By Wednesday evening, piles of sleeping bags could be seen through the building’s glass doors. A half-dozen university police officers stood behind the doors, blocking students on the outside from getting in. One officer held a door open as a student standing outside passed a black backpack to a protester, part of an effort to deliver food, hygiene products, blankets and other supplies to those inside.
On Wednesday, demonstrators added a new demand — legal and academic immunity — after an email from an official who said demonstrators risked “consequences up to and including expulsion from the university.”
In a statement, officials said they have met with students in recent weeks to address their concerns. The university did not say whether it would meet the students’ demands.
“The well-being of our students is one of our top concerns and the university continues to offer support to students who report needing assistance,” officials said. “In the past two weeks, university administrators prioritized meeting with the students over lunch and already addressed many of the concerns this group of students has voiced.”
A number of the demonstrators’ demands center on the university’s housing.
Eja Richardson, a freshman studying political science, said the bathroom she uses in her residence hall, Bethune Annex, has suffered from poor ventilation since she moved in. She said that she reported the problem but that maintenance crews had yet to fix it.
“We’ve had problems with the administration not listening to us,” Richardson said. “This is not the first protest this year.”
Some undergraduates said they returned to campus this semester to find what they believed to be mold growing in their dorm rooms. And many have railed against tuition hikes — from about $26,000 in 2020 to more than $28,000 this year.
Cynthia Evers, Howard’s vice president for student affairs, said in an email to students that the school cannot sustain a tuition cut “when we already charge as much as 50% less than peer institutions.” She also said that the mold was not widespread on campus and that maintenance crews were conducting mold remediation and HVAC duct-cleaning in affected rooms.
But students’ problems with housing go further, and protesters called on university leaders to develop a plan to address what some have declared a housing crisis.
In her email, Evers denied there was a shortage of on-campus beds, but dozens of juniors and seniors have said they were pushed out of student housing and forced to pursue pricey off-campus options as the school accommodates a larger-than-normal freshman class. Howard officials in August said a few factors — including pandemic-era safety measures that restrict housing to two students per room, higher retention rates and a large number of upperclassman who want to live on campus — have strained campus housing.
While freshmen and sophomores are traditionally prioritized in on-campus housing, the university has helped older students find rooms on and off campus, including rooms the school secured in apartments in the District and Maryland, officials said.
Evers said in her email that officials had met with students recently but that “the truth is you did not like the honest answers that you received when we met.”
The demonstrators at the campus center said they were dissatisfied with the university’s accountability and transparency. One of the group’s core demands, students said, is an in-person town hall with the school’s president, Wayne A.I. Frederick.
“To date, President Frederick hasn’t had a forward-facing town hall with students discussing all the things that are going on on campus,” said Erica England, a Howard senior and student organizer, referencing several complaints, including the facilities issues and financial problems.
Students further demanded the reversal of a measure announced in June to phase out student, faculty and alumni trustee positions from the school’s governing board. The change came after an “extensive review” that included consultations with an external firm and more than 40 interviews with students, alumni, faculty members, former trustees and other members of the community, officials said.
“We have addressed this decision with the student protestors in recent talks and have made clear that the decision was made with increased efficiency and real stakeholder representation in mind,” officials said Wednesday. “The University is continuing to develop new ways to encourage meaningful and truly representative leadership from its students.”
As night fell Wednesday, Richardson sat with a group of about 50 students outside the Blackburn Center, there to support the protesters inside.
“I’ll stay out here until I get tired,” Richardson said.