Students at the historically black Howard University say members of the surrounding community who take “leisurely strolls,” lay out blankets for picnics, and walk their dogs on the campus Yard are being “brazenly inconsiderate” and “disrespectful.”
The Yard, as reported by DCist, is “a set of criss-crossing cement paths bisecting large grassy patches” where students hang out, especially during nice weather. However, for many Howard students it’s also a place “imbued with history and meaning.” Trees are planted honoring (historically black) fraternities and sororities, and the annual homecoming festivities are held there.
But over the last few years, members of the community have encroached on The Yard … especially more affluent, white neighbors.
“You know this is a university. You know this is a historically black university. And you feel so entitled that you’re just going to walk your dog there?” said Howard senior Briana Littlejohn. “I find it very disrespectful.”
In 2015 students started a “#wearenotapark” hashtag campaign which featured tweets such as “Dear White people, Howard University is not a park” and “Howard is our safe space, not your play place.”
Howard political science professor Keneshia Grant said “I wish I had time to write something longer about why many Howard folks loathe the sight of dogs pooping on our lawns, respect/reverence for black spaces, and our complicated history with dogs.”
Howard is a private institution; however, Howard spokesperson Alonda Thomas said there is no official university policy prohibiting dogs on campus, and that Howard is an “open” campus — “anyone is allowed to walk through it.”
The students and Howard alumni said they don’t necessarily want to close the campus. Instead, they want outsiders to respect their wishes and the culture of their school. Several also mentioned that many neighbors who walk onto campus are reserved and unfriendly.
“I would like to see [residents] on campus. I would never want to say ‘no you’re not welcome here,’” says [student Julien] Broomfield. “I would just like to see more engagement with students … more of an understanding of what we use The Yard for and what it means to us. Then they’ll see like maybe coming onto The Yard and walking the dog isn’t cool, maybe coming onto campus and not talking to anybody comes off a certain way.”
Students also said that they see Howard as a sacred, safe space for them in a city (and country) where they often feel marginalized. …
On a historically black college campus, in an increasingly non-black neighborhood, questions of race underlie the tension between students and residents using the campus space. But it’s not the mere presence of a white or non-black person on campus that bothers them, several students told DCist.
“It’s not like we don’t have students who are not black on our campus, but it’s a different feeling,” says Littlejohn. “The students who are non-black who go here didn’t just choose to go to Howard on a whim. They know. There’s a respect for the culture, the people, and the area.”
DCist notes nearby George Washington University and Catholic University told them their campuses are open to folks walking their pets, and it’s a common occurrence at Georgetown and American University as well.
Like many other universities, Howard students, staff, and members of the adjacent community will have to continue to navigate the delicate balance between “town” and “gown.”
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