Howard University stands strong as neighborhood gentrifies

Cyril Josh Barker | 5/3/2019, 11:06 a.m.
The historically Black Howard University in Washington, D.C., is known as the “Mecca” of HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), ...
Howard University

The historically Black Howard University in Washington, D.C., is known as the “Mecca” of HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities), however, headlines about the school in recent months have concentrated on the effects gentrification is having on the once mostly Black neighborhood where the school sits.

Howard University is located in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood which is known for its Black-owned businesses and jazz clubs. One section of the neighborhood is affectionately known as “Little Ethiopia” because several businesses there are owned by immigrants from that African nation.

The building of luxury housing and rising rents has attracted young, white and wealthy residents to the area and has displaced Black residents who are being priced out by new residents coming in. Recent census numbers indicate that the median income for residents in the Shaw neighborhood is now just short of $85,000.

Howard has roots in the area that go back over 150 years and tensions between new white residents and Black residents and students are flaring. Recently, students have complained that new residents are using the private Black campus as a public park and allowing their dogs to defecate on the “The Yard.”

Students also reported white residents jogging through the private campus and using it as a picnic area. While there are public parks nearby, students feel the white residents are disrespecting the institution and its symbol of Black excellence.

“The Yard is the heartbeat of the University. It’s the host to Yardfest during Howard’s infamous homecoming and the backdrop for the annual commencement activities,” Howard student Kyra Azore wrote in a recent online opinion piece. “To see it now littered with jogging pedestrians and nonchalant dog walkers infuriates me.”

White residents have also reportedly called the police on Black students for having parties and get-togethers in nearby off-campus housing and even on-campus events.

News stories recently highlighted the shared frustration students have about the residents, who many call “colonizers” or “interlopers,” using the private campus their tuition pays to maintain as a public park. In one now-viral televised report, new white resident Sean Grubbs-Robishaw suggested the century-and-a-half-year-old Black campus move.

“They’re in part of D.C. so they have to work within D.C. If they don’t want to be within D.C. then move the campus,” he said.

Responding to the issue, Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick released a statement about dogs coming on the campus.

“We recognize that service animals are a necessary aspect of modern-day life and we will accommodate them as needed,” he said. “We appreciate pet owners respecting our campus by not bringing pets onto the private areas.”

While the statement is a start in hopes of deterring white residents from perceived disrespect of the campus, students say an understanding must be made to keep the school grounds sacred.

“Just for the record, when you choose to live next to a college campus, you sign up for all that comes with it, so take it or leave it,” Azore wrote. “Regardless of what you decide, Howard will remain unfazed, a prideful symbol of tradition, and unmoved.”