Hundreds of freshmen students moved into Howard University's campus last week with the help of parents and University volunteers. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Hundreds of freshmen students moved into Howard University's campus last week with the help of parents and University volunteers. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Members of Howard University’s (HU) incoming freshman class spent the last few days learning about one another, meeting professors, administrators and student leaders and getting acclimated to campus life during what’s touted as “Bison Week.” 

Long before stepping foot in a classroom, they took part in various activities that touched on aspects of the HU experience and compelled them to reflect on issues of significance to young Black people attending college in a major U.S. city. 

For HU freshman Naika Belizaire, such activities affirmed her desire to attend the university.  Belizaire, an 18-year-old student from Las Vegas, spent half the day traveling across the country with her family last week to start a new chapter of her life in a region she said better aligns with her personality. 

On Wednesday, August 10, she and several other freshmen converged on 4th Street and Bryant Street in Northwest to check into their dorms. Even with a lack of sleep after a day of travel, she expressed excitement and enthusiasm for what lies ahead. 

“At a historically Black college, I’m surrounded with other Black intellectuals and I can focus on community service,” Belizaire said. “I found that I’m passionate about political science. [During the pandemic], it was a struggle. I felt like I was hopeless but Black voices uplifted me [and] gave me some motivation. [That’s why], I want to get more knowledge and learn new things.”

Freshmen students arrive on Howard University’s campus for Move-In Day. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

“Bison Week” started on August 14 during a pinning ceremony at Greene Stadium. After meeting with student leaders and members of the royal court, students attended “Screen on the Green” later in the week during which they watched conversation-provoking films. Students also participated in a talent showcase and learned about public safety protocols. During the “Taste of HU” event, students met campus leaders and mulled over the campus organizations they might want to join.  

“Bison Week” will wrap up with an all-white party. By that time, all students would’ve also attended orientations within their respective schools. 

HU Vice President for Student  Affairs Cynthia Evers said students should be fully immersed within the culture of the HU community with a basic knowledge of how to navigate campus and live among one another. 

“Students have been off campus [and] they’re coming back getting acclimated,” Evers said as she highlighted campus security tools for students. “I want them to get engaged and make sure they understand the legacy and what it means to be a Bison. It’s about legacy, engagement, safety and a sense of belonging.” 

Freshmen, who are HU’s class of 2026, will enter the university as it enters a new chapter in its development. Earlier this year, HU President Wayne A.I. Frederick announced the largest real estate construction program in the university’s history with the infusion of $785 million to build three state-of-the-art multidisciplinary academic buildings and renovate several halls. 

The new academic buildings will house teaching and research within the realms of health sciences, arts, communications, associated science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Since 2021, HU has expanded housing by 750 beds for students. Through the Hypercare Initiative, dormitories went through deep cleaning and a maintenance review process to ensure adequate preparation for incoming students. Requirements for staying on-campus include full vaccination against COVID-19. 

As resident assistant Julius Shanks II would describe it, another requirement for students staying on-campus involves keeping an open mind, establishing connections with peers and always paying it forward to new students. 

Shanks, a sophomore acting major in the Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts, paid homage to an older student who made campus feel more like home when he left his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and first matriculated to Howard last fall. 

This year, that student and Shanks both serve as resident assistants. 

In the days leading up to “Bison Week,” he participated in a student leader retreat and decorated the common areas of the dormitory where he will spend much of the school year assisting freshmen. 

“Being a resident assistant is the greatest leadership opportunity on campus [because] you’re the first responder to students in many instances,” said Shanks, who’s also Mr. 2022-2023 Chadwick Bozeman School of Fine Arts. 

“It’s my job to make sure they can call this place home,” Shanks added. “As a freshman, you’ll be lonely, homesick and broke with so many feelings and emotions. It’s about knowing that the place you chose to go won’t beat you up.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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