Shouts of joy, smiling faces and a spirit of shared contentment encompassed the room as the Blackburn Takeover team announced an official resolution between protesters and administration this morning. A group of eight student leaders stood in solidarity at the Temple Law Offices as they broadcasted the news via social media.
“We spent 33 days saying that not only did our lives matter, that our voices matter and our concerns matter. We spent 33 days affirming and fighting for the first class housing that Rev. Jesse Jackson said that we were entitled to,” said Channing Hill, President of Howard’s NAACP Chapter. “We won.”
As the message continued, students were careful to ensure that their statements were not in breach of any legal contracts.
“We can’t disclose what exactly is in the agreement, however what we can say is that we achieved our goal of better conditions for students, heightened transparency of Howard’s administration, heightened scrutiny of the administration and the condition of students,” said Erica England, President of Howard’s Young Democratic Socialists of America Chapter. “We have also been able to increase student power in regards to accountability holding Howard accountable to their main stakeholders, the students.”
During the course of the protest, retaliation remained a major concern for those involved. Many students lived in fear of being suspended or expelled. However, those participating have received hope after the conclusion of negotiations.
“I expect to graduate in the spring of 2022 and I think the other students can expect to graduate at their expected graduation dates,” England said.
It took more than 20 days for the student protesters and administration to come to an agreement. After the first meeting between the leaders of the demonstration and President Wayne A.I. Frederick, participants were told that the University would no longer engage in conversation with them without legal representation.
“It was highlighted multiple times that before administration would even be willing to speak with us that we needed to leave the Blackburn Center, but because we were in protest and because we hadn’t been heard previously we did not trust to leave the building and that something would come of it so we knew we had to come to an agreement before exiting the Blackburn center,” England said.
The administration repeatedly requested for students to leave the building before the University would agree to meet in hopes of mediation.
“Nov. 13 was our final meeting with President Frederick, it was only our 2nd meeting during the 33 day occupation. We met with him and tried to verify the last of the agreements in negotiations which we hadn’t been able to do previously,” England said.
The main objective of the conversation was full transparency. Protesters felt like their voice wasn’t enough so they turned to media outlets to amplify their grievances.
“Administration has had it in their power the entire time to come to the negotiation table with us and to resolve this we were waiting for that to happen and it just took a long time,” England said. “I think the media scrutiny helped tremendously because we were telling our truth, we were showing the pictures, we were showing the videos of what had been going on on campus.”
Those affiliated with Howard also helped by reposting images of flooding, mold and mildew. In addition to sharing official statements from the University that many considered insensitive and tone deaf.
“It took 20 days with Howard’s reputation sinking through the sands and the university essentially being entrenched in its reasoning and I think that when we are talking about a much better and more improved Howard the writing on the walls these days is that Howard has to change the way it thinks about its students,” said Donald Temple who serves as legal representation for the protesters.
The public’s perception strongly impacted and influenced not only the administration but also the student protesters.
“The support of the Howard community was a huge factor… faculty rallied around us, parents rallied around us, alumni rallied around us,” England said.
Organizations like Harriet’s Wildest Dream and Howard Alumni United frequently aided students financially, physically and emotionally. Investigative journalist Chuck Modi consistently expanded the reach of the protesters through social media and informed followers of how they could support from home. Donations funded the entire movement and the students ability to provide hot meals, tents and hygienic products to participants.
“Emotionally it has been difficult but if I had to do it all over again I would still choose Howard,” England said.
Earlier today the University released a statement sharing that, “Howard University is pleased to announce we have come to an agreement with the students who occupied Blackburn, and will share a longer message from Dr. Wayne Frederick on this topic later today.”
Copy edited by Lauryn Wilson