Historic Howard U. Protest Ends

Howard University student Alexis McKenny speaks during an April 6 press conference to announce the end of a nine-day student sit-in at the university's administration building. The sit-in was prompted by revelations of impropriety in the school's financial aid department. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Howard University student Alexis McKenny speaks during an April 6 press conference to announce the end of a nine-day student sit-in at the university's administration building. The sit-in was prompted by revelations of impropriety in the school's financial aid department. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Howard University students on Friday ended the school’s longest-ever student-led occupation of the administrative building, after the nine-day takeover resulted in university officials agreeing to give students a greater voice in decisions.

Hundreds of students led by the student-run protest group HU Resist occupied Howard’s administration building after it was revealed that university officials failed to disclose embezzlement in the school’s financial aid office that prompted the firing of six employees.

Though already planning a demonstration before finding out about the embezzlement, the financial aid scandal sparked HU Resist to move more than 400 students into the administration building for the dayslong protest. Marking the walls with posters of their nine-point demand list and the hashtag #StudentPowerHU, students dubbed the building the “Kwame Ture Student Center,” after former Howard University student Stokely Carmichael, who coined the Black Nationalist phrase “Black power.”

“It’s important for us to acknowledge that no significant change that has ever happened in within the Black community has happened without struggle,” said Alexis McKenney, a student organizer with HU Resist. “I want to thank every student who walked through the halls of the Kwame Ture Student Center, formerly known as the [Administration] Building, which is now open again.”

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick thanks students and the board of trustees after student protesters ended a nine-day sit-in at the university's administration building on April 6. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick thanks students and the board of trustees after student protesters ended a nine-day sit-in at the university’s administration building on April 6. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Changes agreed upon in the negotiations settlement include an overhaul of the school’s sexual assault policy, a review of policies allowing campus police officers to carry weapons and the creation of a food bank to serve students and residents in the surrounding community.

“As we transition into this agreement and as we transfer out of this occupation [of the administration building], this is not an end, but a beginning to our call of what is student power given this agreement and how do we implement it in a way that changes at our university are institutional,” McKenney said.

Through several days of negotiations, students and representatives of the administration and board of trustees conferred to establish the last version of a “Statement of Commitments.” After reviewing the student activists’ nine-point list of demands, the two sides compromised on seven.

“Today marks the next chapter of progress at Howard University,” said board member Marie Johns. “These commitments are meant to address the needs and are for the benefit and welfare of the entire Howard University community.”

Other changes in the agreement include the board pledging to consider a tuition freeze of undergraduate tuition rates to stay at its current level, reexamining of the adequacy of on-campus housing for students and establishing a task force to review the school’s grievance mechanisms, with the help of student and administration representation.

HU Resist had been calling for Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick to resign, but the day before the end of the protest, they changed their view.

In a tweet, the group explained why they had altered their stance.

“There have been 8 days of negotiations, and we have been deliberating ways in which we can recenter our cause around the overall improvement of our institution instead of the elimination of one figure. That being said, we are no longer calling for the resignation of the president,” the tweet read.

HU Resist and the hundreds of students that joined them in the takeover of the administration building continued a tradition of student protest at Howard.

Two previous protests in 1968 and 1989 also took place in March and involved students occupying the university’s administration building.

Among the most pressing demands for the 1968 protest were the establishment of a Black Studies curriculum at the school and the appointment of a Black president for the university. Students of the 1989 protest called for 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.

The 1968 and 1989 demonstrations lasted four and five days, respectively, with many of the demands being met.

Frederick congratulated the current student demonstrators on making sure their issues were heard.

“I appreciate what they have done to bring this community together,” Frederick said. “There’s no university without its students and the students must be the primary focus of the university.”

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About Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer 207 Articles
Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.

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