On Oct. 13. 2021 Students gather in front of the Armour J. Blackburn building as student protestors occupy the space inside. Photo Credit: Dee Dwyer

October 17, 2021

Dear Black People,

The University is correct in acknowledging that there is a long standing tradition and legacy of Howardites “using our voices to drive change.” But more aptly put, hearing us is not the same as understanding our needs.

The current Board of Trustees, Chairman Morse and President Frederick are tone deaf to the needs of our students who are CRYING OUT FOR HELP. However, they have continued to demonstrate a persistent lack of care in addressing the myriad of significant concerns raised by the students and faculty in the past several years. Most recently in 2018 and now, yet again, in 2021 by continuing to kick the proverbial can of worms down the road.

Meanwhile, there has been an outsourcing of critical facility management services to companies that have repeatedly demonstrated their total lack of care and abject incompetence as they, the Board and Administration, continue to sit by and negligently overlook the poor and dangerous living and working campus environment that both students and faculty encounter on a daily basis.

The continued reliance on these third party contractors and vendors reflects an outright dereliction of duties without any apparent accountability for their poor performance. This is occurring despite the premium dollars that these entities are being paid – directly from our tuition dollars. Remember, these monies are derived from our family’s financial sacrifice, the sweat and the burden of mountainous debts that we as students and invested stakeholders must pay in order to subsidize the investment in our education; and as we aspire to achieve the lofty accolades of earning a degree from this esteemed institution.

Now for some Real Talk…

The Howard Housing Crisis The university has released hundreds of residence hall rooms from its campus housing property management footprint by leasing out Carver Hall, Slowe Hall and Meridian Hill
to developers for a series of 99 year leases. Let us also not forget about the build out of properties adjacent to the campus. These spaces are also not available to support the students’ housing needs in the height of a severe affordable housing crisis and increased gentrification and urban renewal across the District of Columbia and local region.

Further, the outsourcing of services in this arena (e.g. off-campus housing) with entities that repeatedly demonstrate a lack of responsiveness, compassion and/or sensitivity to the expressed students’ housing needs is especially difficult for the hundreds of sophomores, juniors and seniors who are forced to fend for themselves under poor living conditions
and extreme circumstances. The sub-par standard of living, not only places them in hardship and puts them at risk while navigating these mean streets; they could also potentially fall victims to various unscrupulous actors that prey on their naiveté and/or take advantage of their acute housing situation as they face becoming homeless. Furthermore, the Board and Administration pat themselves on the back for securing additional housing for 700 students, yet, most of these students are living miles away near the University of Maryland, College Park. How is that for having the authentic Howard/HBCU experience?

Inquiring Minds Want to Know|

Meanwhile, back at the Howard “A” Building, the University seems to be collecting $$$ from its roster of 99 year leases and not to mention the more than $700+ Million in donations. So, my question is, who is following the money? Don’t mind me. I am just inquiring for a few Bison friends.
But also, please help me understand:

*Who again thought it was a good idea to withdraw “shared” governance?
*Who again are looking out for the students who are the indisputable life
blood of Howard University?
* Can the Board and Administration please provide a definition for “adequate on campus housing conditions”?
* Where does this strategy align with the Howard Forward agenda?
* Who are the IES Firm consultants that provided such poor guidance to the
Board of Trustees about best practices? Please step forward.

Hazardous Habitats

As it relates to harmful living conditions and poor infrastructure:

* Does the university plan to take any positive steps towards recovery of any of the hundreds of beds (residence hall units) that were deliberately released from its housing inventory to help relieve the need for affordable and “safe” (hazard-free) housing?
* How is the Administration and Board of Trustees planning to address the serious health issues arising from exposure to these unsafe and hazardous conditions?
* What is the plan to mitigate the protracted state of disrepair and deferred
maintenance of the buildings that comprise Howard’s campus? For example, the iconic buildings (e.g. Douglass Hall) and residence life properties?

*And again, where is the money?

“Shared” Governance

While we are in mutual agreement that “many of these issues will take time to resolve,” it is long overdue that we commit to developing a comprehensive plan of action with the corresponding timeline to resolve these grievances and intractable matters. (This is precisely what the students have articulated in their demands.) So let us demonstrate good
faith by starting with the restoration of Howard’s long standing tradition of “shared” governance.

* First and foremost, who are the representatives that comprise the “partnerships” that the Board speaks of?
* Second, if “open communication” is valued, then why is there such a high degree of fear, micro-aggressions and retaliation?
*Third, why are the doors of the building chained to lock out the very students the Board and Administration exist to serve?

The Board needs to clarify and identify the IES firm, as well as the 40 individuals they interviewed, as they seem to think, 40 people, have de facto agency to speak on behalf of all Stakeholders – we need to validate that perception against reality. The reality is that Stakeholders want the Affiliate Trustees for students, faculty and alumni to be reinstated, with voting power intact, as indicated by the student protesters and the three petitions of late: Howard University Young Democratic Socialists of America Afro-Socialists (HUYDSA), Howard Alumni United (HAU), and Howard University NAACP. As of the penning of this response, between the three petitions, there are more than 5,400 signatures collectively. 5,400 > 40. Ruminate on that.

As far as “open communication” goes, it seems that a polar opposite course of action is being enforced. This is contrary to a democratic process if indeed students are able and entitled to raise a voice of concern in the Howard tradition of truth and service. Lastly, while the Administration puts a chain on the door, shouldn’t they know that the optics do
not look good from any angle? Further, isn’t that a fire code violation?

The Students Are Worth Fighting For

Let’s be clear, the students are conducting a “sit-in” for a noble social justice cause. They represent the Howard University community at-large. Each student who is boldly participating in this event is standing in for dozens more as advocates for positive change. They are exercising the Howard tradition of giving voice to the repressed and voiceless. The students are being supported by Bison family members, faculty, alumni and supporters from near and far. They are not alone in their search for a resolution to these conditions.

Furthermore, the students on the ground are here to demand positive change. They do so at risk to their very well-being in the midst of a deadly pandemic and as a testimony to the legacy of the Ancestors who have conspired to make Howard a bastion for the governance of Black Voices in America and the flag bearer for equity across the Diaspora.

Our students matter and they are indeed worth fighting for. The future is theirs to embrace. In fact, our society is better for the willingness of a few to demand restoration of the vote and a voice!

Ultimately, shared governance is only one arrow in the quiver that is needed to resolve the many ills facing the Howard community at this historic moment in American history. So please let us stop the grandstanding and start taking genuine steps towards finding and
implementing solutions that can steer us out of this quagmire of deceit and neglect.

Finally, Howard, it is time to do the right thing. If you truly believe in “truth and service” then let your actions speak louder than words.

O Howard, we sing of thee,

Claudette Johnson-Berry (HU 1867)
President of the HU Capstone Group