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Howard University Students Continue Protests


Faculty members at Howard University in Washington, D.C., have been holding a dramatic vote. It's a no-confidence vote in the university president. We find out the results today. A lot of students have already made their views known. Patrick Madden of member station WAMU reports on how and why they're protesting.

PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: The demonstrations on Howard's campus were sparked by a scandal over financial aid money. Last week, revelations surfaced that almost a million dollars in student aid was misdirected and people had been quietly fired over it. Within hours, dozens of students stormed the administration building and, in a moment tailor-made for social media, began singing a Rihanna song about missing money.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Don't act like you forgot.

MADDEN: The clip went viral with Rihanna retweeting the video to millions of followers. But for students at Howard, the scandal over aid money was just the tipping point - inadequate dorms in disrepair, rising tuition, bungled investigations of sexual assault, a lack of financial transparency, plus other campus-life issues. For all this, students hold university president Wayne Frederick accountable.

LLEWELLYN ROBINSON: Right now, we have a list of demands out. One of them is calling for the immediate resignation of President Wayne Frederick, and we're occupying the building until those demands are met.

MADDEN: That's junior Llewellyn Robinson with the student group HU Resist. The group plastered their demands outside the building, calling for specific actions like adequate housing for all students under 21 and disarming campus police.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It begins at 5 o'clock. We're sitting down and we're not leaving. This is when the real resistance happens, y'all. We're making history.

MADDEN: And so at 5 p.m. last Thursday, the sit-down at Howard University began with the occupation of the administration building. One week later, the protest is still going. The building remains under the control of the students. They spend the night in sleeping bags. They get food and water donated by supporters. Howard sophomore Jim Andukwe (ph) says university officials expected the students to fold after a few hours.

JIM ANDUKWE: Suddenly, the administration has started to take us a bit more seriously. In fact, our student leaders from HU Resist have been in negotiations with them day in, day out, sometimes until 2 a.m. The main message is that they can't ignore us young people.

MADDEN: University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman is a scholar on historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. She says those schools have played key roles in social change like the civil rights movement.

MARYBETH GASMAN: I think that we've got a little bit of a rebirth of that going on right now where students are holding institutions accountable, not just at HBCUs but across the nation.

MADDEN: Gasman says it's important to understand that Howard's current problems are not an indictment of historically black schools or their unique place in history.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We just need to occupy. Food will be coming.

MADDEN: Thursday afternoon, a group of high school students visiting D.C. from Brooklyn, N.Y., gathered to take a photo in front of the occupied building. The students, predominantly black and brown, smiled for the camera and raised their fists in the air. Howard students say they're making progress in their negotiations with school officials, but so far, University President Wayne Frederick has given no indication he intends to resign. For NPR News in Washington, I'm Patrick Madden.


Patrick Madden
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