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Howard University students protest mold, rodents in campus dorms

"I definitely have been disappointed in my experience," says a freshman struggling with the Washington, D.C., campus's living conditions

While the expectations of the first year of college tend to be linked to independence and new opportunities, Chandler Robinson, a freshman at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said her expectations were much different than reality. 

“I can’t lie, I definitely have been disappointed in my experience,” she said. 

Robinson is one of the many students at the top-tier historically Black university who have been protesting the living conditions and educational challenges on campus for weeks. 

Many students have reported to the university and shared on social media mold in the dorms, Wi-Fi connection problems, dining halls infested with rats and roaches and an unresponsive administration.

The mold problem began over  the summer due to a flood on campus, Robinson told NBC News. Mold has since been identified in at least 38 dorm rooms out of 2,700 total rooms on campus, an official from Howard University confirmed to NBC News.

Several videos about conditions at Howard have gone viral on social media. Robinson posted one talking about what life has been like on campus that’s just shy of a million views on TikTok.

Robinson wasn’t able to connect to Wi-Fi for over a month and couldn’t access Blackboard, a platform colleges use for assignments and grades. 

“I can’t say that I’m really being educated just because students are tired, and so is faculty. The faculty made it very clear that they are struggling also,” she said, “Being five weeks behind in my classes is very difficult. It’s very difficult to catch up.”

In response to the issues on campus, students have occupied the Blackburn University Center for nearly two weeks. 

Students say they’re prepared to protest for the remainder of the school year until mold is removed from dorms, water damage repaired and expired air filters replaced.

“Everybody in here is pretty adamant on staying until our demands are met. Our demands are not demanding, they’re very simple. I feel it’s basic rights as a student based off the tuition we pay,” said Jasmine Joof, a 19-year-old sophomore.

Students say they are also protesting for additional off-campus housing for upperclassmen, and for a student affiliate to be re-added to the university’s board of trustees.

“The school is hurting its own reputation because this is a major issue,” said Joof, a sociology major. “They’re making themselves look bad.”

Joof said her reason for demonstrating is personal as the mold in her dorm room gave her respiratory issues.

“There was a point when I thought I had covid,” she said. 

Howard University officials on Monday afternoon said living conditions on campus are being exaggerated.

“Our housing isn’t deplorable at all. It is nowhere near the way the students are portraying it,” Howard University vice-president of communications Frank Tramble said in an interview with NBC News.

Protestors say they have testimony from multiple resident advisers who contend the number is much higher and problems are worse.

The university said in a statement last week that it was working with ​​campus housing providers toward “actively addressing the concerns our students have raised.” 

“While there have only been a small number of documented facilities reports, we are actively inquiring about unreported issues that may be in the residence halls by going door to door to interview each resident,” the statement said. “Additionally, members of the administration have also toured and inspected every residence hall on campus and are addressing any documented facility issues directly with our third-party housing managers. The results of our inquiries affirm that the issues are not widespread, and the vast majority of our students are living comfortably in their rooms.”

The Live Movement, a group that advocates for student rights and education reform, have been key to organizing the demonstrations. The group received donations to set up tents outside of the Blackburn University Center, where some students are choosing to sleep outside rather than spend another night in mold-infested dorms. Robinson estimated about 100 students are taking shifts to occupy the tents.

Organizations like the campus chapter of the NAACP and other HBCUs across the country have been showing solidarity with Howard students. Gucci Mane, who was scheduled to perform for Homecoming, canceled his appearance to show his support for the movement. Rae Sremmurd performed in his place. 

The students are asking for a direct conversation with the president of the university, Dr. Wayne Fredrick, and for the living conditions on campus to be improved. 

Students from the Live Movement held a news conference Sunday after video of an altercation with campus police and students circulated online over the weekend. 

“I was choked by a police campus officer, by the people who were hired to protect us,” student Elishabeth Cunningham said. “I am a Black girl at a Black college. I came to the HBCU to escape the oppression of the world, and here I am being physically hurt at a peaceful protest.”

“We do not believe we are asking for much when we are asking to have a conversation with Wayne Fredrick,” another student, Tyler Davis, said, “It is not a radical notion to have a president that wants to communicate with his students. We came to Howard University on the basis that this would be a place that we would be heard, and not only to heard but to be listened to.” 

Robinson said even through the challenges, she’s hopeful for the future.

“I am currently a proud student, not because I’m proud of the situations happening on campus, but because I’m proud of my peers. I’m proud of being the first in so many years to stand up...to bring light to the issues that so many before us were scared to,” she said, “I 100 percent see myself being a proud alum once these issues are met, and we can kind of laugh about it and say, ‘Hey, remember when we did this protest? Well, thankfully those issues are finally resolved.’”

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