Students at the historically black Howard University in Washington are fighting to preserve their campus from being overrun by entitled white new residents looking to use The Yard for their own recreational activities.
Frustrated students say The Yard, a sprawling green space at the center of campus instilled with decades of Black history and cultural relevance, has increasingly become a place where local residents go for a run, walk their dogs or plop down for a picnic.
Such activities, especially in a space as scared as The Yard, are frowned upon, to say the least, and students have simply had enough.
“You know this is a university … 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, told DCist. “I find it very disrespectful.”
Residents’ use of campus has become an issue for the university in recent years, according to the news site, and is a direct reflection of the changing demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods, which have seen higher numbers of wealthier, whiter locals.
Julien Broomfield, also a Howard senior, told DCist she probably only saw three residents walking their dogs on campus during her freshman year. Now, she sees at least one or two every day.
Resident Darren Jones, who’s lived in the Pleasant Plains neighborhood for 60 years, said he’s never considered picnicking or exercising on Howard’s campus, but has noticed his new neighbors doing so.
“Younger people today just feel that it’s their neighborhood and they’re going to use it,” said Jones.
Howard students haven’t taken too kindly to the encroachment, however.
In 2015, some students started the #WeAreNotaPark hashtag on Twitter to express their displeasure with locals using their campus as a personal green space.
“Howard is our safe space, not your play place,” one of the tweets read.
The issue reared its ugly head again earlier this month when a reader on the local blog Popville shared an experience while walking a dog at the historically Black college.
The writer, who said they’ve lived in the neighborhood for more than five years, wrote that “a group of students started screaming at us that dogs weren’t welcome on campus. One girl yelled, ‘This is a closed campus, I’m going to call the cops on you. The students continued to scream at us and follow us for around five minutes.’
“Is there a policy against dogs at Howard?” the writer goes on to ask.
A spokeswoman for the university confirmed to DCist that there is no policy prohibiting dogs and that Howard’s campus is open to the public.
Still, many students have taken issue with residents intruding on what they consider a safe space in a city where they often feel marginalized or pushed to the side in a city with a 47 percent Black population.
“At the end of the day you are not entitled to come to my campus and bring your pets to come desecrate as they wish,” one Popville user, who attends Howard, commented. “New residents have this reoccurring issue of coming to campus and disrespecting sacred spaces because of their ignorance. This is a campus not a dog park, gentrification will not grant you access to disrespecting my space.”
While they don’t necessarily want their campus to be closed, Howard students said they instead want residents to respect their space and the culture of their school.
“I would like to see [residents] on campus. I would never want to say ‘no you’re not welcome here,’” Broomfield told DCist. “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.”