Howard University: The Hilltop
By Ruth L. Tisdale
Friday, October 28, 2005—David McDuffie just couldn't take it anymore. Fed up with using back doors and side doors to enter buildings and frustrated with not knowing why his campus was taken over by secret service detail, McDuffie and others were determined to take back the campus that they felt had been stolen from them.
Linked arm and arm, McDuffie and approximately 50 others marched 100 yards from the Administration building to the gate near Rankin Chapel and demanded to be let on the Yard.
"They made me feel as if I didn't have a right to be here," said McDuffie, a senior marketing major. "We have a group of students here and we are taking a stance."
Although campus police pushed him down and forced his signs out of his hands, McDuffie found his way to the flagpole and the protest began.
What started as a demonstration of 50 students standing around the flagpole in the bitter coldness of the fall ended with a protest lasting five hours and more than 200 hundred students demanding First Lady Laura Bush to leave the Mecca.
When students walked to classes early yesterday morning, some were surprised to see parts of the campus blocked off as well as notices about Blackburn closing for the entire day.
"It's an inconvenience. They should have told us ahead of time," said Monica Nelson, junior psychology major. "It doesn't make any sense to not have said anything; and now that we're inconvenienced, [the university] can't do anything about it."
Students who were able to make it to classes eventually grew discontented as security tightened. One situation was particularly tense when a group of about 100 students were held in Locke Hall for about half an hour as the First Lady and President arrived. "People have things to do," said Grace Maupin, freshman business management major. "I have to go to work. I can't tell my manager that I was locked in the school."
With this growing discontentment, students began organizing a protest to show their resentment.
"How do you use our facilities and not invite us," asked April Jones, a senior communications major. "We are protesting that and the Bush Administration."
As students broke the campus police barrier and began organizing, protest organizers were telling students that silence would get the attention of administrators more than speaking.
"There is power in silence," said Radiance Salem, one of the student organizers of the protest. " This march isn't about voicing one particular view, but about everyone joining in representing their own views. We don't want to attract people, but people can come to the flag pole and stand for what they believe in."
Hassan Minor, senior vice president of the university and the person responsible for the event, told the gathered group that one of the reasons why they were not included in the conference was spacing purposes.
"They wanted to have 700 people here, but the ballroom just couldn't hold that many people," Minor said, adding that Cramton was open to students to view the conference, but only five people showed.
Minor also said that the reasoning behind the closures and the rerouting of students was caused by the secret service's need to protect the First Lady.
"They wanted to close the whole campus, but we didn't agree to that," Minor said. "Unfortunately we live in a post 9-11 world where they have to make decisions at the last minute."
As the crowd grew larger and larger, Tony Medina, an English professor spoke to the crowd, and in a profanity-filled speech told the group that they needed to organize to get Howard to listen to some of their demands.
"You don't think that War in Iraq is going raise your tuition?" Medina said. "We all need to mobilize and say that we are not going to pay tuition until they meet our demands."
As more and more joined the protest, the silence broke as students, linked arm and arm, shouted "Back door, No More" and circled around the campus before stopping a few feet away from the motorcade that carried the First Lady.
Tensions rose as administration officials began telling students to back up five feet. The crowd vehemently cried no.
"I don't care if you protest, but I am interested in your safety," Franklin Chambers, vice provost of student affairs, said. "I am not worried about you going to jail, I am worried about what else they [secret service] will do if they feel that the First Lady is threatened."
Even with the arrival of Howard President H. Patrick Swygert, students still refused to leave. Swygert pleaded with the group to follow him to the flag pole, where security officials said students were allowed to protest. Swygert began walking into the midst of students, telling them to follow him.
At one point, he stopped in front of a student and said follow me.
"These people who would put you in harm's are not looking out for your interests," Swygert said, clutching the student's arm.
The student, who wished to not be identified, stood firm and began to cry.
"He doesn't know me," she said. "He doesn't know what I've been through or what my family has been through. He doesn't know why I have to stand here."
Standing on the front lines of the protest, Howard alum and graduate student Amanda Lewis said she was there because of her father who is in the military.
"It was because of racism that he is getting shipped off to Iraq in January 2006," Lewis said. "I am here to tell them that they don't own him and they don't own me."
Though angry with the President and First Lady over many issues, students said they were equally upset with university officials for allowing the visit to take place on Howard's campus. "It amazes me how far we have gotten away from the spirit of activism at this university. Instead of acknowledging the wrong, we whip out our new china and fresh suits to accommodate our guest," said Whitney Boggs, a junior broadcast journalism major. "They did right not telling us, but as I was always taught, everything that is done in darkness will surely come to the light".
As tensions grew over the closeness of the protest to the Blackburn Center, Howard officials repeatedly tried to find compromises to rectify the problem, suggesting to move the protest back to the flag pole.
As it became clear that students would not move from the protest line that they had formed, Chambers told the front line to link their arms together and prevent others from rushing towards the motorcade.
Linked arm and arm, protesters swayed to the sounds of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and "This Little Light of Mine."
Temperatures dropped a few more degrees as the final song "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" rang out into the air as the motorcade carrying First Lady Bush left the university.
Swygert said that he is proud of the way the students exercised their first amendment rights.
"This is a teaching moment for all of us," he said. "I hope we come out of this a stronger University."
-Campus Staff Contributed to this report
Laura Bush Doesn't Care About Black People or Howard University
Published: Friday, October 28, 2005
I am pissed off that our administration allowed Laura Bush to host her "Helping America's Youth Conference" on our campus. I hope everyone realizes that we were just pawns in the political circus.
Isn't it coincidental that after President Bush's job approval rating among blacks dropped to two percent that his wife suddenly wants to come to Howard University?
On top of that, they hosted the conference here and didn't even invite us. I understand that it may be good publicity for the university to host such an event, but the Bushes do not represent the best interest of our people.
Isn't it ironic how the conference is on education, while Bush has cut money to the Pell Grant and other programs to fund the war in Iraq?
It amazes me how as soon as the Howard administration found out Laura Bush was coming they started pitching tents in front of Blackburn, cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, 'shuckin and jivin' like they never seen white people before. Then on the day of the conference, they had the audacity to make the students walk through the back door of buildings like we were back on the plantation.
It's like the White House said, "Jump!", and our 'Uncle Tom' administration said "how high?" Frankly, I think the student body shouldn't stand for it. Our administration is consistently doing things that we do not support or agree with. It's time for us to stand up and get organized.