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Howard University students end occupation of administration building

An eight-day occupation of a Howard University administrative building ended on April 6, after students and university trustees reached a deal. (Video: WUSA9)
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Howard University students and officials announced an end Friday to a lengthy occupation of the administration building at the historically black college, a student protest that put a spotlight on long-simmering grievances.

The deal between university trustees and students promises that students will be involved in reviewing the adequacy of on-campus housing at the Northwest Washington school. It also makes pledges about improving the reporting of sexual violence and holding the line on tuition.

The students had called for the resignation of Howard’s embattled president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, but he attended the news conference announcing the pact, and there is no mention of him in the resolution issued by the school’s Board of Trustees.

“My fellow board members and I charged President Frederick with making progress on the critical issues facing our university,” Board of Trustees member Marie Johns said at the news conference. “While he has made significant advancements, we all acknowledge there is much more work to be done. He is committed to stewarding this institution and he continues to have our unequivocal and unwavering support.”

The student demands met by trustees represent a check on Frederick, said Maya McCollum, a Howard freshman and member of HU Resist, the student group that organized the occupation.

“Honestly, this is a new step forward to start a new relationship with him,” McCollum said. “Maybe this opened up his eyes. It definitely opened up the Board of Trustees, and we look forward to a new relationship with them. But the students know that this is a new beginning.”

Students took over the administration building March 29, hanging a banner that read “Student Power” by elevators.

On Friday, Johns said the “A” building was “once again open to all members of our community.”

“Today marks the next chapter of progress in Howard University,” the trustee said.

Throughout the demonstration, students met for negotiating sessions with trustees, hashing out demands that included calls for an overhaul of policies related to sexual assault, improvements in how the school handles mental health concerns and a greater voice in university decision-making.

Howard on Friday released a “statement of commitments” approved by trustees, intended to address needs of the campus community. Those commitments included a task force that will be charged with a review of the Howard University Department of Public Safety, and a task force focused on sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“I just want to thank everyone, and please urge each other to not forget the connections that you built today,” said Howard senior Alexis McKenney, an organizer with HU Resist. “Do not forget the art that you created this week. Do not forget the songs that you sang, the chants that we screamed from the halls at 3 a.m.”

After a worried Howard student emailed her president about housing, he replied about her ‘tone’

Earlier this week, full-time faculty members at Howard started voting on a “no-confidence” measure aimed at Frederick and other university leaders. The voting was expected to remain open until early next week.

“The solutions that these students have worked on with the Board of Trustees for the problems that we face, and for the difficult issues that challenge us every day, are solutions that I think are very creative, and they should be very proud of,” Frederick said at Friday’s news conference.

The protest and faculty vote came amid a financial-aid scandal at Howard, although students involved in the demonstration have said their concerns transcend that imbroglio. The university disclosed the alleged financial-aid misdeeds late last month, saying that six people had been fired for “gross misconduct and neglect of duties.”

Howard University in Northwest D.C. is dealing with the fallout of a student aid embezzlement scandal that has led to student protests demanding changes. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

An investigation found that from 2007 to 2016, some employees who received tuition benefits to cover the cost of taking classes were also receiving university grants. That double dipping exceeded the actual cost of attendance, signaling that the workers appeared to be embezzling.

After news of the financial-aid issues were disclosed, Frederick released a statement to students in which he acknowledged that some might feel the university had failed to communicate sufficiently when it did not disclose the existence of the investigation sooner.

Howard students have said they were enraged by the scandal, which was the latest in a string of embarrassing incidents at the university. It occurred the same month that Frederick came under fire for criticizing a student’s “tone and tenor” when she expressed concern about whether she would get housing. The student posted her exchange with the university’s president to Twitter, where it garnered attention.

McKenney, the Howard senior, called the recent student occupation “a long time coming.”

“While many of you think that this started with the financial aid scandal, we have been organizing since February of last year to implement change, institutional change, at our university,” she said.

Frederick, a surgeon and Howard graduate, was named interim president of Howard in 2013 and was later named the school’s 17th president in 2014. A native of Trinidad, Frederick was just 16 years old when he arrived at Howard in 1988. By age 22, he had earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a medical degree. He came back to Howard in 2006 as a faculty member and later earned a master’s in business administration, his third degree from the school.

During the protest, Frederick received support from the university’s Council of Deans, which represents leaders of Howard’s schools and colleges, and from the school’s alumni association. On Friday, Frederick noted that one of the students who spoke at the news conference said the transition marked a beginning.

“It is also a beginning of a process, not just of reconciliation and healing, but a process of how we go forward,” he said. “We must be earnest, in terms of our feelings about where we differ, but we must also be earnest about our feelings of how we should come together.”

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