One Washington, D.C., resident has placed himself at the center of the city's ongoing battle against gentrification after a clip of him suggesting that Howard University's campus be moved went viral.
On Wednesday, April 17, DCist published a report in which students at Howard, a historically black university, felt that D.C.-area residents walking their dogs and picnicking on The Yard was willfully ignorant of the campus's 152-year legacy. "This is a historically black university. And you feel so entitled that you’re just going to walk your dog there? I find it very disrespectful," Briana Littlejohn, a senior at the school, told the publication.
Malakhi Briggs, a Howard sophomore, agreed; he told the local Fox affiliate, “The Yard is for the students and although everyone loves pets, I feel like it's disrespectful to have the pets just running around, especially when there are several parks around here. If they come on The Yard and they're just walking through, I don't necessarily have a problem with that, but I still feel like there are other ways to get around D.C. without having to cut through a college campus.”
But it was the other person that Fox interviewed — a white resident named Sean Grubbs-Robishaw — whose comments illustrated the problem at hand. "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. "I think we need to work together, [...] it's our community and that's how it should be."
The tension between members of the university community and residents in the surrounding area also comes amidst a greater conversation about gentrification in the area. As WTOP pointed out, a March study found gentrification in Washington, D.C., specifically is the most aggressive in the country, and is displacing black residents at rapidly increasing rates.
The clip, which was posted by Washington, D.C., DJ Angie Ange, has since gone viral. In the replies, people have pointed out the willful lack of logic within the statement, and spoke to the university's legacy, which far predates any gentrification in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. Though Howard is a private college, DCist notes its campus is open; a university spokesperson told the publication that dogs were not prohibited on the school's campus.
In a statement provided to MTV News, Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick said, "We recognize that service animals are a necessary aspect of modern-day life and we will accommodate them as needed. We appreciate pet owners respecting our campus by not bringing pets onto the private areas."
But whether dogs are permitted or not misses the point, some people argue. “I love having [the Howard community] as a part of the community, and the culture they bring to the community as a historically black university," one local resident told DCist. "But they also deserve their space … and to not have a bunch of townies getting in their way all the time. It’s a delicate balance between having an open campus and totally usurping their area.”
"The safety of [The Yard] is important, but the safety of the space is important in context," Keneshia Grant, Ph.D., who teaches political science at Howard University, told MTV News. "D.C. is changing as a city and changing rapidly. There are many spaces in D.C. that we think about as black spaces that are going out of business, that are having to relocate, or are otherwise not available to us. So this conversation about the dogs is absolutely about Howard and sacred space, but also about our community going through changes where black spaces that we all love are no longer able to maintain their livelihoods in cities that are gentrifying." She says she was appreciative of the university president's response to the issue, and hopes that non-Black people especially take the moment to learn about HBCUs and other historic markers of Black culture in a compassionate, respectful way.
As Julien Broomfield, a Howard senior, told DCist, "I would never want to say ‘no, you’re not welcome here. 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."