How Bush Visit Became the Siege Of Howard U.

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By Courtland Milloy
Sunday, October 30, 2005

It was Soul Food Thursday at Howard University last week, and many students were looking forward to their favorite meal: fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. At lunchtime, however, students discovered that much of the campus had been locked down and that the school's cafeteria was off limits.

Apparently, many of them did not know that President Bush and first lady Laura Bush had arrived for a "youth summit" at the Blackburn Center, where the dining hall is located. Stomachs began to growl, tempers flared, and, eventually, a student protest ensued.

In case you missed the broadcast Friday on Fox 5 (WTTG-TV), reporter Robbie Chavez was at Howard trying to interview protesting students when a campus security guard showed up and tried to stop him.

Chavez: The university went to great lengths . . .

Guard: I'm asking you to leave the campus now.

Chavez: . . . to hide angry protesting students . . .

Guard: I'm warning you, you don't do that.

Chavez: . . . a big effort to keep a lid on the growing frustration.

During the protest, dozens of students locked arms around a flagpole in the Quadrangle, a designated forbidden zone at the center of the campus, and refused to move despite warnings from campus security that Secret Service rooftop snipers might open fire on them.

You'd have thought Howard had taken a page right out of the Bush administration playbook on quashing First Amendment freedoms. In a letter posted the day before on a university Web site, President H. Patrick Swygert wrote that, having notified the campus via e-mail in July, he was sending a reminder of the Bush visit. But students complained that they hadn't seen either message and criticized school officials and the Bush administration for poor planning.

Chavez said: "This is what university police and the Howard University administration did not want publicized: students angry after being shut out of parts of their own university."

What might have been a public relations coup for Bush -- a visit to a historically black college to show concern for at-risk youths -- ended up as another Katrina-like moment, with the president appearing spaced-out, waving and smiling for television cameras while students were trying to break through campus security to get to the cordoned-off cafeteria.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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