Howard University student protesters break silence on #BlackburnTakeover realness

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For the week, Howard University students have staged a sit-in at the Armour J. Blackburn University Center against the Howard University administration. The protesters are demanding transparency from administration, improved dorm conditions and better representation on the board of trustees. The student-led demonstration has gained traction on social media as #BlackburnTakeover.

Protesters have occupied the inside of the building and the surrounding area since Tuesday, Oct. 12, making it known they do not plan to leave until their demands are met by the university.

Upon walking on the Yard, one can immediately see tents, tarps, and tables full of food and supplies set up outside of Blackburn — an unusual sight to see on any college campus. Dozens of tents serve as fortresses for the protesting students, shielding them from the frigid weather and rain.

Students, community members, alumni and local organizations, such as The Live Movement and D.C. Freedom Fighters, have aided students since the start of #BlackburnTakeover, providing protesters with food, toiletries, tents, fans and more to make them as comfortable as possible.

Protesters have been vocal about the mistreatment that the student body has faced from the hands of administration.

Eja Richardson, a freshman political science major, has been protesting since day one of #BlackburnTakeover. Richardson spoke about how she did not expect to have to fight for student rights so early in her academic career here at Howard.

I love Howard so much, that’s why I’m willing to fight tooth and nail for it. This is a new experience. I’ve never really been in a sit-in before,” Richardson told REVOLT. “By any means necessary, we’ll get our demands met.”

When asked what reasons she had for protesting, Richardson passionately voiced, “I want to fight for my Bison. I want to fight for future Bison, so that when they come here, they can have a safe and affordable campus…I want our voices heard and I want everybody to know, especially Howard University administration, that our voices matter, our experiences matter. You intimidating us, it speaks more on your character than it ever will on the students.”

Dozens of tents occupy the outside of the Armour J. Blackburn University Center.
Photo courtesy of Jasper Smith

In her interview, Richardson speaks on the “tactics” that administration has used in attempts to get protesters to leave the premises. “They tried to call Metro PD the first night that students were here. They pulled the fire alarm and had the firefighters out here. That was just the first night. They threatened to kick students out, expel them,” Richardson said, “No student should have to go through that.”

She has spent her days at Blackburn aiding students in any way that she can, helping serve food, organizing the tables, and “making sure everyone is okay.”

Howard University student protesters
Students sign a banner writing their frustrations with the university.
Photo curtesy of Jasper Smith

Students have described the encampment surrounding Blackburn as a “little community.

“I’m sure from the outside looking in, you could just say go to your beds, that would be a lot more comfortable,” Freshman TV and film major Mason Calhoun added. “It’s honestly been great forming this little community, and it’s probably the most community, in terms of resources and support, I’ve felt since being here.”

Calhoun, like many other protesters, expressed his frustrations with the university, and its handling of student safety and funds. “We just received our biggest alumni donation. Wayne Frederick, our president, makes $1 million a year… It’s clear that was have the funds to fix these issues that these students are bringing up. The fact that they haven’t been addressed, and the fact that these are problems that have been going on for decades now — This isn’t the first protest and it’s a huge problem.”

Calhoun mentions in his interview that, despite these frustrations, the students have been supporting one another, and finding ways to pass the time. Walking through the sea of tents, one can find students playing a game of cards, sharing food, and studying on laptops.

“We’re still students. I think that’s a big thing to understand. This isn’t just some sort of excuse to skip classes. While one of the demands is academic immunity, there have been many times, including myself earlier, where kids are having their laptops out, using hot spots to get their work done. Last week, and this week also, people have had midterms that they have to complete. We’re still doing our work, getting it done, while being out here.”

Dem Prince, a sophomore journalism major, came to Howard with high expectations for the university. “At first, it was like that. Seeing my people out and about, knowing everyone is so smart,” he said. “But, slowly the perfect picture started to get cracks in it, and now it’s reached a point where it’s broken. Now I’m seeing the ugly under-sides.”

Prince is another protester who has been outside of Blackburn since the commencement of the protest. He explained how he initially came to support his friends, as he feared they would be forcibly removed from inside the building. “I came out just to be a body. But as things got going, I rose up and helped out. I like helping people,” he continued.

Before his interview, Prince was setting up a tent full of hand-warmers, sanitizers, blankets, and pillows. He referred to the tent as a “supply closet.”

“Everything is in an organized central location. We are growing day by day,” he mentioned. “In the beginning, we had maybe 30 or 40 people. Now, we have close to 110 and growing. Last night, I counted the tents and there were about 30, there is probably about 50 now.”

What is on the minds of many, protesters and faculty alike, is how the university plans to address #BlackburnTakeover amidst the anticipation of Homecoming this upcoming weekend.

Senior political science major Destiny Cantzlaar said, “Homecoming was supposed to be online, and all of a sudden it’s not. How does that work? They’re trying to distract the student body. I think they’re trying to divide us. Hopefully, it doesn’t work because we’re intending to still be out here.”

Cantzlaar has spent the past four years at Howard University, and has expressed the challenges she’s faced as a student as well as her reasons for protesting. “Every single year, I’ve had an issue with reaching Howard, finding housing, just being taken care of. We spend so much money to be here, and it’s a struggle every step of the way,” she went on.

Although a large majority of the student protesters are underclassman, the upperclassman at the university have still come to support the students and protest, as many of the issues the students face have been reoccurring.

“My freshman year, they had a protest in the administration building. The difference is that social media has evolved…so many people are seeing what we’re doing now and I hope that people stand with us, and are aware,” Cantzlaar said.

Senior biology major Enoch, who preferred not to go on record with his last name, was another upperclassman who felt the issues that younger students were protesting have “been prolonged and it’s getting worse.”

When asked why he was protesting, Enoch explain, “Protesting is the language of the unheard. We are out here taking over Blackburn because this administration is not listening. The Howard University students are unheard, so we are going to make sure that we are heard by our administrators because our voice matters, our health matters. It’s time we be treated like it does.”

In his interview, Enoch shared that he is a student leader and always intentional about how he shows up. “It can be sticky,” he said, “but at the end of the day, I am a student first. It’s important that I show efforts and do my part as a student, and do my part as a student leader as well. Having those conversations behind the scenes, having those battles, to inflict long lasting change.”

As #BlackburnTakeover goes on, students continue to occupy the university center, showing no signs ceasing their protest. On Instagram, @_thelivemovement posts daily updates and donation needs for the protesters in and outside of Blackburn. Be sure to follow it.

Link to Revolt

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