We are fighting a war in which we do not have the resources to defend ourselves. The battle goes far beyond what meets the eye. Our shields are shelter for our nose and mouth through whatever means necessary. Face coverings frequently become artistic projects for students and staff alike. Bandanas, balaclavas and sheets of cloth cannot mask the fact that there are no free personal protective equipment provided on Howard’s campus which services a population that’s in dire need.
We’ve lost at least 73,462 Black lives to COVID-19 to date. In all but one of the 16 states, Black victims made up a higher percentage of COVID-19 deaths than their percentage of the overall population, according to a Stateline analysis of data available on state public health websites.
And the death toll continues to grow. Partially because of health disparities and underlying conditions that have gone without treatment. But also due to the lack of accessibility to free testing, masks and contact tracing.
At the beginning of the school year, Howard offered testing on campus at three different sites from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. The Blackburn University Student Center, the Undergraduate Library and the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library (HSL) maintained normal operations while also serving as “Pop-Up Covid-19 Testing Sites.” Since the #BlackburnTakeover protest the HSL is the only site still operating.
It was during the month of August that students began to raise questions about openly testing in facilities where people are eating, studying and instructors are actively teaching. Many faced scheduling conflicts due to classes and were left without alternative options for testing on campus.
During the first month of the semester, outbreaks in residence halls became a grave concern for resident assistants and building managers alike.
“Two of my residents tested positive for Covid, they were roommates; there was no plan in place for them or for me,” said a Resident Assistant who wants to remain unnamed. “Had they not told me I most likely would not have been informed and if I would have been informed it would have been likely after they tested negative again.”
The two students with COVID-19 spent the next week trying to survive inside of their rooms. They relied on friends to leave numerous DoorDash and Uber Eats orders outside their door in order to receive food.
“No meals were provided to me from the University,” said the resident who wants to remain unnamed.
It wasn’t until a week later that they were told about the Bite mobile ordering app created by Sodexo. This is the app Residence Life suggests students in quarantine order from to receive meals from the University.
Resident Assistants who volunteered to help students are now required to sign HIPAA privacy forms after being informed of the person’s Covid status. They then help set up a new room for the student to stay in that is fully equipped with the proper personal protective equipment. But this comes at the expense of a positive test result for COVID-19.
Despite complaints, Shelton Higgins, the Director of Residence Life stated that there were numerous precautionary plans created by the University but all of them were not implemented at the start of the school year.
One of those plans included enforcing testing through the BisonSafe app. Higgins stated that once students have missed their assigned testing date their University pass changes from green to yellow. No further ramifications were outlined outside of the color change.
However, a group of students did receive an email at 1:58 a.m. on Oct. 13 from svc_HowardRTS@howard.edu informing them that their University pass would be turned yellow if they did not report for testing within the next two days.
On the same day, the Office of University Communications sent out a newsletter disclosing that less than 50 percent of all eligible students, faculty and staff have participated in weekly testing.
In an effort to support the University’s initiative entitled #MaskUpHoward, the 61st administration of the Howard University Student Association created a student-led social media campaign. Their public relations team requested student leaders, school councils and campus organizations collectively change their profile pictures to #MaskUpHoward on October 18.
But this has not been their only petition. Elizabeth Bolarinwa, the Director of Campus Health has earnestly presented the need for free masks across campus. She proposed that residence halls, cafeterias, libraries and educational buildings visibly display a stack of free face coverings for those entering.
“I have also had students who have told me they get strikes in dorms for not having a mask but are not given a mask to protect themselves,” said Bolarinwa. “In light of the protests, I have encouraged VP Evers to look into expanding on campus testing beyond HSL as I do not believe it is sustainable enough for the amount of students who need to get tested a week and their class schedules.”
As Homecoming commences with in-person events mandated by the University there must be an urgent sense of reciprocity between administration and the students they serve. When we look back on the pandemic there will be no excuse as to why our lives weren’t important enough to matter. We deserve to be protected. We deserve free PPE.