Howard University supporters and alums want answers after a viral TikTok showed a group of white young adults rummaging through an abandoned building and archival materials on the HBCU campus.

Outrage over the since-deleted video has prompted questions about the university’s failure to properly store and protect the books, newspapers and other literary works, some of which dated back to the 1860s, that were found in Benjamin E. Mays Hall.

Kenyatta R. Gilbert, dean of the School of Divinity, issued a statement regarding the matter late Friday (Dec. 29). “In the video, a group of individuals are observed rummaging through Mays Hall, running through the stacks of its library, flipping through books and files, and even deploying a fire extinguisher indoors,” said Gilbert. “The creator of the TikTok admitted that the group had trouble entering the building, with its boarded windows and doors, but the group persisted and was able to force entry into the building through a mechanical room,” he continued.

The deserted building formerly housed the Howard University School of Divinity from 1987 – 2015; however, it was boarded up after the theological school relocated to the west campus nearly a decade ago. Gilbert stated that the university is currently in the process of having the 23-acre east campus considered a historical landmark, a designation that would allow them to revive the area.

“Despite the University’s efforts to remove historically relevant materials from the site in 2015, the actions of those who trespassed and broke into Mays Hall remind us how some are willing to violate the sacred boundaries of our beloved HBCU campuses and threaten to embolden others with similar actions,” he further stated.

Campus security is currently investigating the incident. Details of vandals potentially facing charges are not yet known. In the meantime, Gilbert assured the HU community that, “In light of this incident, Howard University’s Department of Public Safety will ramp up existing patrols of the site and the University will work to reassess the contents of the building and secure it from unlawful access. The University is taking the necessary steps to ensure the School of Divinity’s most precious archival materials are in safekeeping.”