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OPINION

First Fully In-Person Homecoming Since 2019: How Has Campus Life Changed?

The Yard at Howard University with alumni spread out during Homecoming 2010. October 30, 2010. Flickr/Kevin Coles.

There is much anticipation and excitement around Howard University’s 2022 Homecoming as this will be the first homecoming to feature alumni since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many in the Howard community from alumni to current students are hoping it will be a return to the traditional Howard Homecoming experience.

Tariq Thomas, a junior marketing student who transferred to Howard in the fall of 2019 reminisced about Homecoming in 2019. 

“2019 Homecoming from Yardfest to the fashion shows to the general vibe and connectivity that you felt when walking on The Yard was immaculate, to say the least,” Thomas said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Jaylen Carr, an audio production senior who also experienced Homecoming in 2018 and says both of them felt like big events. 

Looking back on Homecoming in 2019, Howard’s campus community has been significantly altered over the past three years with the two main factors being a year of virtual learning and a vast majority of upperclassmen have not had on-campus housing since students returned to campus in fall 2021.

Before the pandemic, there was an uninterrupted lineage of the Howard campus culture being passed down by students with the cycle of freshmen coming in and learning from upperclassmen. In the fall of 2021, with a year being lost and upperclassmen having to find housing off-campus, in a sense, there were two classes of freshmen between the 2024 and 2025 classes in that both were new to the campus and were without the presence and direct guidance of upperclassmen. This year, the senior class of 2023 are the only students who experienced a pre-COVID Howard.

Howard University Student Association Senate Body Executive Vice-Chair and senior Naheim Banks says it was a hard reset with all the new faces after returning last fall. He stressed, though, that it is a part of the beauty of Howard. 

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“HU 24, 25 and 26 may do things completely different but they should be making Howard their own…I learned to accept the changes that other classes were bringing. I think that just comes with the changing of the times,” Banks said.

As a part of the class of 2024 who had their freshmen year virtually, Ayo Olagbaju, a junior broadcast journalism student expressed how much of a second-year freshman she felt. 

“It was a very unique experience entering our second year in college, but also being new to campus. It felt like there were things I was supposed to know but I didn’t yet,” Olagbaju said.

When discussing how the campus culture has changed, Thomas says there isn’t as much connection on The Yard as there had been. 

“A lot more people are way more reserved than what I was used to when I transferred to Howard, initially. A lot more people are ready to go to class and go back to their dorms and are very cliquish…You used to be able to meet anybody out on The Yard and strike up a conversation. Now it’s more so if you have common interests because most people are disconnected if you aren’t in that same friend group or circle. They are a lot more reserved compared to 2019 for me,” he explained.

Simona Arkorful, a sophomore psychology major, had similar observations when discussing her matriculation at Howard. 

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“It is definitely hard to try to mingle into groups that already formed bonds before they came on campus and it’s also the organizations you’re in. Those people formed their friendships within the orgs,” Arkorful said, citing, COVID as a cause for the difficulty in making new friends outside of the close-knit groups. 

“I just see a lot of people walking by themselves to their next class, it’s definitely more individualistic than what I expected based on what I had seen before,” she continued.

Like Thomas, Arkorful says that the lack of strong relationships between the students, not just across different grade levels but overall, is a consequence of the pandemic. She feels that upperclassmen could help in terms of helping to make the campus feel like a community. 

Some of the evident changes from before the pandemic include how Howard Plaza Towers used to be a living complex for juniors and seniors but it is now almost exclusively for sophomores. Also, spaces like iLab had been the main place where students gathered to study and hang out as the Undergraduate Library (UGL) was under construction. However, now with UGL newly renovated, the newer students go there in place of iLab as they have no knowledge that it is a resource to go study as well. 

 “I recently went to iLab and it reminded me how much the culture has changed. Before it was a booming area where you could definitely run into your friends, meet new people…but now it is a quiet, relatively dead space,” Samiah Davis, a senior computer information systems student, said.

Davis also addressed challenges for seniors like herself re-connecting with fellow senior friends.

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“Even as a senior on campus, the culture is different…it’s a 50-50 chance that you may or may not see one of your friends as they’re running to class and running off back to their off-campus dorm…you would see more people on The Yard, in The Valley, or even Blackburn but now it’s viewed as a space for underclassmen as opposed to everyone,” Davis said.

When it comes to student organizations, it becomes a question of how to keep the same level of popularity and energy among them individually. When students were brought back to campus, many of the leaders and members of a given organization had graduated or moved on. As a result, new leaders who had not experienced it before the pandemic would then be appointed.

Senior Linda Akele, the current Transfer Student Association (TSA) president, is an example of one of those student leaders who came to Howard after the pandemic, having transferred to Howard in the spring of 2021.

“I was the only person to run as president, and I was appointed.” 

TSA was an organization that had a strong membership community and as president, Akele has worked to keep some of the spirits; receiving guidance and ideas from the students who had been there before. 

Speaking on the lack of a relationship between upperclassmen and newer students, Thomas says, “Now there is a lot more disconnect…because we didn’t get that camaraderie to introduce or to pass down some of that knowledge that we had at Howard… a lot of upperclassmen live off campus and are all focused on getting their career started and ready for graduation so we’re not focused on teaching underclassmen the Howard ways.” 

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Jada White, a broadcast journalism freshman, says she appreciates the dynamic with upperclassmen and how they do not make her feel inferior or below her like in high school. 

“Ultimately I still feel very connected with the upperclassmen. I feel like here we really do push each other to succeed and we want to see everyone do well,” White said.

White feels that by experiencing Homecoming this year, she will finally be able to get the real Howard experience.

Graphic design senior K. Dimes, former Transfer Student Association president and one of Howard’s well-known DJs says that the break in continuity affected the passing down of tradition. 

“The people who have the culture, they left without having the chance to pass it down and those who have come in haven’t had the chance to receive it.”

He also drew attention to the fact that many upperclassmen who live off campus do not have cars and therefore their interaction with being on campus becomes limited to being there for class and leaving. However, he says he believes everything is coming back in terms of what things new students should experience like Spring at Howard and the upcoming Homecoming. 

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“The class of 2020 had rapport with the class of 2021, and they had rapport with 2022…it was a passing down of things. But now the class of 2025 and 2026 will get back to that because we’re back in the swing of things in a stable state in the University,” K. Dimes said. 

“I really think Homecoming is going to be the staple in revising the Howard culture.”

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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