When Nikkya Taliaferro, a freshman political science major and the co-director of community outreach for The Live Movement, arrived at the Howard University Student Association’s (HUSA) town hall with sleeping materials in preparation for the sit-in the group had planned about a week in advance, she had no idea that she would end up sleeping in the Armour J. Blackburn Center for over a month.
”I didn’t think it would actually pass very far from the nine days that the 2018 protest had…but I definitely didn’t think that we would still be here a month,” Taliaferro said.
Nov. 12 officially marked one month since students took over the Blackburn center. Comprised of members of The Live Movement, the Howard University Young Democratic Socialists Association (YDSA), the Howard University National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), students and community members have become known as the #BlackburnTakeover family. Taliaferro was a part of the first group of people who aided in the occupation of the building, explaining that the sit-in was planned a week in advance. Taliaferro shared how the administration’s absent presence at the Oct. 12 town hall exacerbated their plans.
“While we were planning to do a sit-in, if administration had came to the town hall, they had answered all of our concerns and they had made commitments, it probably would not have happened or probably not for this long. But because administration did not come, that gave us even greater reason to still go forth with our plans,” Taliaferro said.
The demands posed by student protesters are legal, academic and disciplinary immunity for students participating in the protest, a town hall with University President Wayne A.I. Frederick, reinstatement of the affiliate trustee positions on the Board of Trustees and a housing plan for the students. Despite having the longest running protest in Howard history, some protesters, such as freshman political science major Tianna Lane, felt disappointed in the administration’s response to the protest.
“It’s quite frustrating considering our demands are pretty straight forward; they’re not too crazy. We’re not asking for any tuition cuts…We just want livable housing. We want our voices to be heard… We’re really not asking for a lot and knowing admin is barely willing to talk to us is really disappointing, especially for a university that praises themself on truth and service,” Lane said.
Similar to Taliaferro, Lane has been protesting since its start. According to the Taliaferro, there are about 150 students who protested with them regularly sleeping inside of the Blackburn Center and outside of the center in tents with a nine to one female to make ratio.
Since their occupation of the building, the University discontinued operational services housed in the center, such as dining services.
“We’re sad to report the occupation of Blackburn has led to an unintended consequence for the HU community. Due to the café being closed, some Sodexo workers have been laid off. We are committed to working with our students to avoid more repercussions like this one,” the University tweeted.
Fellow students complained about missing food from the cafeteria and the other dining options in the building. However, as head of the food committee, Taliaferro admitted that they were offering free food to students.
“Blackburn has been open to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to Howard students if they would like to come up. We have been giving different food out to the dorms, but they can also come over, and we can make them plates,” Taliaferro said. “We (student protesters) do miss our Punchout. We do miss the Blackburn cafeteria, but we do recognize that our demands are something a little more important than going to the Halal Shack or getting wings from Punchout,” she continued.
For the month they’ve been protesting, they’ve received anywhere between three to seven food donations for lunch and dinner each day, and they use the monetary donations for breakfast. Taliaferro said she even coordinated with Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s (D-MA) chief of staff for meals in Blackburn. Rep. Pressley is one of many notable figures who have visited student protesters in the past month.
“That was really a highlight of the protest for me… The support from the Hill means a lot down here. It’s great knowing that our representatives and senators are seeing our struggle and standing in solidarity with us,” Lane said.
The protesters believe a huge success has been in highlighting the errors of the University, in an effort to hold them accountable. The #BlackburnTakeover has garnered the attention of national media outlets.
“I think one of the biggest things is really bringing light to the housing problem Howard has had…I think we really brought media attention to the living conditions,” Lane said.
As they have gained media attention, the protesters have also been able to confidentially communicate with administrators.
“Howard University is continuing conversations with the group of students currently occupying the Blackburn Center and we are hopeful a resolution will soon be reached,” a University representative said.
To commemorate their one-month milestone, the protesters held a march/rally from the Howard Plaza Towers dormitory to the administration building on Friday. Standing in solidarity and extending their support, Howard Alumni United hosted “Howard Unity Day” on Saturday with several alumni in attendance, including Newark, New Jersey, mayor Ras J. Baraka.
After 33 days of occupying the Blackburn center, rallying and marching and organizing with alumni, faculty and staff, community members and national figures, the #BlackburnTakeover has ended. A follow-up story detailing the announcement and agreement will be published soon.
Copy edited by Jasper Smith