Howard University students live in tents to avoid mold, cockroach and mouse infestation in their dorms – .

Howard University students live in tents to avoid mold, cockroach and mouse infestation in their dorms – .

The sophomore said she reported the mold problem to a residence counselor in September, but it was never resolved. So in October, she and other students facing similar living conditions in their dorms decided to sleep in tents and air mattresses at the university’s Blackburn Center to protest and demand that officials address their concerns. . Some have also complained of flooding, cockroach and mouse infestations, and non-working Wi-Fi in their dorms at the historically black university in Washington, DC.

“It’s active neglect of their students,” said Joof, who is also a spokesperson for #BlackburnTakeover. “They had every opportunity to repair these dormitories. “

Student activists and civil rights leaders say the controversy is indicative of a widespread problem with crumbling buildings on century-old HBCU campuses that are often underfunded compared to predominantly white institutions. Howard’s protests garnered support from students at other historically black colleges, including Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse, and Spelman. Atlanta-based schools last month staged a joint protest against poor living conditions and housing shortages on their own campuses.

The protests at Howard – one of the most prestigious HBCUs in the country – have now been going on for a month. The sit-ins gained national attention with leading civil rights activists including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend William Barber II and Martin Luther King III publicly supporting the students. Jackson was on campus earlier this month trying to work things out with the students and the Howard administration.

Student protesters have called for a meeting or town hall with university officials and for them to provide a comprehensive plan to resolve construction issues and be more transparent. More than 4,500 people have signed a petition asking Howard to cancel his contract with Corvias Inc., the company that maintains and operates residential buildings on campus.

CNN has reached out to Corvias for comment.

While students say the meeting with officials has yet to take place, on November 5 Howard Wayne AI president Frederick acknowledged their complaints about the deterioration of the dorms and said the university was working to solve some of the problems.

“It’s an aging campus,” Frederick said in his state of the university address.

Frederick’s office declined an interview with CNN citing an ongoing litigation.

Some black leaders say the outcry should signal lawmakers that the government needs to prioritize funding for HBCUs. According to the Brookings Institution, HBCUs are grossly underfunded due to state underinvestment, declining endowments, and declining alumni contributions due to declining black income. The US Government Accountability Office reports that HBCUs have an average endowment of $ 15,000 per student, compared to $ 410,000 for non-HBCUs.

President Joe Biden’s spending plan in the Build Back Better Act includes $ 2 billion for educational programs and HBCU infrastructure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects the House to pass the legislation before Thanksgiving. The bill will then go to the Senate.

Howard’s alumnus, Vice President Kamala Harris, declined through his aides to comment on the controversy to Howard. At the National Action Network’s anniversary awards ceremony, Harris said the HBCUs were “critical to the future of our nation” and recognized the “historic investment” in them as part of Build Back Better.

‘Enough is enough’

The leaders of the NAACP stand in solidarity with Howard’s students.

Wisdom Cole, national director of the NAACP Youth & College Division, said that while insufficient funding is a factor in the housing crisis in HBCUs, he questions whether Howard is delegating enough money to buildings on his campus.

“It’s a long-standing problem and it’s at a boiling point where the students said enough was enough,” Cole said. “For students who want to be able to be here, be held here, and graduate from here, the funds need to be allocated appropriately. ”

Prominent celebrities and personalities such as Sean “Diddy” Combs and alumni Eddie C. Brown and C. Sylvia Brown have made headlines for donating $ 1 million to the university.

But some students say housing issues prove they aren’t seeing the full benefits of money.

Channing Hill, president of the NAACP student chapter in Howard, said students not only live in aging dormitories, but lack access to adequate mental health services and academic counselors are understaffed. in some departments.

Hill said an “unimaginable burden” was placed on students and Howard should be held accountable.

“Students don’t feel safe in their own rooms,” Hill said. “We are dealing with a misallocation (of funds). But we are also dealing with a shortage issue which has everything to do with the HBCUs needing funding. ”

Reverend Barber said he recently visited Howard’s campus and prayed with the student protesters.

He said students have the right to clean and safe accommodation and the university should be willing to work with students and address their concerns.

“When I hear that the administration didn’t have a town hall with them, it’s the wrong way,” Barber said. “These students are just saying ‘we want these dorms to be fully inspected and we want them to be fully cleaned. “”

“Funding is the key”

Students from other HBCUs express similar concerns about their housing conditions.

In mid-October, students from Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman staged a protest demanding improved student housing from their administrators and lawmakers to fund more of their schools.

Alivia Duncan, a senior at Clark Atlanta, said the students lived in crumbling buildings with outdated furniture and appliances, water-stained ceiling tiles and mold in the dorms.

The university also has a housing shortage, Duncan said. In August, Clark’s freshmen arrived on campus to learn that their dorms were still undergoing renovations. The university should have placed these students in off-campus housing.

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“Funding is the key to all of this,” Duncan said, adding that he could help the university build and provide more housing. “I’m not saying schools don’t have responsibility, but with more funding we’re able to make sure all (dorms) are up to date. “

Martin Luther King III said HBCUs are overburdened and underfunded and this continues to pose housing quality issues. King, a Morehouse alumnus, said he believed the money from Biden’s spending plan would help schools solve some of the problems.

“I don’t think it was sheer negligence,” King said. “In general, the HBCU never had enough money to do what they need to do. “

CNN’s Carolyn Sung, Jasmine Wright and Rosalina Nieves contributed.


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