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Howard University president acknowledges housing issues in address to community

Wayne A.I. Frederick addressed a community in the throes of protest.

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick during a news conference on Feb. 6, 2020. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Howard University’s president on Friday addressed issues related to students’ ongoing protests against his administration, saying he hears students’ concerns.

“The current events that have taken place on campus are very important,” Wayne A.I. Frederick said during his semiannual state of the university address. He apologized to anyone “who was inconvenienced” by the problems that have been roiling Howard’s student body this fall, which range from moldy dorm rooms to spotty WiFi.

Students have occupied the Blackburn University Center since Oct. 12, with more protesters sleeping in tents outside, and have vowed to remain until their demands are met for improved housing conditions, greater administration transparency and the restoration of representation on the board of trustees.

Frederick was originally scheduled to give his state of the university address Oct. 22 but said Friday that the event was postponed “given the fact that we were having protests taking place.” The demonstrations, though, have only continued to gain steam — and national attention. The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited campus this week to coach students and administrators toward a resolution.

Howard students have decried conditions in campus dorms, with many reporting issues related to mold, flooding, crumbling ceilings and mice. Frederick acknowledged that the university needs to improve the way it handles housing concerns by conducting more preventive maintenance services, responding faster to complaints and communicating more often with students about facilities issues.

“We need to ensure that living accommodations in the residence halls are healthy and safe,” Frederick said Friday. “That has to be an uncompromising position that we must take.”

Frederick said his team was “working diligently.” University officials said they have deployed additional staff into the campus’s eight residence halls to conduct air sampling tests, moisture tests, mold remediation, “more aggressive cleaning,” HVAC assessments and other services.

Frederick, who has served as Howard’s president since 2014, also touched on more traditional aspects of the state of the university address, including upcoming construction projects, research goals and enrollment.

Howard, after closing its campus for a year because of the pandemic, welcomed its largest student body this school year: more than 12,000 students, Frederick said.

Frederick also answered questions about the protests and students’ demands during a small Q&A session. Protesters, however, have requested a town hall event, which would allow more students to question the president.