Howard University student protest ends with a confidential agreement

The agreement over housing conditions caps a month of rising tension between school officials and protesting students.

Tents are set up near Blackburn University Center as students protest poor housing condition on the campus of Howard University in Washington on Oct. 25.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Howard University undergraduate students have reached an agreement with the historically Black college’s administration to end a 34-day protest against hazardous housing conditions, they announced Monday morning.

Students began occupying Blackburn University Center on Oct. 12 in protest against mold, rats, flooding and other issues they reported in residential halls. A campus official confirmed last month that mold was found in 38 of 2,700 dorm rooms.

The agreement, which is confidential, comes after 20 days of negotiations, the students said.

“While the specific terms of the agreement are confidential, it can be said without any hesitation or reservation that the students courageously journeyed on a path towards greater university accountability and transparency and public safety,” Donald Temple, a lawyer representing the students, said at a news conference. “And this agreement marks a meeting of the minds between them regarding the issues of concern.” 

Channing Hill, Howard’s NAACP chapter president, said: “We got what we came for. We got increased scrutiny. We got increased transparency and increased accountability. And by virtue of this protest, we garnered everything that we were entitled to.”

Howard University students gathered on campus in Washington on Oct. 25 to protest what they alleged was the mistreatment of students by the university's administration. Salwan Georges / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The university had said in a statement Oct. 26 that it would not consider any type of compromise until students ended their protest. 

Kimberly Iverson, a spokesperson for the University, said in a statement Monday, “Howard University is pleased to announce we have come to an agreement with the students who occupied Blackburn and will share a longer message on this topic later today.”

Aniyah Vines, the founder of the Live Movement campus organization — which co-organized the sit-in, known as Blackburn Takeover, with the campus chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America and the Howard community — said protesters “decided that they would not move until the administration understood that our voices mattered.”

“We were fed up,” Vines said. “We had enough, and we were ready to make change for our beloved Howard University by holding administration accountable.”

Chandler Robinson, another member of Live Movement, said: “I am ecstatic that we finally reached this agreement with the university. There were times that we were nervous that it wouldn’t happen, that we could’ve been fighting in vain. But I’m also very tired. I am a student, and I’ve been juggling protesting and being a full-time student, which has been very difficult. I am ecstatic not only that we’ve reached this agreement, but that I can finally focus on my studies like a normal college student.”

Accountability for the reported subpar living conditions was one of several demands Blackburn Takeover issued Oct. 20.

The demands included a detailed housing plan, legal and disciplinary immunity for students involved in the demonstration and the reinstatement of affiliate board positions that the university removed over the summer.

The confidentiality clause sparked a wave of responses on social media. Throughout the occupation, videos and pictures of the living conditions went viral on social media, with alumni and supporters of the protest calling on Howard to offer better accommodations. And now, they say, a sealed agreement lacks accountability.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m immensely proud of the students who fought for change with the #BlackburnTakeover and love that they were able to finally reach an agreement. But, that agreement being confidential will make it hard to hold Howard to the standard we know it needs to reach,” journalist Alexa Lisitza, an alumna, tweeted.

Another alum, Kamau Waset, tweeted a similar sentiment: “I’m so proud of the students who led the #BlackburnTakeover. But I’m so disappointed in my university for forcing these students to protest for 33 days just to reach this agreement.”

Writer and YouTuber Jouelzy tweeted, “So proud of the #BlackburnTakeover students but why is the agreement confidential?” 

The university has recently renovated four of its eight residential buildings, but students said last month that they’re poorly maintained because of low budgets for the projects. The issue of hazardous living conditions at the top-tier historically Black university dates to the 1980s, and there have been protests since then. 

Blackburn Takeover is the longest protest in Howard’s history. At the news conference Monday, student protesters and members of the negotiating team, including  Hill, thanked alumni and community members who donated tents and food, which allowed the protest to sustain as long as it did. 

Meanwhile, some alumni showed solidarity by occupying Blackburn alongside the students, and some professors taught classes at the protest.

“We won for Howard students,” Hill said. “We won for Howard University, both historic Howard and the future Howard. And we won for our community.”

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CORRECTION (Nov. 15, 3:02 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the number of days students were protesting at Blackburn University Center. It was 34 days, not 33.