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Howard students end nine-day occupation of administration building

The university’s board of trustees agrees to address eight of nine demands

After occupying a Howard University administration building for nine days, students of the school came to an agreement with the university on Friday that ended the standoff. Key to the settlement with the historically black university was a meeting with the board of trustees to put forth measures to improve the quality of life of students on campus.

The “statement of commitments” was announced during a joint news conference between Howard’s board of trustees and members of the student body government as well as HU Resist, a student-led social justice coalition, in front of the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration Building (nicknamed the “A” Building), the site of the weeklong sit-in protest.

On March 25, HU Resist produced a list of nine demands for Howard president Wayne A.I. Frederick and the school’s board of trustees, including a freeze of tuition costs, measures to prevent sexual assault on campus, the disarmament of the Howard University police department and the resignation of Frederick and the executive committee of the board of trustees.

After several days of long, intense meetings, one lasting eight hours, the two sides came to an agreement that addresses eight of HU Resist’s demands. The students announced earlier on Friday that they were “no longer calling for the resignation of the president and executive board of trustees.”

According to the agreement, the university commits to the following:

  1. Extension of the deposit deadline for student housing and an examination of the “adequacy of on-campus housing to meet Howard’s housing policy.”
  2. A recommendation to hold undergraduate tuition at its current level for the 2019-20 school year.
  3. The establishment of a task force to examine the campus climate surrounding sexual assault and the consideration of a one-credit mandatory course “designed to emphasize prevention of sexual assault, sexual harassment and interpersonal violence.”
  4. A task force empowered to implement a “grievance system that holds faculty, administrators and students accountable in their language and actions towards anyone in the Howard community.”
  5. A task force designed to enhance the current mental health counseling services available to students.
  6. A review of the training and use of force guidelines of the Howard Department of Public Safety, including campus police officers.
  7. Financial support of a current student-led effort to create a food pantry in the LeDroit-Shaw community.
  8. The establishment of a board committee on student life and affairs in service of a forum to “convey concerns regarding all aspects of student life.”

“These commitments are meant to address the needs and are for the benefit and welfare of the entire Howard University community,” board of trustees member Marie C. Johns said at the news conference. “Today marks the next chapter of progress at Howard University.”

The occupation of the “A” Building — rechristened the “Kwame Ture Student Center” by the protesters — on March 29 came just two days after a whistleblower exposed that employees in Howard’s financial aid office had been misappropriating funds for nearly a decade. Frederick released a statement that he and the board knew of the fraud in December 2016 but the information was never publicly released.

Following in the footsteps of Howard students who occupied the “A” Building in 1968 and 1989 to hold the university accountable for the grievances of their times, HU Resist and their supporters recognize the significance of what they have accomplished over the last nine days but also understand that a “statement of commitments” is just the beginning of their work.

“As we transition to this agreement and we transition out of this occupation, this is not an end but a beginning,” HU Resist member Alexis McKinney said. “A beginning to our call of what is student power given this agreement and how do we implement it in a way that changes our university, our institution in a way that can affect the world.

“I just want to thank every single student who has ever passed by these halls of the ‘Kwame Ture Student Center,’ formally known as the ‘A’ Building, which is now open again.”

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"