Student Protesters Continue to Occupy Howard University Administration Building

Mounting frustrations of Howard University (HU) students have culminated in a days-long protest of more than 300 participants inside the historically black university’s administration building, beginning last Thursday. The revelation that six employees — who were recently fired — had been embezzling tuition money and university grants from 2007 to 2016 was the tipping point that launched the protest group, HU Resist, into action.

The student protesters have nine demands, which include the resignation of President Wayne A.I. Frederick. They are also calling for guaranteed student housing, major changes to campus sexual assault policies, greater transparency regarding the school’s finances, a temporary hold on tuition, and more say in university decision-making, among other demands. Leaders of HU Resist say these requests are based on student responses to surveys issued in February and March, and have stated they will not vacate the administration building until the full list is approved.

The university apparently learned of the potential embezzlement in December 2016 and conducted an independent investigation using an outside auditor that ended in May 2017. In a statement, Frederick said that he reported the findings of the investigation to the U.S. Department of Education; however, that organization has not confirmed whether it will investigate the situation further. The six employees worked in the Office of Financial Aid.

Frederick has not addressed the many calls that he step down, but issued a statement Friday that he was listening closely to students’ appeals. No steps have been taken to remove students from the administration building or put an end to the protest, and elsewhere on campus, regular activities have proceeded with little disruption. On Saturday, student representatives spoke with the university board of trustees, after which the board emailed students vowing to accommodate all students who request on-campus housing.

Several events, in addition to the recent disclosure of misappropriated funds, have led up to the protest. In 2017, six women filed a lawsuit  accusing the school of responding in a discriminatory and retaliatory manner to complaints of sexual assault. Then, in January 2018, the start of the semester was delayed for undergraduates because of damage caused to dorms by freezing temperatures, power outages, and burst pipes. Many students were without hot water for a period of time.

In March, HU’s housing shortage and the administration’s response to student complaints garnered national attention when a sophomore emailed Frederick about concerns that she would not be issued a housing assignment in the fall. In response, Frederick admonished the student for her email’s  “tone,” resulting in outrage from students and the broader community after the student posted the exchange on Twitter.

As of Thursday, April 5, students are entering their seventh day occupying the building and plan to continue their occupation until more demands have been met.