Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Howard University Campus is No Dog Park

Funny thing about Howard University. There was a time when everything north of Florida Avenue in Northwest was “out of town.” It was inside the District of Columbia, but not what was officially Washington. President Abraham Lincoln would escape to his country getaway, at the Old Soldiers’ Home.

Now, all that’s changed. The Howard University-U Street corridor is the fastest-gentrifying area in the nation’s most gentrified city. A couple of weeks ago, some new residents in the neighborhood — without once ever approaching the store owner in person — tried unsuccessfully to silence the go-go music played on speakers outside a store at 7th Street and Florida Avenue. An organized community resistance (#DontMuteDC) resisted and kept the music alive.

These same pushy-type neighbors are now making a nuisance of themselves by using The Yard (the lawn on the central campus) as their private dog park. That’s no good. Students complained, and some of the gentrifiers got angry, suggesting the university move. That’s not good.

The reason that using the Howard University campus for a dog park is unacceptable is because it is not a dog park.

No one goes to The Yard on the HU campus with a dog, except to allow the dog to relieve itself on the school’s ample manicured lawn. No one — it’s not a destination.

Unless you’re headed to Rankin Chapel, or the Founder’s Library, or the Blackburn Center, or to Ira Aldridge Theatre, or to a classroom, there’s not much reason to be strolling across The Yard. It’s certainly not a shortcut for someone walking from a luxury high-rise at Ninth and Barry Place to the MacMillan Reservoir on Fourth Street.

The campus is out of the way from the neighborhood residents. It’s up on a hill, so if someone is not “going somewhere” to one of those buildings on campus, their reason for being on the campus with a dog is suspicious to me.

There are frequent art exhibits and performances in the buildings surrounding The Yard, but folks don’t ordinarily attend them with dogs. Students hardly even walk across that grass. It is revered ground where over the decades, fraternity and sorority members have dedicated sacred mementoes to their experiences at Howard.

What I am saying is that folks who take their dogs to that part of the campus are not visiting or admiring the architecture or the flora and fauna planted around the buildings. Those folks are not just strolling across the campus, taking in the sights. No, they are there to use the sacred, 152-year-old grounds as a doggie lavatory. That’s not acceptable.

It would not be unneighborly if the university said, “take your dog somewhere else to take a dump,” and that’s exactly what the administration must do. Banneker Playground, a public park with a swimming pool is right across the street from the school. Folks can use that location to play with their pets. They do not have to defile a hallowed space with doggie droppings, just because there’s no fence keeping them out.

Clearly these interlopers have no decency, no respect for whatever preceded them to the neighborhood, so they must be restricted from the campus, except for legit business. Students pay $40,000 per year tuition to attend Howard, where Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Charles Drew, Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Roberta Flack, among others, all polished their skills.

Absolutely no community benefit is derived from having folks and their pet Fido turn a sacred space into a dog park. The university president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, seems to get it. He issued a statement saying, in part: “We appreciate pet owners respecting our campus by not bringing pets onto the private areas.”

Howard has “shared a long-standing positive relationship with our evolving community” and the university community wants to see the school’s private areas “remain pristine and symbolic of all that Howard University represents.”

That’s a good thing. If Howard had given in on this, the school would have become a laughingstock. Those involved would have soon come to learn like the desert man who permitted his camel’s nose into his tent one cold night. Soon the man found himself outside in the elements, while the camel was comfortable inside his tent.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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