The annual homecoming experience and festivities lie in anticipation by students, faculty and alumni; however, there is concern about public safety, regulatory policies and a spike in COVID-19 cases.
According to U.S. News & World Report, there has been a slight decrease in recent COVID-19 hospitalizations, however, the public should receive the most recent vaccine due to virus mutation.
“We are cognizant of the realities that many college campuses in urban environments are facing. We are steadfast in our efforts to continually evaluate and enhance our public safety plans to maintain the safety and well-being of our Howard University community, which is our primary goal,” the Howard University Department of Public Safety (DOPS) announced via a public statement.
The Hilltop reached out to Howard’s Department of Public Safety for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. The Howard DOPS works in partnership with the university community to enhance the safety and quality of life for students, faculty, staff and visitors through best practices of safety, preparedness and prevention methods in order to protect the HU community.
DOPS released public safety tips for Howard constituents and recently announced that Howard is expanding its emergency communications system with the Peace of Mind (POM) Initiative, which provides Howard students and employees access to public safety personnel in critical situations.
Howard is one of many colleges and universities nationwide to become a POM Safe campus, and the largest historically Black institution to adopt the technology. Through the POM initiative, Howard provides students, faculty and staff with handheld personal safety devices to expand security and safety responses in and around the university.
The devices are small enough to be placed on a keychain and enable community members to contact and communicate with campus safety officials in case of an incident or emergency. POM Safe devices are part of the Bison S.A.F.E. campus-wide initiative to ensure that all community members have access to resources that encourage best practices in public health and public safety techniques.
Ahead of homecoming festivities, the Office of University Communications advised members of the HU community to follow safety protocols such as the campus clear bag policy and other preventative safety measures via an email to the HU community.
This homecoming follows the recent assault attack on four students at Howard Plaza East Towers in late August. This incident disrupted students’ security and highlighted the rise of violence and homicide in D.C.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department (MDP), there has been a 38% increase in homicide and a 70% increase in robbery in Washington D.C. since 2023. These numbers prompt students to stay in groups and remain self-aware at night.
“When I see the news reports about the crimes that are happening close to campus, I feel unsafe. But whenever I am with a group of friends, I feel safe,” Vanessa Lewis, a junior biology major from College Park, Maryland, said.
“I make sure I stay hydrated, eat a meal before I go out and know my limits,” Lewis said.
Howard’s homecoming takes place two weeks after Morgan State University’s homecoming, which was interrupted by a shooting that injured four students and another attendee and resulted in the cancellation of classes and Morgan State’s scheduled homecoming events.
“Homecoming and school in general, is supposed to be a haven and a celebration full of Black joy and the feeling of being free. Instead, people almost lost their lives and now have trauma that will forever impact them,” Sadiya Quetti-Goodson, a junior Africana studies major from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, said.
“Something needs to change because this should not be a reality for students,” Quetti-Goodson said.
Following the shooting, Howard sent out a mass email in support of Morgan State and reiterated the importance of safety and enjoyment for students while being on campus.
“We stand with Morgan State University during this time, and I join my fellow president David Wilson in condemning this heinous act of violence,” Dr. Ben Vinson III, Howard University president said via the statement emailed to the Howard community on Oct. 4.
“Being on a college campus should be a joyful and optimistic experience, especially during homecoming season,” Vinson said.
“So many [people] look forward to homecoming week and it is really sad to hear something so horrific happened on a week that was supposed to be filled with joy and fun,” Lewis said.
Others remain optimistic about the upcoming events while remembering to have safety as a top priority.
“I would say to travel in groups, drink responsibly, and trust your instincts. Do not be afraid to say no in uncomfortable situations,” Keauna Brantley, a senior Afro-American studies major from Orlando, Florida, said.
“We remain committed to working in partnership with our campus community, external partners and neighbors to ensure that our campus is safe and that it is a nurturing haven for our students to thrive,” Vinson said.
Howard Homecoming 2023 is scheduled to take place Oct.14-22. To stay updated about homecoming safety information, visit the site.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew