A collection of derogatory messages greeted the Howard University community early Tuesday morning.
The remarks, mostly penned in chalk, lined the walls and sidewalks of Howard dormitories and school buildings all criticizing the university’s president, Wayne A. I. Frederick.
The most permanent message, spray-painted in the center of the university, read: “Welcome to the Trump Plantation, Overseer: Wayne A.I. Frederick.”
The messages coincide with a Tuesday meeting at the White House between President Trump and about a dozen leaders from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), including Howard. They also follow a visit at the beginning of February where Frederick welcomed Trump-appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Backlash ensued from the DeVos visit and a group of student protesters, HUResist, demanded that the school bar Trump from the campus and refuse to take federal funding during his administration. But the group denies having anything to do with the messages.
“[Frederick] is dealing with the aftermath of not valuing student concerns,” said Durmerick Ross, a freshman at the university and member of HUResist.
He said though the organization had nothing to do with the graffiti, he was proud to see someone express the sentiments.
“I don’t trust that [Frederick] would be in those meetings challenging them and push our issues and hone in on those things that we as students are concerned about,” Ross said. “It’s just a photo op, and almost any interaction with the Trump administration will be used to normalize the Trump administration to black people and it takes all of the focus off of the racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric he’s distributed.”
Some messages called to keep the university and other HBCUs black. Another read: “HBCU Imitative? Wayne Coonin’ for Howard? Not on my Watch!”
“I can understand the students’ frustration, but I also understand, to an extent, why the administration is doing what they are doing, but I still think they need to respond,” said Hope Josiah, a sophomore at the university.
A Department of Education budget report showed that Howard received $221 million in 2016.
“I think there are a lot of things that need to be addressed here. Apparently, there is some unrest amongst the student population and they are trying to make a point,” said Frankie Bethea, a returning student.
She said she doesn’t agree with the message, but said lack of communication between the administration and students could have caused someone to leave the message.
“This has never been a plantation,” Bethea said.
She and other students gathered around the graffiti to discuss their viewpoints and reflected on ways to address issues with the administration.
“It’s very loaded,” said senior Kayla Williams, who was bothered by the lack of response from the administration.
“Your name is being defamed across your campus and it’s still there, just like the dorms are still broken down, and like how I can’t have a class with a projector because its broken,” she said.
Frederick later issued a statement to the university.
“While I respect freedom of expression, I strongly oppose vandalism as a form of expression. The key to our progress is respectful dialogue, not bullying behaviors,” Frederick said. “I am asking members of the community to join me in conversation over the next several weeks to discuss campus relations that impact us all.”
He said talks would begin with student leaders and branch over the next few weeks to include other students and faculty.