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Students at Howard University, the acclaimed historically Black college in Washington, D.C., say they’re paying thousands of dollars to live in squalor: Videos posted to TikTok and Twitter show dorms rife with mold, and allegations have also surfaced of rats and roaches on campus.
“Look at all the mold on my shoes, on my clothes, in my closet,” one student said in a video posted to TikTok. “It’s just growing on my stuff. I hate this school.”
Since Oct. 12, more than 100 students have occupied the Armour J. Blackburn University Center, known as the “social hub” of its campus, in protest—and dozens of them have even been sleeping outdoors in tents. They’re demanding an in-person town hall with the university’s president and discussions between student and university leadership about plans for better housing. They also want all of the faculty, student, and alumni affiliate positions on the school’s board of trustees reinstated, with voting power.
The students—who will pay more than $9,000 for on-campus housing this year as undergraduates—have dubbed their movement the #BlackburnTakeover. And they’ve already won the support of people including Bernice King, the youngest child of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a slate of artists on rapper Gucci Mane’s record label, The New 1017. But their demands still haven’t been met.
“Students @HowardU are stepping up to ensure a humane, just university, nation and world,” King said in a tweet Oct. 18. “In a 1968 speech at Harvard, my mother emphasized the importance of student activism. Raise your housing standards, #HowardUniversity.”
Student protesters said in a press conference Sunday that they hadn’t yet heard from the university’s president and board of trustees and had instead allegedly faced intimidation over their movement. One student even said a campus police officer had assaulted them during the course of the protest.
“The chaos has been created by administration,” the student said. “This chaos has been exemplified and introduced by Howard security. Why? Why? Our demands are not demanding.”
Students participating in the protest have also been threatened with expulsion, according to Channing Hill, a junior at Howard and the legislative director for The Live Movement, one of the organizations that put together the protest.
“We can no longer romanticize what’s going on when it’s actively endangering the health and well-being of students,” said Hill, who saw rats in the common area of her residence hall in 2019.
Howard University did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment, though representatives have told other media outlets that they’re on top of students’ allegations of mold or discoloration and are otherwise working to address students’ general needs.
“The administration is actively addressing the concerns students have shared,” Howard Tramble, a spokesperson for the school, told ABC News. “While there have only been a small number of documented reports, we are actively seeking out any issues that may be in the dorms by going door to door to address each room.”
Howard’s students are not the only ones to complain of poor campus housing this year: reports of mold or “mold-like substances” have popped up in dorms at Ohio University, the Ohio State University, West Virginia University, Tennessee State University, Bucknell University, and others.
But the pupils at Howard—who pay a hefty chunk of money for their education—have easily garnered the most attention. For the 2021-2022 academic year, an undergraduate, on-campus Howard University student might expect to spend more than $43,500 just on their tuition, housing, a meal plan, and “mandatory fees.”
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