A protest at Howard University is in its second week as students occupy the administration building for the school's longest ever sit-in, vowing to remain until the school fully meets nine demands.
Students have asked for university President Wayne Frederick to step down in the wake of a corruption scandal, but they also cite inadequate housing, financial aid issues, mishandling of sexual assault cases, and a lack of student representation in administration decisions.
“We’re still here. We’re not leaving until our demands are met, and we’re determined to do that,” said Batenga Kiboneka, a leader of HU Resist, the student organization staging the sit-in. Her statement was punctuated by a shout of support from a driver passing by.
Last month, Frederick announced that six employees had been fired after an internal investigation found they had misappropriated funds designated for disadvantaged students for the past 10 years.
The university has not yet disclosed the full dollar amount.
Since the protest began March 29, activists have coordinated activities, donations, and hot meals for occupying students in the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration Building at Howard, also known as the "Black Harvard," or top historically black college university (HBCU).
“The first night was kind of...I want to say uncomfortable, because I’m not used to staying inside the administration building,” Daejah Fontain, a Howard student, told VOA.
“But everybody has made it feel like a home setting. We have a lot of activities, we have games; we had an open mic night. Everything is a really nice atmosphere.”
At least one of the demands – pushing back the date of a required housing deposit to May 1 for students – has been met; but, students say they are determined to occupy the building until all their demands are met.
The students have also received financial and moral support from alumni of the historically black university, which has a legacy of student activism.
Students say they are drawing inspiration from historic sit-ins conducted by students in the past, when activists overtook administration buildings to call for more robust African-American studies programs.
“Alumni, people who’ve been a part of the protests in ‘68 and ‘89; coming out and showing their support has been really inspirational,” Kiboneka said.
“Because doing this work, it’s kind of easy to question ourselves and be like, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ Having them come out and be like, ‘Yo, we support you guys, and you guys are doing a great job!’ really helps us to continue to push on. And also, their advice as well has been really helpful,” Kiboneka said.
Anise Jenkins, an alumna of Howard’s political science program in the 1960s, has been back to the administration building multiple times during recent protests to show her support for the students.“In 1968, there were a lot of students who were displeased with the university, how it was being run. And we wanted more emphasis on black studies,” she told VOA. “And we protested. I guess I was a sophomore at that time, but I was angry with the other students and I decided to join them. I thought it was the best thing I could do.”
While Jenkins said she is immensely proud of the students today, she worries that they still face similar issues at the hands of administration officials that she did in 1968.
“I think it’s come a long way as far as black studies goes,” she said of Howard. “But as far as the treatment of the students, I don’t think they’re being respected. They have to demand it - it’s just a matter of learning that you have to demand respect and you have to do what you have to do when you have to do it. And I’m really glad that they’re doing it,” she said, adding that she is “really proud” of them.
On campus, the students said they have received a lot of support. Seventy faculty members signed a letter of support.
And throughout Washington, where Howard is located, restaurants and alumni have also voiced their support for the students, donating food as the students continue to occupy the administration building.
Howard University did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.