Last week students at Howard University took over the Blackburn University Center to protest against housing conditions and lack of student representation on the school’s board of trustees.
The board of trustees responded Saturday in a release, saying “Simply put, we hear you and we continue to welcome your viewpoints on all matters pertaining to Howard.”
The release went on to state that the board supports and encourages the administration’s open and constructive dialogue with students.
“The goal is to cultivate spaces for us to listen and discuss prominent issues on students’ minds.”
The release also touched on protestors’ housing concerns.
“The University has always guaranteed housing for freshmen and sophomores; currently, 94 percent of first- and second-year students are living in Howard University residences,” the release said. “This Fall, Howard secured and provided additional housing for 700 students, a 15 percent increase in the total number of beds available for students compared to the 2019-2020 academic year. We recognize that, despite our efforts, there are those in our community who have struggled to find housing opportunities.”
The board acknowledged that other housing issues will take time to resolve.
The board also said it will offer previously elected student affiliate trustees, who were not seated at the time due to the pandemic, an opportunity to serve a one-year term as full trustees.
Student protesters responded to the board statement on Instagram, saying while they appreciate the reinstatement of those members, there needs to be a space for all students to be heard.
They also highlighted that the board failed to provide a timeline for a safe proper existence on campus.
Threats of expulsion
After the sit-in began on Oct. 12, students began to receive warnings from Howard University’s leadership, threatening expulsion for students who participated.
WTOP reported that students at the Blackburn University Center refused to leave that Tuesday until administrators addressed demands for an in-person town hall with Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick. Their goal was to reinstate affiliate trustee positions.
By Oct. 13, Vice President for Student Affairs Cynthia Evers sent an email, obtained by WTOP on Sunday, warning students to peacefully vacate the Blackburn Multipurpose center by noon the next day.
She accused students of “distributing disinformation to encourage a public perception that the administration has not met with them.” They also claimed that students “did not like the honest answers that [they] received when we met.”
“If you do not attend the meeting as requested or do not vacate the center by noon today, you will be subject to discipline under the Student Code of Conduct,” the bold email text read. “Specifically, you will proceed through a student conduct hearing and face consequences up to and including expulsion from the University.”
These same students have received support for their efforts from several of the HBCU’s represented organizations since the protest began. One of those organizations, the HUSA Senate, said in a statement that student organizing rights should be protected.
“No student should be expelled for holding our beloved university accountable,” the statement said.
When a WTOP reporter showed up on campus, police ordered them to leave. But early Wednesday, the demonstration was peaceful, with students occupying the hallway in a quiet manner while three campus officers gathered in the building’s entranceway.
People who left that demonstration were not let back into the building.
WTOP’s Zeke Hartner and John Domen contributed to this report.