This is not fair. As a Black institution, we should not be reinstating the premises that Black people deserve and are worth less. At times, being at Howard can seem to reinforce this narrative. When we look upon our dorms, our living conditions and our limited options for housing we are historically haunted with humiliation.
Water, wifi and air conditioning are basic necessities that we regularly go without. There are mushrooms growing in the showers, mold in the air conditioners and mildew festering in the corners of our rooms.
The truth is that where we live is mismanaged. We are in triples when they should be doubles. And once we are juniors we are out in the city looking for homes to sustain ourselves and manage the outward appearance of adulthood. We are forced to grow up faster.
In this world, it is something we have to do. We are judged as brown bodies that deserve to be in bags. As generations deserving oppression and policing due to our inability to control ourselves. This image was produced in slavery.
Writings like “The Colonel’s Dream” by Charles W. Chesnutt, “William Wilberforce on the Idea of Negro Inferiority” by William Baker and in “Building the myth of Black Inferiority” written in Race by Peter Wade show that the perception of Black life is rooted in subservience and subjugation because of our perceived insularity.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) sought to uplift the narrative through intensive indoctrinations intended to polish the individual. There were precautionary measures taken to ensure that our representation of our culture and colloquialisms were accepted professionally. This was done through a strict rule based system in an environment persisting upon recurring ethical evaluations.
Is it right for men and women to visit each other past 9 p.m.? Is it acceptable to drink alcohol? Is it normal to have a frequent amount of visitors? These thoughts resulted in unreasonable policies meant to patrol and control how Black youth rose into Black adulthood. A large majority of mandates are rooted in sexism, bigotry, chauvinism and jingoism.
Howard was founded by patriot Oliver Otis Howard who served as a Union general in the American Civil War. In spite of his efforts to champion education for the Black community he still waged a ferocious war on people of color. As he assumed the position of commander in the Pacific-Northwest Army he massacred hundreds of Native Americans who refused to cede their ancestral territory and move to a reservation.
He also was an early benefactor of Lincoln Memorial University which was and still is operated very differently from Howard in terms of student freedom and liberation although the school was founded just 30 years after Howard. There is no registration required for students to invite visitors or guests. And as long as the person stays no more than three days they are welcome to continue hosting those who they see fit. Similar to most predominantly white institutions, their modern day visitation policies are established amidst the belief that their students are high-functioning responsible young adults.
At Howard, that dogma is still infused but manifests under the guise of protection. In the dorms, visitation is monitored to be used as leverage to manage the general population. Our peers who work as Resident Assistants alongside Graduate Assistants and building managers have the authority to limit and prohibit the frequency of guests whether students or strangers. They are told by higher ups that these were put in place to keep us safe. So they listen and lock down on students who are not following the rules.
And for it they receive harsh words, attitudes and backlash for policies they did not create while working around the clock in exchange for housing as the bulk of their compensation and a whopping $70 every other week. They are the ones who immediately deal with the unwarranted flooding, toilet tissue shortages and get rid of rats, roaches or other rodents as needed. Yet they gain the identity of villains for victims of negligent cries for help.
Residents are forced to undergo random room checks at the liberty of their fellow classmates and subject to confiscation of personal property without their knowledge. Those living in student housing over the age of 21 cannot possess alcohol and even candles are considered contraband. This prison-like habitat would be more well received if the living conditions were hospitable.
Twitter posts over the course of the last month have revealed pictures that prove just how bad dorm life can get. Mildew and mold mixed with sensitive sprinkler alarms have made for inexcusably poor living conditions.
However, this is not solely the fault of Howard. The University is in partnership with Corvias Property Management. A company facing congressional scrutiny for numerous claims of negligence, breach of contract, fraud and conspiracies to pressure return-to-campus plans for colleges in order to generate revenue.
They manage 15 higher education properties, Howard and North Carolina Central University are the only HBCUs. In addition to Howard’s dorms they also oversee operations for Axis at Howard. A nine-story apartment complex located on the main campus designed for Graduate and Professional Students, Faculty and Staff, and Associates of the University.
“I don’t really have a problem with the fact we have studio apartments because that’s the norm in D.C. but sharing a laundry room with other people and only having one laundry room for nine different floors is limiting,” Bria Scott, an Axis resident, said. “Then we don’t have a full kitchen, we have a hot plates which only work with specialized pots, I had to go out of my way to buy a $30 pot; It’s one thing to say we are paying for amenities but what amenities do we have, I’m not getting bang for my buck.”
Across residence halls and graduate housing, frustrations are interchangeable. Size, functionality and formal rules are considered irregular and irrational to occupants.
“Visitation has always been something that bothered me, my boyfriend goes to a school in Alabama (University of Southern Alabama) and there’s no check-in process for them as a predominantly white institution,” said Scott. “There’s no such thing as a check-in process even throughout Covid they didn’t do that.”
One suggestion to provide safety for tenants has been to require proof of vaccination for the guests they have visiting in place of Howard IDs.
“People who are in the 40 to 50 age range live in Axis so to tell them that they can’t have guests is crazy, there’s no reason we should be treated as freshmen,” Scott said. “I can understand a visitation policy but not the strictness of visitation; law school students don’t have a Howard ID so they can’t even prove that they are a Howard student.”
And most members of the freshmen and sophomore class do not have IDs due to virtual learning prior to this academic year. Administration has also shared that the cyberattack has slowed the process down rendering hundreds of on campus students without Howard issued identification. Those working at the front desk are straining to guess if the person entering the building belongs. This shows that visitation policies are not put in place to promote safety but to micromanage Black young adults.
“I think that they should require proof of vaccination and hold the person responsible for their guest, and I think that’s the real world; regardless of visitation policies and Covid you have to be held accountable for your actions,” Scott said.
These age-old dorm rules embedded in HBCUs need to be abolished. A more modern approach is required to help us gracefully mature. Instead of focusing on the frequent amount of company guests invite over, administration should be investigating the companies that are carelessly mismanaging the on-campus residence halls. As students paying over $40,000 to be at Howard, we deserve more.