On the Yard of Howard University, there are bouncy houses, 360 photo booths, games, activities, and celebratory balloons; it’s homecoming. Near the Armour J. Blackburn University Center, flooding over onto plots of grass near the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts are tents, flyers, picket signs, and several students boycotting the very event happening a few feet away.
On Oct. 12, Howard University students took over the University Center after no administration attended the town hall the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) invited them to in the same building. Students have been living inside and outside of the center in sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, and tents since that night.
Student protestors are demanding an in-person town hall with Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, the president of Howard University, before the end of October. Students are also seeking the reinstatement of all affiliate trustee positions on the Board of Trustees, a meeting before the spring semester between the president, chairman of the board and student leadership about a housing plan, legal, academic, and disciplinary immunity for those participating in the protests. The movement has become known across social media platforms as the #BlackburnTakeover.
Just a little over a month before this takeover, the University announced that their homecoming events would be hybrid due to the ongoing pandemic and health conditions. The only in-person event would be the football game against Norfolk State University. However, it was announced a day before the protests commenced, that Howard would proceed with an in-person homecoming beginning Oct. 21. They added the Greek Step Show, the Fashion Show, and the Yardfest Concert to the list of in-person events.
Though Howard announced its in-person homecoming plans prior to the beginning of the protests, participants still believed that it was a distraction tactic on behalf of the University.
“I think Homecoming from Howard University is a ploy to get people to be distracted from what’s going on,” a student protestor who prefers to be kept anonymous said. “As part of the Blackburn Takeover team, we took that, and we used something that was supposed to mean us harm and brought it back to them in a way that hurts them… we’re still using these ploys to get our voices heard,” they continued.
The Blackburn Takeover team planned several events for the weekend as alternatives for those interested in boycotting Howard’s Homecoming. Their events included a step show on Thursday, Oct. 21 and a block party on Friday, Oct. 22. Only one of these events actually occurred.
The step and stroll event was set to include members of Black sororities and fraternities on campus, but they received an email from campus life detailing that their organization’s chapters could be at risk if they chose to participate in this event. Despite this setback, the Blackburn Takeover team persisted with Friday’s block party with a performance from the Too Much Talent Band and free food from D.C. native and esteemed hip-hop artist, Wale.
Having a traditional Homecoming after a fully remote academic year amidst a movement that impacts future students at Howard left some students, such as sophomore Joshua Hughes, conflicted. “I feel a little bit conflicted because I do want to support the protestors and what they’re fighting about, but I also did want to go to the fashion show ‘cause I’ve never been, and also the game to just experience it since last year I was online,” Hughes said. “I think students can support both,” he continued.
The dual homecomings and general unrest on the campus has been strange for some students, especially first-year students, such as freshman Loren Spivery. It’s actually very weird because we have two homecomings going on at the same time, and we also are dealing with COVID,” Spivery said. “I stand with the students, even though I am participating in traditional homecoming events… I think what they’re doing is the right thing because, at the end of the day, what they’re saying is the truth,” she continued.
For some, such as senior Jade Dedrick, attending homecoming events while understanding the experiences of her peers in poor on-campus living conditions was just unfathomable. “I don’t feel like my peers should have to deal with unlivable conditions in dorms when we’re throwing a huge concert,” Dedrick explained. “I feel like the money that was used to pay the artists that came could have easily been contributed to fixing the dorm issues,” she continued.
Dedrick did not participate in any homecoming events, and neither did senior and Blackburn Takeover team member Christian Ellis, who believes it was merely a distraction for the work he and several others were doing.
To those students, I would just say, you have to realize that y’all didn’t even have Yardfest until we were out there. They put all types of bouncy houses and stuff to block the tents from view – everything is a distraction. I don’t believe the administration does anything without intention,” senior Christian Ellis and Blackburn Takeover team member said. “I don’t have any ill will against them, I would just recommend that everyone do their research,” he continued.
It’s clear that there’s naturally some difference in opinion among many of us here on campus. However what is also clear is that as students, we aren’t seeking to silence one another. We are committed to having our collective voices be continually heard.
Darreonna Davis is a journalism student at Howard University who is working as a Blavity U student ambassador. Davis relies on her news, feature writing, production, and editing skills to amplify the stories and experiences of Black women.