Howard University is a historically black college and university (HBCU)—one of 107 in the country. And, as shown in an interview that has gone viral on Twitter, a white resident close to the university thinks it should just “move” if students aren’t thrilled about having white, wealthy neighbors use their campus as a dog walk. How did we get here?
First of all: It goes without saying that Howard is an established presence in D.C., and has been there long, long before residents of the rapidly gentrifying surrounding neighborhoods, including Bloomingdale, LeDroit Park, and Park View.
“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?” Briana Littlejohn, a graduating senior at Howard, explained to DCist in an interview.
“Entitled” is the perfect word here. And a white resident who agreed to be interviewed on the subject seems to have no idea what “entitlement” means.
“They’re in part of D.C. so they have to work within D.C.,” Sean Grubbs-Robishaw, a white Bloomingdale resident told local Fox affiliate in an interview that has since boggled minds on social media with its incredible lack of introspection. “If they don’t want to be within D.C., then move the campus.”
The clip of his assertion that a 152-year-old institution should just “move” has gone viral on social media, and you can view it below for yourself, in all of its indignant glory.
In an interview with DCist, senior Julien Broomfield said, “I would like to see [residents] on campus. 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. Then they’ll see like maybe coming onto The Yard and walking the dog isn’t cool.”
"Truthfully, we don’t even walk on The Yard. There’s a pathway there for a reason. We don’t step on the grass unless there’s some special occasion, homecoming or whatever else," Raina Simone Henderson, a student government leader at Howard, explained to The Hill in an interview.
This brings up a really important point—if students at the university aren’t using a space in a certain way (ie: as a dog park), there’s really no justification for people from outside of the community to insert themselves and change it to meet their needs. It might be well-intentioned (or entirely oblivious), but it’s still disrespectful.
It’s also important to keep in mind that D.C. has some of the highest rates of gentrification in the country. Between 2000 and 2013, for example, roughly 20,000 black residents were displaced due to gentrification. This isn’t just forcing black residents to relocate within the city (though that in itself is unfair), but actually forcing some of the population out of the city itself. For example, in the ‘70s, D.C.’s population was more than 70 percent black. More recently, as of 2015, it’s only 48 percent.
Why? As is the usual with gentrification, housing costs are going up, which translates to higher rents, higher property taxes, and greater competition for housing.
Think back to Grubbs-Robishaw’s quip that the university should just “move” if the students don’t want residents using their campus as a dog park. It’s … white privilege at its finest, and it’s also an attitude that way too many people have when it comes to gentrification.
At this point, the university president, Wayne Frederick, has released a statement on the situation:
“We are aware of the concerns regarding dog walking across campus. Howard is a private institution nestled in the heart of an urban city and we’ve shared a long-standing positive relationship with our evolving community for more than 150 years. 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.”
All of which goes back to the core theme here—the students and administration at Howard are being pretty accepting, and even lenient, about people not affiliated with their institution using their campus space. In contrast, a white resident suggests that the entire university should just …. move.
The discussion is alive and well on social media, especially on Twitter. The hashtag #GentrifyingGeorge has been born, and if nothing else, Grubbs-Robishaw has become a classic example of gentrification in action. Hopefully, people learn from this, because this attitude is a problem all over the country.