HBCU Digest: The End of the Howard University Blackburn Takeover

Here’s what you need to know.

For 34 days, the Live Movement, Young Democratic Socialists of America (HU Chapter), and the HU NAACP have valiantly led an occupation of the Howard University Blackburn Center.  There are many metrics for success, depending on who is telling the story, but for all intents and purposes related to the demands of the students, alumni, and faculty: this is no victory.  For the greater Howard University brand and community: this is no victory.  The Blackburn Takeover Family vowed that they would not leave Blackburn until and unless all of their demands were met by the University. 

Those demands were: 

  1. An in-person town hall with President Frederick and the Administration scheduled before the end of October; 

  2. Reinstatement of all affiliate trustee positions with voting power; and

  3. President Frederick and Chairman Morse to meet with student leadership to outline a housing plan to protect current and future Howard University students.  

Additionally, Blackburn Protesters began to express the need for academic amnesty and protection and legal protection from retaliation for all participants.  

All of those demands were not met. 

In 34 days, the University has chosen to respond in the following manner: 

  1. Conduct quality assurance checks in every residence hall to track and remediate all housing and residence life maintenance concerns, with special attention to mold and mildew concerns; 

  2. President Frederick hosted the State of the University Address in November with an open forum for questions and answers at the end; though, some people may not consider this meeting the demand for a Town Hall with President Frederick, there is no other opportunity being presented, at the moment, to engage with him in that manner; 

  3. The University has not announced any changes to how it (or its housing partners) provides housing for students; 

  4. President Frederick, during the State of the University Address, explained the limitation of his powers with regard to academic amnesty and legal protections.  President Frederick explained that he cannot compel faculty to give academic amnesty to students; nor could he negotiate and draft the necessary documents for legal amnesty and protections―that is the responsibility (and expertise) of Atty. Prioleau and Atty. Temple; and 

  5. The University did not reinstate the Affiliate Trustee positions; instead they explained the new structures that allow students, alumni, and faculty to participate as members of sub-committees of the Board.  

This morning, the Live Movement and its Howard University student organization partners: The Young Democratic Socialists of America and the HU NAACP chapter announced the end of the Blackburn Takeover at Howard University.  They graciously thanked their external supporting organizations, Atty. Donald Temple, and the public for supporting their efforts.  In their ten minute announcement, they did not specifically outline which demands had been met by the University.  Instead, they shared that their memorandum of understanding is confidential and that they would be moving forward to other HBCUs to drive change at other campuses.  

Perhaps, the most important aspect to arise from the Blackburn Takeover is the Live Movement’s ability to command social media, activate students, and drive conversation around the conditions of our HBCUs.  This is important to note because there is a divide between HBCU students and administration but not in the way in which the Live Movement portrays that divide.  The Live Movement should continue its work in a manner that is in alignment with its targeted HBCU; not in a manner that weaponizes HBCU student activism against its own HBCU, rather than the system that has created the circumstances under which we all operate.  There are dedicated HBCU staffers who lead campus-based governmental affairs departments that interface with local, state, regional, and federal policymakers and elected officials.  The Live Movement should align itself as a partner organization to HBCUs; as an organization that focuses on student mobilization in the work to secure more funding and co-curricular opportunities―not as a threat to HBCU campus security, business operations, and the brand and image of the Historically Black College and University.  

There is no HBCU President or Board that wants 34 days of protest on their campuses; but luckily for them, Howard University and its leadership set precedence for how to handle the Live Movement and all other subsequent student protests conducted in this manner: concede nothing.