Every October, Howard University basks in its prestige as current students and alum come from across the world to celebrate its glory at homecoming. It is here that I, a recent graduate, and others arrived last weekend for one more chance to relive our days on the yard. Unfortunately, the mystique of Howard University’s homecoming was tainted for many of the newer classes on campus.
For many students from the classes of 2022 to 2025, Howard University was once their dream school — now realized to be a pipe dream. Remaining steadfast in their demands for improved living conditions, transparency, and the reinstatement student representation on Board of Trustees, dozens of students spent their first or second homecoming celebration sheltered in tents on the yard and in Blackburn Center to protest against the administration in an effort widely known as the #BlackburnTakeover. Students have come forward to address the punctured ceilings, as well as mold, insect, and rodent infestations that plague their dorms. It is in these dorms that students find themselves severely ill and subjected to damage to their personal items that the university refuses to hold itself accountable for. For those who don’t live in the dorms, they are displaced and faced with homelessness and relocation outside of the D.C. area despite the university’s claims that there are “hundreds of available beds.”
Howard University’s recent social media coverage of homecoming didn’t depict the real life struggles that current students are facing. As students rise to the university’s “truth and service” motto by speaking up for themselves and their peers, the administration chooses to gaslight students by threatening expulsion on the grounds of code of conduct violations.
“You will proceed through a student conduct hearing and face consequences up to and including expulsion from the University. The judicial process will be conducted within the procedures of the Student Code of Conduct,” Cynthia Evers, vice president for student affairs, wrote in an email to students on Oct. 13. “We take great pride in Howard students leading the nation in public and private fights for justice and equality in all corners of the nation and, in fact, the world. However, there is a marked delineation between historic protests and what we witnessed yesterday (Oct. 12 at the time of this message). The University looks to fully preserve the integrity and authenticity of students’ constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and assembly while protecting against the weaponization of these rights as false representations of the Howard student experience at large.”
Since Oct. 12, students have conducted the longest-running protest in Howard University’s history since the nine-day occupancy of its administration building in 2018, with over two weeks since its inception and counting. On-campus protesting isn’t new for Howard. Students have been fighting for institutional change dating back to March 1968, when nearly 1,000 students took over the administration building for four days seeking the resignation of former university President James Nabrit, emphasis on African-American history in the curriculum, and dropping the charges of 39 students who protested three weeks prior.
In 1989, students occupied the administration building for three days after Former President James E. Cheek appointed former Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater to the Board of Trustees. Fast forward to 1997, the late Chadwick Boseman led a protest regarding the collapse of the College of Fine Arts during yet another multi-day demonstration.
As a former protester. myself, in the 2018 sit-in, it’s disheartening to see that things haven’t changed since then. That protest was fueled by the revelation of misallocated financial aid money, the blatant dismissal of rape culture on campus, and the lack of adequate housing. It was at that time that I was a sophomore on campus who had uncertainty of my future on campus due to financial aid. A year prior, I was back and forth between hospitals after catching strep throat and a bacterial infection twice within a semester due to the lack of heat in my room and the uncleaned communal bathrooms of the historical Harriet Tubman Quadrangle.
In my sophomore year, Howard’s political science building, Frederick Douglass Hall, was closed for roughly three years due to asbestos and poor upkeep. By junior year, I was displaced off-campus and struggled to pay rent while working two jobs and going to school full-time. What many students of the university know as the “Howard struggle” continued up until my graduation in 2020, in which I didn’t receive a proper ceremony until a year after I received my degree, while other schools were holding their commencement ceremonies months after the pandemic surfaced. It’s unfortunate to know those nine days in that administration building that meant everything to us was only taken with a grain of salt by President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the rest of Howard University’s administration.
Among the list of issues, the most disappointing aspect of the ongoing protests is the anti-Black response from administration. An Instagram video of campus security aggressively confronting a student peacefully exercising their right to protest was shared by @_thelivemovement on Oct. 23, and a clip of armed police officers on site at the request of administration surfaced on Twitter a week prior. Given the racial climate and the justified distrust in law enforcement, there is no reason why students should be subjected to police confrontation for simply demanding better living conditions at the No. 1 co-ed HBCU in the country. If HBCU students don’t feel safe on campus in the hands of their own administration, where could they go?
Aside from the poor response from administration to address these concerns, alumni and current students still have unwavering pride and love for Howard University. It’s not Stockholm syndrome, nor are we blinded by the prestige hidden in its name. As Ta-Nehisi Coates emphasizes in his personal narrative “Between The World and Me,” we come to Howard to meet Black men and women from different backgrounds, as well as unlock our potential at a capacity unable to be obtained anywhere else. Though we love and cherish all that we’ve learned on hilltop high, we are currently left at a crossroads to wonder what exactly defines our #BisonPride.