site of protest, thus beginning the movement.
“We’re telling administration, ‘You’re not going to waste our time anymore unless we’re talking about the demands at hand,” Vines told REVOLT with a hoarse voice. “There’s been attempts for administration to talk to the students, but the attempts have not been successful because the administration doesn’t care about the demands.”
The campus newspaper, The Hilltop, reported that President Frederick has mentioned on more than one occasion his discomfort with in-person town hall meetings due to escalations he has seen in the past, offering himself for bi-weekly meetings with the Howard University Student Association and The Hilltop instead to communicate. Still, protesters don’t feel such communication efforts are enough to truly implement change.
There must be representation for students, faculty, and alumni
Listed second of the list of demands was a call to reinstate all affiliate trustee positions including students, faculty, and alumni, which were revoked over the summer. On June 11, the Board of Trustees announced this decision via a Howard University Communications update. The update read:
“There was overwhelming consensus that our current process of governance and engagement across the University, from the board through various stakeholder groups, is not working. Furthermore, the board agreed that it needed to improve its processes and look for governance models that more closely aligned with peer leading-edge institutions.
Based on the findings of this review, submitted to the board Committee on Governance in February 2021, the board voted unanimously on June 11, 2021 to approve a single unitary class of trustees to serve in a traditional fiduciary role for the University, phasing out trustee roles for students, faculty and alumni over the next year.”
Many of the organizers feel that such an update was insensitive and ultimately strips students of their say in matters that directly affect them. “We want to see them meet our demands and we won’t stop until they (the administration) give the student body the authority to check them off the list,” added Vines.
The protest will not end until a new “housing plan” is proposed
The Live Movement’s final demand called for the president and chairman of the Board of Trustees to meet with Student Leadership including the Howard University Student Association (HUSA), Undergraduate Student Assembly (UGSA), Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), and the School and College Councils to outline their “Housing Plan” to protect all graduate and undergraduate students. An accompanying condition was that all results of the meeting be made transparent to the student body.
According to The Hilltop, President Frederick declined to divulge any information pertaining to the university’s housing partnership with Corvias, which finances, manages and maintains four residential facilities on the campus. However, Frederick partially agreed to the appeal, saying, “The Student Life Committee has a town hall planned for October 25 to discuss one of the issues — well several issues — but one of the issues about the board affiliates and Marie Johns is the chair of the committee. So, I will listen, and my goal is to answer any questions that you have.”
The protest site also serves as a resource for food for students without access to any on campus, as Blackburn, which houses a cafeteria and other food vendors, remains inaccessible. “Since administration is not going to protect and help us, we’re going to call upon the help of the community. That’s when The Live Movement started directing people to a central, trusted platform,” Vines said in reference to the designated protest grounds. The area remains afloat, in part, by grassroots organizations’ donations. Because of the community’s fellowship, students have been supplied with food, toiletries, blankets and other vital materials to help them sustain their demonstration.
Students have been struggling with homelessness since the beginning of the school year
While the university gave notice on their intention to return to in-person learning in June, there were still several complaints that certain classes were changed from virtual to in-person, or vice versa, as little as a week before the start of school, leaving both students and professors little time to establish housing. Students felt that there was a lack in communication about housing availability and hybrid learning expectations, causing an upset that would precede the Blackburn takeover.
“We were on hold with the [university] housing department for over an hour, some people reported up to two hours,” said senior political science student Erica England about her efforts to find housing solutions for some students through the university’s housing line. “When we finally did get through, I was directed to a website that I could’ve found on my own. When I expressed that [the listed] housing partners that didn’t have enough spaces to house all the students, I was told that I was going to have to find that on my own.”
England, who also serves as president of the Howard Chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America felt called to make a statement on the behalf of the homeless students, organizing what she called a “sit-out” demonstration at the beginning of the school year. On the edge of campus, for a total of 12 hours, she sat with other dissatisfied students with hopes to encourage the university to be more diligent in their solutions to no avail.
“There should have been something in place to help those students. Howard got a lot of funding this year and a lot of people don’t see the accountability for where it’s going. But we do keep seeing tuition costs rising,” she added.