Gentrification has irritated yet another community of color. In Washington, students and alumni of Howard University are objecting to residents who walk their dogs on the campus, feeling these actions infringe on the campus and its history.
The university is historically black and affectionately referred to as one of the Black Meccas of American society. It was founded in 1867 and has been located in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington for the entirety of its 152-year history.
The area in question, the Upper Quadrangle, or the Yard as its known to students, is a large expanse of green space, has historical markers of black culture and is the site of homecoming celebrations.
In the online forum PoPville, a user said they were told to leave by students while walking their dog on campus on 9 April. While a few users defended the students and decided other area residents should respect the campus, others have derided the “entitlement” of the students and faculty. One user said: “I plan to walk my dog on the Howard campus as often as possible.” Another said, “These just sound like stupid college kids being stupid.”
In a local Fox 5 DC news report, resident Sean Grubbs-Robishaw told the reporter Tisha Lewis, “They’re part of DC so they have to work within DC. If they don’t want to be within DC, then move the campus.” His words inspired the hashtag, #HowardWontMove, with many black people saying his comment was not only disrespectful but also inherently racist.
“Howard University is supposed to be a safe space for black people and we don’t need you colonizers infiltrating it,” said Charlemagne, radio personality and the co-host of The Breakfast Club. “The way you love your dog? Have that same empathy and compassion for the students of Howard.”
Howard alum Susan Kelechi Watson of NBC’s show This Is Us, tweeted about the incident.
“Howard is a space that has a lot of cultural and historical significance for African Americans and just people in the [African] diaspora,” said Zachary Graham, a 2018 graduate. He says area pet owners should “check your privilege and understand that, yeah, you may be a part of this community, but Howard has been here for 152 years … some things are deeper than just walking your dog”.
While it has recently gained attention, this isn’t the first time Howard has suggested area residents not walk their dogs on campus. Though it’s not explicitly written, it is an informal policy often enforced by security guards and students themselves, with evidence of enforcement going back to 2014.
University alumni have said this is a problem long brewing. In the neighborhood that surrounds Howard, redevelopment has occurred, leading to gentrification.
Graham pointed at a larger issue. “It’s the principle: one, of protecting the students, even though it is an open campus, and, two, maintaining the sanctity of this sacred black space.” Graham says that dog walking through the campus is “intentional disrespect. Howard students, we come to the Mecca because we want to be in a space surrounded by black people and know that this space is our space. We can feel safe.”
While Howard University could not be reached for further comment, the president of the university, Wayne Frederick, penned a letter to “the Howard University Family” on 19 April encouraging pet owners to avoid the area: “The Yard is a treasured site of many auspicious occasions… The Howard University community wants to see this area remain pristine and symbolic of all that Howard University represents.”