Howard University
Howard University Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Jessica Joof is a 19-year-old sophomore at Howard University. She says she loves roller skating and baking, but hasn’t been able to do either of those hobbies.

“I’m in here, and I’m probably going to be here for another month,” she says.

Joof, and more than 100 other students and supporters, have staged a sit-in protest for almost a month over on-campus housing conditions. The #BlackburnTakeover began Oct. 12 as students took over the Blackburn University Center and set up tents outside. Students posted on social media about finding mold on their wall art, carpets, and walls. Rats, bugs, and water damage have also created what Joof calls “terrible” conditions that she thinks could have been fixed during the pandemic.

“You had a whole year that there were no students,” she says. You could have cleaned all of it. You could have renovated again, just didn’t use your time wisely.”

Joof says the administration has threatened students with expulsion and scholarship removal, and police have been aggressive when visiting. On Tuesday, the university posted a tweet saying the occupation is the reason some employees who work in the building were laid off.

“This is an embarrassment. The person who hatched this scheme should be disciplined,” replied George Derek Musgrove, author of Chocolate City, A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital.

The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper, released a statement of concern about potential censorship from Howard University administration. Joof says Howard doesn’t like to “address the issues at hand” to the point that this protest started because the administration failed to show up to a town hall. Howard University did not respond to City Paper’s request for comment.

“Why are we fighting just to have our voices heard on the board?” she says. “Why are we fighting to have our rooms clean? When we voice our concerns, just hear us or this will continue to happen.” 

Joof also thinks big name donations from people like MacKenzie Bezos are being misspent, especially when Howard University President Wayne Frederick was found in 2018 to be the highest paid university president in the DMV, according to the Washington Business Journal.

Joof has taken the role of a press liaison and says they recently had to expand their encampment to allow for more students joining in on the protest. She says this has now beaten the previous longest protest in Howard’s history, which lasted nine days.

“I remember first coming in here and being like, ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna get down here for nine days,’” she says, laughing. “I hope nobody ever has to try and beat us.”

Their protest has picked up steam and garnered national attention. Alumni have given them support, donations, and some have even joined in on the protest. They’ve netted endorsements from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a visit from Rev. Jesse Jackson. Joof says she hopes this protest goes down in the history books.

“Howard loves to say that they’re creating Black leaders, and they’re creating the next MLK and the next Malcolm X,” she says. “But the next MLK and Malcolm X are in this building. You’re silencing us.”

The sociology major added that she loves Howard and just wants to see it become better. They’re willing to go as long as it takes, she says.

“We’re regular people. We’re regular college students who want to do regular things. But yeah, here we are,” she says. “We know it’s worth it. We’re fighting the good fight to make sure everybody else is good.”

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