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‘We won’: Howard protesters reach deal with university and end month-long occupation

Dozens had slept in the Blackburn University Center for weeks to protest housing and other issues

A cleaning crew waits to start work at Howard University residence halls. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
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After a high-profile 34-day protest over housing issues, representation and administration transparency, Howard University officials and student demonstrators announced Monday that they had reached a resolution.

Students have “substantially accomplished their objectives,” Donald Temple, the students’ attorney, told The Washington Post, marking the end of one of the longest student-led protests in the school’s history. The terms outlined in the agreement are confidential, Temple said.

University President Wayne A.I. Frederick wrote in a message to the campus community Monday that Howard was pleased to reach the agreement with protesters.

“As we close in on the Thanksgiving holiday, I am encouraged and excited about the work we have accomplished — and the work we will continue to do — together to reinforce Howard University,” Frederick wrote. “I look forward to sharing details soon on our ideas that will address concerns and build a culture where all are heard.”

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The deal was the result of 20 days of negotiations between students and university administrators, according to Erica England, a Howard senior and student organizer. Since launching their protest Oct. 12, students rallied around four core demands: an in-person town hall with Frederick and other officials, the permanent reinstatement of student, alumni and faculty affiliate positions to the school’s board of trustees, a meeting with university leaders about housing, and legal, disciplinary and academic immunity for protesters.

“We came, we saw, we declared and we won,” Channing Hill, another student organizer, said during a news conference Monday morning, broadcast on the daily news show Roland Martin Unfiltered. “Today is a new day for Bison everywhere.”

According to demonstrators, more than 100 students were living in the Blackburn University Center, a student hub on campus and home to its largest dining hall. Dozens more, including a small group of faculty and alumni, pitched tents outside, vowing to remain until the demands were met.

Fueled by reports of mold, rodents and floods in residence halls, the protests gained wide attention and support, including from civil rights activists, politicians and Howard alumni. The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the campus in early November to coach students and university leaders toward a solution.

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Following the announced resolution, Tyler Davis, a freshman and student organizer, said students spent Monday afternoon clearing Blackburn, deflating air mattresses, packing up sleeping bags, clearing out tents and collecting leftover supplies to be donated to community organizations.

“I love these people that I’ve gotten to meet,” Davis said. “I’ve been in this building since day one, so it’s been a very long 34 days. I’m very excited to go back to my dorm and to being a ‘normal’ college kid.”

Chandler Robinson, a fellow freshman, said she, too, was happy to be leaving Blackburn. The demands of being a full-time student and protester, she said, were “very, very draining.”

For Robinson, the concerns over housing conditions had found new urgency after the fourth floor in her residence hall flooded Friday evening. “I was in the middle of negotiations, and I came back to my room and it was flooded,” said Robinson, who described her hallway as being covered with water.

Robinson’s room was unaffected, but she said the university moved quickly to address flooding in other areas by installing dehumidifiers and industrial-sized fans, a response she attributes to the protest. In a statement, the university said maintenance crews had started remediation efforts and that affected students had been offered temporary housing.

Frederick on Monday referenced Howard’s campus master plan, which outlines the school’s strategy to expand and improve the university’s infrastructure, and reaffirmed the school’s commitment to “maintain safe and high-end housing.”

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Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, who graduated from the historically Black university in 1991, spoke at a rally on Saturday organized by Howard alumni. Baraka said he participated in the campus’s 1989 protests, which called for the removal of Republican strategist Lee Atwater from the university’s board of trustees.

“I understand where the kids are coming from. Protest is part of your education at Howard,” Baraka told The Post on Monday. He commended the students for negotiating a solution with administrators. “I think the young people did a good job,” he said.

But, England admitted, there were times when a resolution seemed out of reach.

“When you’ve been in a building sleeping on the floor or outside in a tent for 30-something days, sometimes your faith can waiver a bit,” the student said.

Despite their success, England and other organizers said their work was far from finished. Tye Compton, a Howard sophomore and a member of the student government, said campus officials promised to improve communication with the student body, and students will be watching for “tangible results.”

“This fight is not over,” Davis said. “We can and will come back if the administration does not do everything they say they would.”