Howard Student Protest Ends With Promise of Task Forces, Committees and No Presidential Resignation

Student protestors at Howard University ended their nine-day occupation of the university’s administration building this afternoon, claiming new partnership with school administrators on what they previously described as a widespread executive failure on key issues of shared governance, cultural clashes, and community outreach.

The students went in with specific demands for student representation, policymaking and personnel changes. And after nine days of Twitter finger threats, posters in windows, viral videos, think pieces, hair braiding seminars, tweets from Rihanna, alumni from the 1960s going back to the future, faculty getting punched out at Locke Hall and rumormongering, the standoff ended with a new deadline and facility access for student housing reservations, several task forces and committees, a number of options for the board to consider, a world of homework, and the presence of a president and trustees which HU Resist said at the outset was a deal breaker for their takeover, but relented as negotiations moved towards an amicable end.

Here’s the rundown of the demands versus the final agreement between trustees and students.

HU Resist Demand 

We demand that Howard University provide adequate housing for all students under the age of 21 and extend the Fall 2018 housing deposit deadline to May 1. If the university cannot accommodate all students under the age of 21 who wish to live on campus (after extending the housing deposit deadline), it must provide alternative facilities to offset the impact. The selection of housing for students 21 and over will be determined by financial need. All dorm buildings will match the D.C. Housing Code standards outlined by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which includes dorm rooms not exceeding appropriate capacity. 

HU Trustee Response 

  • The deadline for submitting the institution’s $200 housing deposit was extended to May 1, 2018. A community-wide announcement of the extension was already shared on April 1, 2018. 
  • If the housing deadline extension results in a significant number of students requesting on-campus housing, the Quad renovation will be delayed to accommodate additional occupancy.
  • Howard will engage students in examining the adequacy of on-campus housing to meet Howard’s housing policy that states: “All Howard University first year (0 or 1 completed semesters of post-high school education) and second year (2 or 3 completed semesters of post-high school education) students under the age of 21 will be required to live on campus, unless living at home with a parent or guardian,” and measure against bed availability.

HU Resist Demand

We demand an immediate end to unsubstantiated tuition hikes and complete access to administrative salaries…We want Howard University to freeze tuition costs and undergo a transparent recalculation process…provide access to administrative salaries. 

HU Trustee Response

The Board recognizes the cost of tuition is an area of utmost importance to the entire Howard community. Howard will commit to making a recommendation to the Board to consider holding undergraduate tuition at current levels for the academic year 2019-20 while working with the Tuition Rates and Fees Committee, which already includes student representation, to assess tuition and fees for the academic year 2020-21. As part of this process, the University will make comparative data used to inform its decisions available to the student body.

HU Resist Demand

We demand that Howard University actively fight rape culture on campus in an effort to prevent sexual assault. The university will implement a mandatory one-credit course that is required for graduation focusing on gender, consent, sexuality, and sexual health. The university will begin providing rape kits to survivors at Howard University Hospital. The university will create a new task force of students, faculty, staff and administrators whose primary objective will be to create and carry out policies that prioritize the safety of sexual assault survivors and combat rape culture. 

HU Trustee Response

The Board is committed to fostering and maintaining an academic and living environment that is free of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of interpersonal violence.  As part of our commitment, we recently thoroughly assessed our Title IX policies and processes, gathered student, faculty and staff feedback during this process, and unveiled last year a new interim Title IX Policy on Prohibited Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment. To further support this critical area for our campus community, a task force, co-chaired by a student, will be established with representation from the Howard student body, faculty and administration for the purpose of examining the current climate on Howard’s campus around sexual assault, sexual harassment and interpersonal violence and providing feedback to the administration on changes in policy and process as appropriate to improve student safety and prevent sexual assault, sexual harassment and interpersonal violence.  Included in the scope of work of the task force, working with the Office of the Provost, is consideration of instituting a mandatory 1-credit course with a curriculum designed to emphasize prevention of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and interpersonal violence.  Every reasonable action will be taken to start up the task force so that it can begin its work before April 30, 2018.  For the sake of clarity, the proposal to establish Howard University Hospital as a site for rape kit examinations of victims of sexual assault is a matter of local law and is not part of this commitment. The University will provide transportation to sexual assault victims to Washington Hospital Center, the location where rape kit examinations are administered.

HU Resist Demand

We demand that Howard University implement a grievance system to hold faculty and administrators accountable in their language and actions towards students with marginalized identities…to manage reports and grievances, investigate and evaluate incidents of misconduct, keep a public record of trends and patterns and determine and mandate disciplinary action. 

HU Trustee Response

The Board agrees to establish a task force, co-chaired by a student, with representation from the Howard student body and Howard administration to review existing grievance mechanisms at the University, and best practices at other universities, and establishing a grievance system that holds faculty, administrators and students accountable in their language and actions towards anyone in the Howard community. Any inappropriate behavior goes against Howard’s core values and will not be tolerated by the Howard community.  Howard will maintain the existing anonymous hotline as a channel to report such grievances. Professors will be reminded of their obligations to advise students of how to avail themselves of the grievance process for questioning grades.

HU Resist Demand

We demand that Howard University hire more counselors and implement an inclusive attendance policy that accounts for mental and emotional health issues. Hire more counselors who specialize in gender and sexuality, substance abuse, interpersonal violence, intra-community violence, etc. Absences due to mental and/or emotional health issues should be considered excused and included in the student handbook as a permissable reason to complete missed assignments. 

HU Trustee Response

The health and well-being of our community are of critical importance, and the Board and administration want to be supportive of the well-being of our students.  Howard will implement the Proposal for a Joint Student-Administration Task Force to Enhance Psychiatric and Behavioral Health Services, dated April 1, 2018. Counseling provided under this Proposal will place emphasis on helping students overcome the anxiety of reporting sexual violence to the authorities.  The Task Force will be co-chaired by a student and review the process for intake and will report to the Vice President for Student Affairs.

HU Resist Demand

We demand the immediate disarming of campus police officers and the formation of a police oversight committee controlled by students, faculty, staff and off-campus community representatives….(The committee shall) have the power to manage complaints against all sworn members of the HUPD, review and advise departmental policies, procedures and budgets, conduct independent investigations if necessary. 

HU Trustee Response

While Howard’s goal has always been to ensure the safety of our campus community, a separate task force, co-chaired by a student, will be created to undertake a comprehensive review of the Howard Department of Public Safety, focusing on its engagement with the Howard student body, the use of force, training and whether there is a need for armed officers. The task force shall be represented by the administration, faculty and student stakeholders will include experts in criminal justice, and will set forth the process and timeline for its work. The task force will be established by July 1, 2018.

HU Resist Demand

We demand that Howard University allocate more resources towards combating food insecurity and gentrification within the LeDroit-Shaw community. The university must allocate funds to the creation of a community food pantry which will serve the food insecure and homeless population in the LeDroit-Shaw Community. This pantry will be regulated by both students and community members. Establish (and fund) a group of faculty and students which would partner with the surrounding community on the challenge of gentrification to the existing residents, work with community groups to reduce the negative impacts of redevelopment, and advise the university on the steps it would take to reduce the negative impact of neighborhood change. 

HU Trustee Response

Howard will support a  student-led effort to establish a food pantry in the LeDroit-Shaw community and will allocate money for that purpose.  Student volunteer involvement in service to, and fundraising for, the food pantry will be encouraged. Students are commended for the concern shown for the greater LeDroit-Shaw community and at Howard, we always want to be good community stewards. A plan for the food pantry will be submitted by students to the VP for External Affairs by June 1, 2018. While the University has a long history of commitment to and involvement in the community, the University will consider by June 1, 2019 the establishment of a community development organization which might allow for more inclusive community engagement on select real estate projects where no contractual obligations currently exist (not involving existing real estate holdings or immediate core development opportunities).   The University’s Ethics Policy requires that it comply with “the requirements of [all] laws.”  As a party to eight collective bargaining agreements, the University is subject to the National Labor Relations Act relating to fair labor practices. The University will continue to draw on the resources of the School of Law’s Fair Housing Clinic to assist members of the community.

HU Resist Demand

We demand the immediate resignation of President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. We demand that students have the power to democratically influence the decisions of the administration and the Board of Trustees by popular vote. 

HU Trustee Response

 

It’s difficult to categorize winners and losers in this situation. Howard students got away with taking over a building, going head-to-head with the administration, and attracting national attention for their efforts. Students exited the building without tear gas or arrests, no one resigned or got fired, and no one threw shade at the press conference.

From most angles, both sides can cheer about how this ended.

But what’s the long-term impact of the last nine days? Students successfully forced their way into rare air in administrative processes, but they don’t have the autonomy or the presence they sought at the beginning of the protest. They received keenly wordsmithed commitments from the board for collaborative review of certain processes, considerations for academic and operational changes, and oversight responsibility.

They got exactly what they wanted on housing. They might get a class on sexual assault. They might get changes to police officers and their treatment of students, and maybe trustees will think about disarming them. They might get a new system for filing grievances, and they might get trustees to consider freezing tuition.

They won’t get new counseling personnel, they won’t have a food pantry unless students submit an acceptable proposal outlining its establishment and maintenance, and they didn’t get Dr. Frederick fired.

For nine long days, historic embarrassment to the university, and the millions the school may stand to lose in decreased enrollment, donors not wanting to align their names with such a controversial brand, and a potential decrease in alumni support who are either dismayed that it seems to be business as usual at the Mecca, or disgusted with the perceived entitlement of millennial hellraisers – was the deal worth it?

Will the protestors and dissatisfied faculty continue to blame Frederick and HU trustees if revenue goes down as a result of this major controversy? They can’t – and won’t be able to for several years. Because Howard students have now created milestones for a generation of stakeholders to remember these nine days. At graduation next month, at the start of classes this fall, at homecoming, at the one-year anniversary mark of the occupation, and for years to come; no one is going to let Howard forget about these nine days.

And if the student activists go on to graduate in the next three years or so, will they be as invested in seeing these outcomes through during the end of their college careers as they are today? Will they invest in the strategic planning, meetings, fundraising and lobbying to make sure that the things for which they were willing to embarrass Howard University to hell and back for nine days, persist for future Bison in the years to come?

If Dr. Frederick leaves, does this entire process reset? Will students run up in the building again? Maybe they will, or maybe the next president calls DC SWAT and has everyone arrested, knowing that the optics of arresting dissenters can’t be any worse than the ‘A’ building takeover of 2018.

So what exactly was all of this worth? Substantive change? A place in history? Likes and follows? Because while it may feel like victory today for both sides, Howard University will be forever defined by what is in between the lines of today’s agreement.

And right now, that doesn’t seem like much given the price of protest over the last nine days, and the losses yet to be realized in the years to come.

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