As the Blackburn Takeover approaches 30 days, organizers said they’ve entered negotiations with Howard University (HU) administrators about reinstating board of trustee affiliate positions, addressing housing issues, increasing HU President Wayne A.I. Frederick’s engagement and providing amnesty for student protesters.
Amid these discussions, legions of students, alumni, activists, politicians and entertainers continue to converge on HU’s campus around the clock in support of the more than 150 students who have made the Blackburn University Center ground zero.
“There’s been support stretching as far as California and Ghana. Al Jazeera is even making a documentary about this,” said Aniyah Vines, an HU senior and Blackburn Takeover member who represents The Live Movement, a national student network that advocates for the advancement of historically Black colleges and universities.
Since the night of Oct. 12, when students first occupied Blackburn, Vines and others have kept onlookers, supporters and detractors abreast of developments via The Live Movement’s Instagram page.
Through social media, she said they’ve been able to control the narrative, highlighting the dismal housing conditions that inspired the Blackburn Takeover.
“This is showing students that they have the right to protest and hold the administration accountable. Any college can do this,” Vines said. “We’re a group of organizers who [formed] this foundation to make sure we don’t succumb to mistreatment. We’re supported by the student code of conduct that [shows] we have the right to protest.”
On Saturday, entertainment mogul Yandy Smith co-hosted an Instagram livestream with the Blackburn Takeover student protesters that attracted thousands of views across the globe.
By that time, student protesters revealed that they rejected HU administration’s suggestion to reinstate student, faculty, and alumni positions on the board of trustees to a level different than what had initially been the case.
One day prior, Debbie Allen, a veteran actress-dancer-producer and sister of HU Dean of the College of Fine Arts Phylicia Rashad, spoke to students and expressed her support for the Blackburn Takeover. Her comments occurred amidst a day during which alumni and faculty members also joined in, speaking from bullhorns and gathering in front of Blackburn and HU’s Administration building demanding greater financial transparency and even Dr. Frederick’s resignation.
During his State of the University address Nov. 5, Dr. Frederick alluded to the ongoing protest and acknowledged students’ complaints about the growth of mold in dormitories.
In his nearly two-hour presentation and dialogue with students, faculty members and alumni, he said the university has six percent of its living space available for housing insecure students who reach out to administrators. He also said 41 dorm spaces have been reported for fungi growth and HU administration has endeavored to rectify the situation through its “hyper care” program. The initiative calls for senior officials to consistently visit dorms, speak to students and immediately tackle problems.
“We’re lacking in preventative maintenance. This is one of the areas we’ve fallen short on,” he said. “While we have housing partners responsible for this, they are housing Howard students. We’re always riding with [our partners] to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”
HU announced the hyper care program on Oct. 25 following homecoming weekend during which student protesters alleged assault by campus police officers and threats from administrators who promised disciplinary action against Black Greek letter organizations that participated in Blackburn Takeover activities.
Since the protest began, students have maintained that the university has done more to stall or discredit their cause than address their concerns. For instance, they recalled seeing sprinklers outside of Blackburn spraying water on tents shortly after students erected them.
Last week, following requests for heated blankets and hot food, The Live Movement’s Instagram account provided details about inconsistent electricity and heat inside Blackburn.
These circumstances compelled some people, like Channing Hill, to question the intention of Dr. Frederick’s address. On Friday, hours before he was scheduled to speak, Channing and others delivered what they described as an authentic report of their activities and how the university community has received them.
“They call us violent [but] this is the true state of the university address that’s representative of every student who walks across this campus,” said Channing, president of HU NAACP.
“To say that we’re unsupported by alumni, faculty and our fellow students is false. To say we’re a small, childish minority is false. The only thing President Frederick needs to send is a letter of resignation. Howard is in a state of crisis.”