Howard University, though home to many historical pieces of literature and art, is not a museum. It is, however, a continuum of classical education enriched through conservatory experiences dedicated to producing some of the most prominent figures of the century. It is the birthplace of leaders like Stokley Carmichael and Toni Morrison. The meeting grounds for activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And it has been a safe haven for students with woolly hair and skin like bronze for decades.
It’s quite plausible that those in the surrounding area are flocking to campus to see how Howard produces such successors. That their time spent at this site is to search for qualities that sustain and support us as the top HBCU. But all too often their visits lack context and civility.
As students walk the school grounds, they are made to feel as if they reside in a zoo. Wide eyed tourists point or stare while prodding and prying by walking across the grass on the Yard and asking questions like, “What is this place?” As if Howard is some long lost treasure island.
Despite the immense emotional connection to the university’s grounds, every day intruders are found jogging through the Yard, allowing their pets to leave feces on Greek plots and walking in school buildings to explore. An overwhelming number of these unwelcome visitors are white.
Their recent move to the Shaw-Howard neighborhood comes amidst an unprecedented desire to gentrify areas across the nation. According to a 2019 study done by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, D.C. has had the most intense gentrification rate of any city in America.
Though the intent was to create “untapped potential” and “identifiable opportunity sites” that attracted 100,000 residents as stated in a 2003 plan announced by former Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). It has effectively displaced African Americans and encroached on the ability to ensure a safe centralized learning environment for students at Howard.
“We’re basically the local park, white people jog through everyday just because they can and there’s nothing here to stop them,” said junior accounting major Essence Burton. “One of the consequences of being an HBCU in a gentrified area means we get a lack of respect.”
Unlike other institutions, Howard is a private university which allows them the right to refuse the presence of those not affiliated with the school. However, in years past administration has mentioned that putting a fence around the campus would disconnect them with the community. Instead, they have resorted to using emails and texts as a means to update students on dangerous incidents occurring in or around school grounds.
“I recently heard about a girl who got beat up in Towers by her boyfriend and his friend who both did not attend Howard, there was no email about that, two locals were also caught having sex in a stairwell in one of the dorms and there was no email about that,” said Burton. “If they can send an email discouraging us from large gatherings at Banneker and doing the crate challenge, they can send more out about the dangers on campus.”
Another concern for many is the large number of predatory men who loom outside of the freshmen dorms at night. Some sit perched in their cars with tinted windows looking to assault students who are not paying attention. While others use their dogs as an attraction to break the ice with unassuming undergraduates heading back to their residence for the evening.
The same faces are in rotation, so much so that families at home have begun to recognize them through the Howard Parent Connect Facebook page. Members of the group are struggling to spread information that Howard has not worked to provide.
Weeks ago someone managed to snap a picture of a young man who has been seen on campus trying to lure girls into his car. From there, students began reposting the image on Instagram to create awareness and share some means of protection.
Since the 2021-22 academic school year began, the Howard Campus Police now known as the Department of Public Safety is distributing a phone number that is disconnected. Between the threat from drunken clubbers on U Street, older men emerging at night and joggers running over students as they head to class, the campus is prone to irrational entropy.
The worst part for students is knowing that it could be prevented through simple safety measures. There is so much on campus that could be reworked and revamped to establish a sense of security. One option is replacing the emergency poles with working lights and 911 emergency dial buttons in places outside of the dorms in addition to updating those on the yard.
The Department of Public Safety should have patrol cars sitting outside of the dorms with their headlights on so students know that there is someone in the vehicle. They should also host events that teach self defense, how to respond in an emergency and list where they can find the closest member of the department. Last but not least, the accurate phone number for emergencies must be promoted on all Howard platforms and provided to students in an email.
Howard’s students have managed for far too long without the proper safety protocols in place. The first priority must be the welfare of those who are enrolled in the school. It is without question that a change must be made before irreversible damage is done.