The two-week occupation of Howard University’s student center “must end,” President Wayne A. I. Frederick wrote in an open letter published Tuesday. Dozens of students took over the Blackburn University Center on Oct. 12 to protest poor housing conditions and lax COVID-19 protocols.
In his letter, Frederick wrote that protesting has been a perennial part of Howard’s institutional culture, but that the current occupation is hurting the campus. “There is a distinct difference between peaceful protest and freedom of expression and the occupation of a University building that impedes operations and access to essential services and creates health and safety risks,” Frederick wrote. The Blackburn University Center houses the campus’s largest cafeteria and the Office of Student Life and Activities. Since the protest started, the university had to relocate a coronavirus testing site from the centrally located building to the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, a university spokesperson told The Washington Post.
Student demonstrators have complained of limited housing options and unlivable conditions on campus -- including mold in some dorm rooms -- and a lack of COVID-19 protocols. Frederick wrote that the university will continue to ensure that students receive the best dormitory experience possible at Howard, noting that “the vast majority of our students are living comfortably in their rooms.” Additionally, Frederick wrote that university provost Anthony Wutoh and the general counsel had met with leaders of the student protest and “engaged in a discussion regarding the path forward.”