Students at the historically Black college in Washington, DC, have been assembling for sit-ins at the school’s Blackburn University Center with tents, air mattresses and sleeping bags, demanding that Howard leadership address their concerns. The sit-in, which has been dubbed #BlackburnTakeover on social media, started on October 12.
The National Bar Association, a network of predominantly Black attorneys and judges, released a statement to CNN on Friday condemning the living conditions and called on the Howard University administration to create a plan for remedial measures to ensure the safety of students.
“The NBA stands with the students of Howard University and all HBCU students,” the statement said. “The NBA believes that just as our HBCU’s demand the best of their students, those institutions must also provide the best service possible to their students. If the reports are accurate, these reported conditions are indeed substandard and simply unacceptable.”
NBA president Carlos Moore called the images and reports of dorm conditions “disturbing.”
According to CNN affiliate WJLA, mold has been discovered in 34 rooms on Howard’s campus since September. There are about 2,700 total rooms on campus. Earlier this month, there were flooding issues in several dorms at the university, WJLA reported.
Students and university at odds
Jasmine Joof, a sophomore at Howard and a spokeswoman for the #BlackburnTakeover, said students have experienced mold growing in their dorms, bugs crawling on shower ceilings and spotted roaches in campus cafeterias. One student posted on social media that she didn’t have Wi-Fi in her dorm for weeks.
Joof said she first reported the mold issue at her dorm, East Towers, in September and nothing was done about it. She said she and other students have become sick from mold exposure. Joof believes the poor living conditions are a result of “negligence” by the university administration.
“It makes me sad that my university would treat me like this,” Joof told CNN. “The living conditions, the lack of transparency with the administration really sucks. They are actively standing on our backs saying they want to create student leaders … and they are ignoring us.”
Howard University did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.
However, Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick addressed the student protests in a letter to the Howard community on Monday. Frederick called on students to end their occupation of the Blackburn University Center saying they were impeding “operations and access to essential services” and creating health and safety risks.
Frederick said the university was working with housing partners to ensure that all maintenance tickets were handled expeditiously.
“The truth remains that all of our students deserve a best-in-class dormitory experience at Howard, and we will continue to do our best to ensure that they receive it,” Frederick said in the letter. “While there have only been a small number of documented facilities reports relative to our entire inventory of residence rooms, we are actively inquiring about unreported issues that may be in the residence halls by going door to door to interview and assist each resident. The results of our inquiries to date affirm that the issues are not widespread and the vast majority of our students are living comfortably in their rooms.”
Joof said students have no immediate plans to end their protest at Blackburn.
“It’s important for us to stay to make sure no other Howard generation or any other Howard class has to go through this,” Joof said.
Black leaders express support
Some civil rights leaders are backing Howard students in their protest.
“I am both disappointed to hear the concerns of students at Howard University and proud of them for their bravery throughout this peaceful sit-in,” Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said in a statement. “Historically, students and young people have been the life force of many movements, including ones led by my father.”
NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement earlier this month that the protests at Howard were a “courageous act” by the students.
“At no point is it acceptable for a student to face housing insecurities while attending school,” Johnson said. “Their demands must be met with swift attention and due diligence from the HU administration immediately.”
Local officials in Washington, DC, have also supported the student protests.
DC council member Janeese Lewis George said Howard students have always been “change-makers” and made history.
“I support their struggle for safe, dignified housing,” George said in a tweet last week. “It’s the same struggle Black families face against gentrification all over DC. Power concedes nothing without demand.”