Students at Howard University are in a weird place these days. Many have responsibly joined in raising awareness about the #TakeBackHU movement, a campus and social media-based campaign to raise awareness about the university’s struggle to maintain facilities and technologies, while balancing operations and student aid needs on almost a daily basis. At the center of this discontent, a continuing effort to improve communication between administration and students.
Couched within that movement, is the #SilentShowtime marching band initiative, a protest project seeking answers for unpaid scholarships and funds promised to student musicians. Like many marching bands, seemingly, there is no specific fund or promise of support for the Showtime, but rather, a mix of departmental, institutional and development funds cobbled together annually to help out a tremendous group of student ambassadors. And again, the primary issue is building communication with students before they get upset about broken promises.
But this Homeless at Howard story is not a part of this movement at the Mecca. A student, Jawanza Ingram, admits to letting in students through an emergency exit of a dormitory to celebrate another student’s birthday. He gets thrown out of university housing, only to launch a sub-campaign headlined with pictures of himself out on the streets with luggage in tow.
The fortunate part of this story is that he wasn’t expelled from the university altogether for breaking such an important rule designed to keep students and staff safe. The unfortunate part is that he, along with a small group of other students and Twitter advocates, thought that his case would be a good one for media coverage and public sympathy.
Ingram, a freshman, probably doesn’t remember when a Howard student was sexually assaulted and stabbed in a university dorm three years ago, by a man who was not a student, but was able to walk undetected through the halls of Bethune Annex. Like many students, holding doors and elevators for friends is a regular practice to avoid the hassle of swiping or signing in to residence halls. It is as common as getting up and going to class or to a meal in the dining hall.
But this is also extraordinarily risky, especially on a college campus where drugs and sex, or the potential for either, can lead to dangerous circumstances. The group of friends coming through the emergency door may have been okay for the night, but if one guy walks in behind them, and you as the door holder avoid that sinking feeling in your stomach that accompanies the silent, internal question ‘I don’t think that dude goes here,’ what happens when you see that guy on the news the following day for a rape or a murder?
What happens when a classmate’s life is taken or tragically altered because you let him in?
And if anyone thinks that scenario is outlandish, or so foreign that it can’t happen at an HBCU where we all are family, just remember that school shootings used to be an anomaly in this country – and HBCUs across the country have lost four students to gun violence this semester alone.
It would be easy to start going in on how millennials don’t appreciate or respect rules because they live as a self-serving, self-important generation of thinkers who believe that the world and its construct is for interpretation, not internalizing. But that just isn’t true – they are just as lazy, arrogant and free-spirited as were 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago. They just put their worst thoughts and habits on Twitter and Instagram for all of us to see.
They are also as community-minded, politically astute and socially optimistic as we were years ago, which is why Howard students are at the forefront of two legitimate movements for improvement on campus, and among the leaders of social justice movements around the nation and the world. Their accomplishments and failures are not unlike our own; just in a new day with new risks and rewards which we couldn’t imagine during our undergrad years.
Ingram is probably among this same group, but to do wrong, know wrong and expect right in return isn’t going to be among the finest moments in his social justice portfolio. And when he goes to get a job a few years from now, here’s hoping he will have crafted an eloquent response to the interview question, “so tell me about the homeless thing that was in the news?”
Hopefully, Ingram will realize sooner than later that getting tossed out on his butt for breaking university rules will be the best thing that’s ever happened to him. Maybe he’ll become more motivated, more self-reflective, and more appreciative of the privilege of being a Howard student, and the responsibility it requires. But today, for all of his interviews and media-generated pity around his breaking the rules, he should get comfortable with having several seats in an apartment or room permanently off-campus.