“There has been a great deal of respect going on both sides, and it appears that the antagonistic force that was there before is starting to dwindle and wither away,” Juan Demetrixx, one of the student leaders, said at an early afternoon news conference across the street from the administration building on the school’s campus in Northwest Washington. “So we’re hoping that in the next coming days we are able to get these demands met.”
Rock Newman, a Howard graduate and a member of the school’s board of trustees, also spoke at the news conference, saying that the board was “extremely impressed with the way that the students have handled the negotiations.” He was hopeful they would continue to be productive.
But even as leaders welcomed the development of new negotiations, students inside the hall prepared for a lengthy stay. A steady stream of supporters, including fellow students and alumni, and students from American University and George Washington University, pulled up in cars to drop off food, supplies and encouragement.
More than 300 Howard students have occupied the building since Thursday, sleeping on the floor on donated pillows and mats in hallways and offices. Protesters have issued nine demands to the university, including that Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick resign.
“We’re not budging on that at all,” said Imani Bryant, a freshman from Atlanta who is a leader with HU Resist, the student group leading the protest.
The occupation at the historically black university in Northwest Washington began Thursday afternoon following revelations of a financial-aid scandal that led to the firing of six employees who had allegedly taken funds that should have gone to students in need. But the students’ demands extend beyond the scandal to include guaranteed housing, a voice in university decision-making, an overhaul of how the university responds to sexual assault on campus and more transparency when it comes to university finances and administration salaries.
“This is not just one problem,” said Maya McCollum, another student leader and also a freshman from Atlanta. “This is a systematic problem.”
Veronica Hansberry, a senior from Chicago who spent Friday night in the building, said that students were preparing to occupy the building until they get what they want.
“I think they expect us to get tired and go home, but it’s pretty slim that that’s going to happen,” she said.
Hansberry said that even though she is graduating in May, it was important for the freshmen and sophomores taking part in the protest to see a change result from their actions. She added, “I feel blessed to be a part of this effort to make Howard a better place because I love this university.”
The Howard campus was mostly quiet on Saturday morning and early afternoon. A tour group of prospective students was led past the school’s iconic library. In the middle of the Yard, the hub of the campus, seniors Delecia Utley and Fransisca Meralus were having their portraits taken in their graduation gowns. Both students said they supported the takeover of the administration building, and both believe Frederick should step down.
“He’s too complacent with the way he addresses things,” Utley said. “There’s no sense of urgency.”
Frederick, a surgeon and Howard graduate, hasn’t addressed the calls for him to step down. But he issued a statement Friday telling students, “I am listening to you and I am challenging my team to make the changes you are expressing a dire need to see.”
The news of the financial scandal has angered both students. Utley said she knew students who had to leave school because they weren’t able to afford it. Meralus said she had lost two grants over the years without an explanation of why they were taken away. The idea that funds were being stolen at the expense of students who needed them was another sign to them that the university was being mismanaged.
Howard, founded in 1867, is the nation’s premier black university, but it has been plagued by controversy over the past year.
Six women, all students or former students at the school, filed a federal lawsuit against the university in 2017, accusing the school of a “discriminatory and retaliatory response to multiple complaints of sexual assault and harassment.”
In January, the school had to delay the opening of the semester for undergraduates because of damage to buildings caused by freezing temperatures, power outages and ruptured steam pipes. And earlier this month, Frederick infuriated students when he responded to an email from a sophomore concerned that she would not get housing in the fall. The president told the student that her “tone and tenor is inappropriate.”
While many students are calling for Frederick to step down, not all on campus feel that way. But many of those who want him to stay are cautious about expressing their support. In separate interviews Saturday, a student and a faculty member said that Frederick doesn’t deserve the blame for the school’s problems, but neither would agree to be quoted by name.
In a letter to the Howard community on Friday, Board of Trustees Chairman Stacey J. Mobley wrote, “My fellow board members and I fully support President Frederick’s continuous progress on the critical issues facing our campus community.”