Howard University students occupy campus building in the wake of massive financial aid scandal

“We leave when our demands are met."

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11:  Students and members of the administration at Howard University hold a rally against sexual assault on the campus of the university (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11: Students and members of the administration at Howard University hold a rally against sexual assault on the campus of the university (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Howard University students met with members of the university’s board of directors Friday afternoon as the students continued to occupy the main administrative building.

“We’re trying to get our demands heard and met and negotiated, and get the best deal we can for the student body,” Omavi Minder, an organizer with the student group HU Resist, told ThinkProgress.

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Rows of students sat in chairs to block the building’s main entrance Friday afternoon — alternately chanting protest chants, holding decision-making meetings, and browsing on their phones. A bike lock held the main double doors together as students came and went regularly through two side doors. Only Howard students and some limited staff — no faculty or administrators — were allowed inside after showing a campus ID. Outside, cars and vans pulled up to unload supplies for the barricaded students, and a handful of television cameras loitered across the street.

Howard University students gather on campus March 30 CREDIT: Joshua Eaton / ThinkProgress
Howard University students gather on campus March 30 CREDIT: Joshua Eaton / ThinkProgress

Students have controlled the building since Thursday. The occupation came a day after university President Wayne Frederick admitted Wednesday that he fired six staff who allegedly pocketed financial aid grants while also receiving reduced tuition.

A 2017 university investigation that came to light this week found a “misappropriation of university-provided financial aid funds” over the course of seven years, between 2007 and 2016. School officials have not said exactly how much money was misappropriated.

Frederick confirmed his knowledge of the investigation only after an anonymous Medium post — which is no longer available online — brought some of its details to light, and some students are now calling for him to resign.

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But student discontent — over issues like inadequate campus housing, rising tuition, and the university’s handling of sexual assault cases — was simmering long before the present scandal.

So was student resistance. HU Resist released a list of six demands for the occupation — which includes a call for Frederick and the board of trustees to step down, but which also asks for the creation of a grievance system to hold faculty accountable, the addition of more counselors to the university, and the disarming of campus police officers. Those demands stemmed from a community survey, meetings, and listening sessions that were in the works long before Wednesday, Minder said.

“I am listening to you, and I am challenging my team to make the changes you are expressing a dire need to see,” Frederick said in a campus email very early Friday morning. “In addition to that, I would like to further increase the engagement with a larger and broader portion of our student body.”

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Frederick’s email went through the student demands one-by-one, but he did not commit to specific changes. It wasn’t immediately clear if Frederick attended the meeting with student activists Friday afternoon.

Standing in front of the occupied building before Friday’s meeting, Howard board member Rock Newman declined to say whether Frederick would join him or how the board feels about the protest.

As the students inside negotiated with administrators, they also worked to gather supplies for a protest that could go through Easter weekend.

“We leave when our demands are met,” Minder said. “We leave when we can walk onto a campus that protects the most marginalized in our community. Not a second before.”


UPDATE, 7:17 pm: Students will continue to occupy Howard University’s main administrative building, Howard senior and HU Resist organizer Alexis McKenney told reporters at a press conference Friday evening, after a small group of students emerged from an hours long meeting with two members of the university’s board of trustees.

Those two board members, whom McKenney declined to name, had not read the students’ list of demands in detail before coming to the meeting, she said. That’s despite a statement from the board earlier on Friday that called the demands “inaccurate.”

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“We understand that there is a lot going on right now,” McKenney said. “But if we are to enter into negotiations, it’s important that we all have a clear understanding of the purpose of us being here.”

Student organizers will hold a phone meeting with more board members later today and have planned another in-person meeting tomorrow.

Howard’s embattled president, Wayne Frederick, was not at Friday’s meeting and has not communicated with protest organizers, according to McKinney.

“He’s been silent. He’s not expressed any desire to meet with us at all. And I think that sends a big message as to how, exactly, he is responding to students,” she said.