By: Colin Evans, Contributing Writer (@colinpaulevans)
Hundreds of students assembled in Howard University’s administrative headquarters earlier this afternoon to protest the leaderships’ failure to disclose previous instances of financial fraud, particularly involving a former student, among other concerns.
The “takeover” of the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration building, organized by the campus protest group HU Resist, was preceded by a “darty” (short for “day party”) on the university green at noon. Shortly before 3pm, HU Resist members and other students began flooding online group chats and walking across campus with megaphones in order to recruit students to join the protest inside the A-building.
Junior Makini Johnson was sitting with her friends near the Lulu Vere Childers Fine Arts building when a member of HU Resist approached her.
“[She] had a megaphone, and she was shouting something in a protesty-way, and no one was really responding to her, so some other girl got on the mic and said ‘If y’all are really upset about what’s going on at Howard, why are you not standing with us? Why are you not joining us?’ She said that to my face, and when she said that I got my backpack and my things, and I stood up next to her. They said everyone is in the A-building, so I came down for whatever they had planned.”
Early on, the scene inside the first floor of the building was convivial and festive. It was not long before students began singing along to local favorites playing out of a large speaker and sending out teams to gather supplies like water and food for the long night planned. Much like the takeover of the A-building by Howard students 50 years ago this month, the protesters today expressed that they would be staying as long as necessary until their demands were met.
As night began to fall, the scene remained mostly the same. Many students were sitting on their laptops with empty pizza boxes and water bottles scattered around them. Prepared to stay the night, some brought air mattresses and pillows, while another setup gaming console. Students continued to echo chants like “I love being black” and “Whose building?/Our building” in between stretches of homework. An impromptu dance party broke out after a protest leader announced that Rihanna had tweeted about the event. Some students continued to walk around and distribute water and collect trash.
Students began to sleep around 2am the next morning. A couple hours later, organizers began to gather students in mass across the various entrances of the building. A local Black Lives Matter organizer named Tracy and legal watchdogs from the National Lawyers Guild provided a short know-your-rights training to students in the front entrance. Students were asked, if they were to remain at the front, to prepare to be arrested. Many filled out an emergency response form and wrote a crisis hotline number on their forearms.
As employees and staff walked up to the front entrance, they were met with a refusal to enter unless they could produce a Student ID. A woman asked if she could go inside to use the restroom. She was escorted to the third floor, and after using the bathroom locked herself in her work office. The woman was escorted out within the hour on her own request to leave.
The confrontations between protesters and individuals trying to get inside were mostly tranquil. However, a verbal argument broke out between a young man demanding to use the bathroom inside and a protester blocking the front entrance, which was eventually broken up by police. Student leaders emphasized the need for protesters to remain calm and collected. Members of a group specializing in protest de-escalation and medics walked around the premises assessing need.
Around 9:30am, one student discovered that the 4th floor, which houses the Office of the President and Vice Presidents, was only occupied by a lone security guard. A group of around 10 students managed to convince her to open the door and barged into the level. As the security guard shouted into her radio for dispatch, more and more students ran up stairs and infiltrated the floor hallway. After protesters absorbed the scenery in a place that they are not normally permitted to go, many dispersed back to their original locations.
Members of the media began recording segments before 8am and interviewed several students.
The protest may have been ignited by the recent revelation that over a million dollars were stolen via tuition reimbursements from 2007 to 2016, but the demands of the campus activists reach far wider. Earlier this week, HU Resist distributed a two-page document demanding significant changes of the administration, including greater allocation of resources to community outreach and the resignation of Howard University’s President, Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick. The full list of demands can be found here.
HU Resist has generated controversy on campus in the past. During the Fall 2017 Convocation, the group’s protestors made national headlines after drowning out Former FBI Director James Comey’s speech to students with chants like “we shall not be moved” and “James Comey, you’re not our homie”. Some attending the event who disagreed with the protest fired back with “let him speak”, and debate over HU Resist’s methods occupied conversations around campus in the days to follow. But things seem different now.
“I don’t really think there’s a wrong way [to protest]… I don’t have any critiques about [HU Resist]. Even if there’s a right and a wrong way, doing nothing is probably the worst thing,” said Johnson.
Another student close to members of HU Resist who requested anonymity said “I’ve just been seeing the hard work they have been putting in and how much they try and fight for the student body, even when the student body doesn’t understand them, and caring when sometimes the student body is just not able or willing to sometimes be out there the way they are.”
In a flyer handout, HU Resist outlined three main objectives in addition to their publicized list of demands that include “Call for Student Power,” “Disarming the Police on College and University Campuses,” and “The Need for Financial Transparency.” The protest group does not shy away from characterizing administration officials as “avaricious chief executives who sit atop their mountains of money” who preside over historically black institutions that “don’t give a damn about Black people!”
I asked Johnson if she thought that the administration would respond to any of the demands.
“I hope [we get results]. But I think at least [the administration] knows now that this is not going to be ignored. They’re going to try, obviously, but there’s too many people here. There’s too many of us at Howard. I don’t think nothing will come from it.”
Note: this story is still developing.