Image: Derek E. Morton

Howard University students sleep outside to protest poor living conditions in dormitories

Students at Howard University, Washington, D.C, have occupied the campus student housing centre, sleeping in tents to protest their unsatisfactory housing conditions. 

Since 12 October, over 100 students have moved into the Blackburn University Centre, the “social hub” of campus, and are sleeping on mattresses on the floor, with dozens also sleeping in tents outdoors.

First week here, I began to get sick. I saw mould behind my vents. I got so sick to the point where I was coughing up blood

– Valery Jean-Jacques, Howard student

In an interview with the BBC, Howard freshman Valery Jean-Jacques said: “First week here, I began to get sick. I saw mould behind my vents. I got so sick to the point where I was coughing up blood.”

Known to social media as ‘The Live Movement’, the student-led organisation made demands of an in-person town hall meeting with the university’s president, reinstation of affiliate trustee positions to the board with voting power, and a meeting with student leadership over ‘housing plans’. 

Students, paying more than $9,000 per year for on-campus housing as undergraduates, have posted videos on TikTok and Twitter showing rooms rife with mould. 

Howard student @tamyraswag posted a video on TikTok showing shoes, clothes, and other items from her dormitory with mould, with the caption “tell me why I wake up and there is mold everywhere”. 

Their movement, having gone viral on social media with the hashtag ‘#BlackburnTakeover’, garnered the support of prominent black activists including several artists from rapper Gucci Mane’s record label, and the youngest child of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King. 

King tweeted: “Students @HowardU are stepping up to ensure a humane, just university, nation and world. 

“In a 1968 speech at Harvard, my mother emphasized the importance of student activism. Raise your housing standard, #HowardUniversity.”

The students also created a petition, calling for Howard University to terminate their relationship with Corvias, a company paid to “renovate, manage, operate, and maintain residential facilities”. 

On 15 November, the administration reached an agreement with the protesting students, releasing a press release from President Wayne Frederick. 

He stated: “The health and well-being of our students is the most important part of my job as president. 

“As I have said before, even one issue in one of our dormitories is too many, and we will continue to remain vigilant in our pledge to maintain safe and high-end housing.”

The Live Movement released a press release upon the agreement stating: “While the terms of the agreement, specific terms, are confidential, it can be said without any hesitation or reservation that the students courageously journeyed on a path towards better university accountability and transparency and public safety.”

One student said: “We were fed up, we had had enough, and we were ready to make change for our beloved Howard University by holding the administration accountable by any means necessary. 

“We spent 33 days challenging the Howard University administration. We spent 33 days saying, not only did our lives matter, that our voices matter and our concerns matter.”

She added: “We came, we saw, we declared, and we won.”

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