WASHINGTON, D.C. - A group of Howard University students say they've taken control of the school's administration building and won't leave until their demands -- including the resignation of the university president -- are met. They are protesting after university workers were accused of "double-dipping" on financial aid.
The protesters -- more than 350 of them, leaders said -- had nearly the entire building on the Washington, DC campus to themselves Friday evening, save for some campus police officers and maintenance staff, demonstrators Juan Demetrixx and Alexis McKenney told reporters.
Students met with two members of the University's Board of Trustees on Friday evening. During a press conference, McKenney said that students wanted to start negotiations, but accused the board members of not actually reading the students' demands.
"We now put this call out to the Board of Trustees to actually read our demands. That all alumni, students, facility, community members read the demands of Howard students and why we are actually here," said McKenney.
"We are trying to transform this institution. We want to spark a national campaign where students all across the nation start to build a movement where they democratize their own institutions," said Demetrixx, a 23-year-old student at the historically black university. "We should have a say in the direction and orientation of our university."
The protest was spurred, in part, by revelations Tuesday that university employees misappropriated financial aid funding over a nine-year period.
"We are trying to secure the entire building until we get our demands met, and nobody's allowed in unless they have a student ID," said Demetrixx.
Videos posted to Twitter showed scores of students Thursday and Friday in parts of the administration building, including the president's office. These included videos posted by the protest group, which calls itself HU Resist.
McKenney said no administrator was in the building by late Friday morning. One administrator was there earlier but left, she said.
University President Wayne A.I. Frederick, in a statement Friday, said he hears the students, looks forward to meeting with their leaders and is "committed to being responsive to (students') needs."
"I am listening to you, and I am challenging my team to make the changes you are expressing a dire need to see," Frederick's statement says. "In addition to that, I would like to further increase the engagement with a larger and broader portion of our student body."
The financial aid scandal
An outside auditor found last year that some university employees were receiving grants from the school to attend classes while also receiving tuition remission -- taking in more money than their education cost and pocketing the difference.
Six university employees were fired.
The public did not find out about the allegations of financial misconduct until Tuesday after blogging platform Medium posted an expose that has since been deleted.
"The investigation found that from 2007 to 2016, University grants were given to some University employees who also received tuition remission," Frederick confirmed in a statement Wednesday.
"The audit revealed that the combination of University grants and tuition remission exceeded the total cost of attendance. As a result, some individuals received inappropriate refunds."
The employees implicated by the investigation were fired for "gross misconduct and neglect of duties," the statement adds. The terminated employees have not been publicly identified due to protocol measures, Howard spokeswoman Alonda Thomas said.
Frederick said Howard has made reform efforts following the investigation. "Significant new policies and procedures have been implemented to strengthen Howard's internal controls with respect to the awarding of financial aid," he said. The reforms include new procedures for grant approvals and a way for students to access information on the annual budgets for each category of financial aid.
But the protest leaders say they're also upset over a range of other issues, including student wellness and gentrification in the neighborhood where Howard is situated.
The group's demands include, according to Demetrixx:
• The resignation of Frederick and the board of trustees.
• That students "have the power to democratically influence the decisions of the administration and the board of trustees by way of popular vote."
• Having Howard do more to combat food insecurity and gentrification in the area.
• The disarming of campus police, and the creation of a police oversight committee.
• The hiring of more school counselors
• The creation of a grievance system in which faculty can be held accountable for their "language and actions toward students and marginalized identities."
Demetrixx said the demands stemmed from concerns identified in a HU Resist-run student survey this winter.
Protesters are getting food, water, money and other donations from fellow students, faculty and community members who support their cause, McKenney said.
The outside auditors hired by the university delivered their findings in May, while Howard was in the midst of its own internal investigation. The university's investigation began in December 2016 and lasted through September when a probe of individual employee actions was completed and the six employees terminated.
Howard says it more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students.