WASHINGTON - A protest by Howard University students who have accused the administration of misleading them and failing to prioritize their needs will continue into the weekend as the students continue to occupy the campus administration building.
The protest began on Thursday afternoon and the students leading this charge say they will continue their sit-in demonstration until nine formal demands to university officials are fulfilled. The demands have been posted at the entrance of the administration building.
On Friday morning, protesters said that they were shutting down access to the building and were only allowing students and maintenance staff inside. On Twitter, photos and images showed students occupying all floors of Howard’s administration building, including the president's office.
The student protesters highlighted what they believe are changes needed at the university, including better living conditions in dorms and more transparency from Howard's administration.
The Howard University Board of Trustees issued a statement of support for President Wayne A.I. Frederick. It read in part, "While I recognize this has been a difficult week for our entire community, my fellow board members and I fully support President Frederick’s continuous progress on the critical issues facing our campus community."
“We wanted to initiate negotiations, but they made it clear that many of the Board of Trustee members, despite the email going out, saying that our demands were inaccurate and essentially unsubstantiated -- that many of them have not even read our demands,” said Alexis McKenney, a senior student and member of the group HU Resist.
Chairman Stacey Mobley wrote the statement, which also addressed the financial aid office scandal that was the catalyst for this larger protest, noting that the results of an independent investigation will be made available April 6.
Student protest organizers met with two members of the Board of Trustees on Friday, but the talks broke down, leading to the students to declare Friday evening, "We are staying here." They have another scheduled meeting with trustees on Saturday.
The students said they have not had any communication with President Frederick.
"He's been silent, he has not expressed any desire to meet with us at all, and I think that sends a big message out to how exactly he has responded to students," said Alexis McKinney, one of the protest organizers.
The protest, which has become one the largest and most-organized movements for change in recent university history, was sparked by a leaked report that six university employees had been fired following an internal investigation of misappropriation of university-provided financial aid funding.
Press Conference https://t.co/VXmq8zrJgA— #StudentPowerHU (@HUResist) March 30, 2018
Reminder: https://t.co/JHTaNlFyuk— #StudentPowerHU (@HUResist) March 30, 2018
In a statement released overnight, President Frederick said he was aware of the situation and would respond to the needs of the students.
"I want you to know that I hear you, and my team and I are committed to being responsive to your needs," Frederick’s statement began. "Howard University has birthed generations of student activists and we will always continue in that spirit, for it is through raising the united voices of our students that Howard scholars have historically created a reverberating impact across the nation and the world.
"I am listening to you, and I am challenging my team to make the changes you are expressing a dire need to see," he continued. "In addition to that, I would like to further increase the engagement with a larger and broader portion of our student body." READ FULL STATEMENT HERE
FOX 5 spoke to the student who anonymously leaked the report about the firings. The source provided FOX 5 with documents from Tyrone Hankerson, Jr., one of the people accused of improperly accepting an excess of financial aid.
The documents show that Hankerson received $78,000 in university and federal grants, some of which are listed as “need based.” Hankerson’s story has since gone viral because of his social media posts appearing to show off a lavish lifestyle.
Hankerson spoke publicly for the first time to journalist Roland Martin and denied any allegations of embezzling funds from the school. He believes he is "being used now as a means to get Dr. Frederick out of his current position."
Officials said they brought in an outside education firm, Third Coast Higher Education, “to determine if any misappropriation of federal funds occurred. At this point, Third Coast found no misappropriation of federal funds related to this issue.”
The anonymous student also provided FOX 5 with audio from a sub-cabinet level official at Howard asking the student not to release the information to the public for fear of what it would do to the university’s reputation. He also said the problem is much larger than people know.