By Tatyana Hopkins (The Washington Informer/NNPA Member)
On March 24, hundreds of thousands of people from across the nation gathered in the nation’s capital for a student-led demonstration on gun control. Days later, hundreds of Howard University students took over the university’s Administration building on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the seizure of the same building by students.
HU Resist, a student-run organization, led more than 300 Howard students to occupy the administration building on Thursday, March 29 after an anonymously posted article revealed the school failed to publicly disclose a financial aid scandal that prompted the firing of six employees.
The group published its list of demands, which accuses the administration of negligence and calls for more transparency, before news of the embezzlement broke, but they quickly mobilized after learning about the scandal.
“It just allowed us and other students to spark and make this action happen,” said Alexis Mckenney, a student organizer with HU Resist and a senior at the university.
She said the protest was about more than financial aid.
The group demanded the resignation of Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the university’s board of trustees, an end to “unsubstantiated tuition hikes,” adequate housing for all students younger than 21 and extension of the housing deposit deadline.
The list of demands also called for the administration to “actively fight rape culture on campus,” disarm campus police, provide more resources for students who need mental health care, give students opportunities to weigh in on the administration’s decision-making process and resources to perform outreach in the surrounding Shaw-Ledroit Park area.
“This is something that is decadeslong that’s brewing up in Howard University culture and our demands speak to that,” Mckenney said. “It’s about a systemic issue at Howard University, and students need more power.”
HU Resist, founded in February 2017 when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited the campus following her controversial confirmation, is made up of more than 30 students, though the organization eschews ranking its leaders in order to ensure equality.
In March 1968, students demanded the university establish a department of Afro-American history and culture, the appointment of a Black university president and courses that allowed them to reach out into the community around Howard’s campus. Students seized the administration building for four days until their demands were successfully met.
“When people did this 50 years ago, talking about the same issues we care about today, they slept on this floor for days,” HU Resist organizer Rozalyn Wingate told fellow demonstrators. “If we don’t get the numbers, [the administration] will keep stealing our money, taking our housing and laughing at us.”
Members of the 1968 protest have commended the students.
“We were here because there was no Black history or Black culture in the curriculum,” said Anise Jenkins, a local statehood activist and Howard alum who participated in the 1968 takeover of the administration building. “These kids could have gone anywhere, but they chose Howard. Howard is the mecca of Black education, and it has to be run right.”
The administration also said they support the students.
“Howard University students have a legendary history of exercising their civic rights,” said Howard University spokesperson Crystal Brown in a statement. “We support this wholeheartedly.”
In 1989, students shut the building down for five days as they demanded improvements to the school’s financial aid programs and campus buildings and the resignation of Lee Atwater, the Republican national chairman, from the university’s board of trustees. Their demands were met.
Since, students have held various demonstrations on campus, including in 2016 where more than 100 students gathered to protest the university’s handling of two allegations of rape on the campus by a student employee.
“If it’s not financial aid, it’s housing, if it’s not housing, it’s Title IX,” Samaria Colbert, a sophomore at the university. “There’s always something.”
Colbert said $60,000 in loans have been taken out between her and her mother, yet her on-campus dorm went months without hot water or air conditioning.
Juan Demetrixx, a Howard senior and HU Resist member, said the group wants to build a “Black university” that and reflects the moral and social priorities of the students.
“In 1968 [Howard University Student Association] President QT Jackson told Howard University that it was time for us to build a Black university, and people said, ‘how?’” Demetrixx said. “Fifty years later, we’re still trying to figure out exactly what a Black university is and how we go about realizing it.”
Though members of the board called many of the student’s concerns “inaccurate,” they said they were willing to negotiate with the students.