I am both alarmed and fearful of the current state of safety on Howard University’s campus. Within a week, Howard Plaza Towers East has been broken into multiple times by individuals who are not students of this University. While no one was injured, our students were robbed of their items, but most importantly, of their trust in this University to keep them safe.
When Sheamari Whitaker moved into Howard Plaza Towers East earlier this semester, she described the process as smooth, hoping it would be similar to the warm and welcoming space she had as a freshman in Harriet Tubman Quadrangle. Four weeks into this school year, the sophomore political science major said her experience on campus has been chaotic and unsafe, a sentiment that many Howard University students share.
On Sept. 11, at approximately 2:35 a.m., students residing in Howard Plaza Towers East evacuated the building when a fire alarm was pulled on the eighth floor. Two unidentified men were reported being seen inside the building, according to the Howard University Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Office of Residence Life and University Housing.
Students reported that the two men were knocking on dorm room doors asking students to sleep in their rooms. One student described one of the unidentified men as having what seemed to be blood on his shirt and face.
“I don’t feel as safe as I should be. Between the bomb threats and the two unidentifed men walking around East, I feel a bit scared,” Whitaker said. “It’s unfortunate that I pay so much money to attend here, that I have to constantly deal with threats in an environment that should feel like home. As of right now, many RAs and staff members of Towers are doing their best to keep us safe, however I feel like more can be done.”
While the University stated that an investigation by DPS is underway and “top priority,” a formal police report was not filed on behalf of any residence hall staff or students regarding the break-in incident, The Hilltop confirmed with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
“We are following standard operating procedures that include reviewing surveillance footage and conducting interviews to verify the accounts provided to residence life staff and those published on various social media platforms to ensure that we are operating from a factual standpoint,” DPS said in a statement released to the students and parents of Howard Plaza Towers East later in the day on Sept. 11.
With no formal police report, arrests or MPD investigation, students await closure to this incident, once again bringing into question the reality of safety for Howard students. While no students were harmed in this incident, it does not mitigate the fear that our campus is not as safe as it needs to be, as this was not the only break-in attempt to occur.
One week later, on Sept. 17, Howard Plaza Towers East was broken into, again. Students reported a group of individuals, including boys ages 10 and 11, breaking into dorms and stealing items including money, Beats headphones, books, shoes, an Xbox and a speaker.
With multiple break-ins in such a short period of time, it is seemingly common knowledge among the surrounding community that it is easy to get inside of our dormitories, particularly through the emergency side exit doors that remain unguarded from the inside and out. This is inexcusable, embarrassing and, above all, dangerous.
One student affected by these incidents, is one student too many.
It remains the responsibility of Howard University to maintain a safe environment for students and faculty. When our students do not feel safe in what should be their home-away-from-home, how can they possibly be expected to perform well in their academic duties? If the safety and well-being of our students is what is most important, then more needs to be done to ensure that repeated break-ins do not become a normality on our campus.
While students are rightfully frustrated with campus safety in the dorms, we also have a hand in enacting preventative measures as well. Students should refrain from using the emergency exit side doors on the buildings, unless evacuating an emergency. These exits have become well-known points of access, and it is our duty to limit the accessibility these doors offer to non-Howard students looking for a way to get inside.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee