By Alecia Taylor
Howard University News Service
Throughout the semester, students have gathered at the flagpole to protest the millions of deaths of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
During the latest protest, students marched to the administration building to directly “charge” Howard University with genocide and urged students to continue to spread awareness throughout the holiday break.
Over 20,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza Health Ministry figures, and 1,200 Israelis have been killed, according to Israeli tallies. The Howard chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and Students for Socialism joined students across the nation to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and peace in the Gaza Strip. The organization held its first walkout on Oct. 23 to protest at the flagpole on the Yard, calling out the university for its silence on the lives lost in the Middle East as well as its ties to corporations that have supported Israel such as Nike, Google and Starbucks.
“From Howard to Palestine, occupation is a crime!” the protesters chanted as they advanced toward the Howard administration building.
When students reached the steps of the building, they were met with five campus police officers who told them they could not proceed more than about 5 feet closer to the entrance. Yet, they continued to push the boundaries until officers told them they could not go any farther.
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Howard’s funding’s got to go,” they yelled, referencing connections to agencies such as Boeing, the FBI, the Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence and the U.S. Air Force. All of the partnerships not only provide research and internship opportunities to students, but they also have ties to Israel.
Days after the first walkout in October, the university released a statement, which protesters said deflected from the institution taking a side. The university directly responded to the Hilltop in an email, stating it “stands for peace and progress.”
But this statement was not enough for some students and members of the Bison community.
After marching, students took turns on bullhorns and called out people from inside the building.
“Howard University, stop acting as though you are unbiased,” said *Aaron, a student protester at the walkout on Nov. 15. “Not choosing a side is, in fact, choosing the oppressor. Howard University has chosen the side that [is] murdering Palestinians.”
“Instead of reconnecting with our local neighborhoods, we became the first HBCU to partner with the Pentagon,” said *Reaux, another student protester. The crowd responded with “shame!” as she continued. “Are we not supposed to bask [to] the Black community?”
In January the university announced being the first HBCU to lead a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) and the first center to be funded by the Air Force. The partnership, which is worth $18 million a year, totaling $90 million after five years, has the university focusing on creating artificial intelligence that aids the Department of Defense’s “modern prioritization.”
While some partnerships present financial and career benefits like the UARC, students continuously pointed out the connections to supporting Israel.
“What you are hearing is the weaponization of modern innovation to better terrorize the people of the global south,” she said, “people like Palestinians.”
Lloyd J. Austin III, the Secretary of Defense, expressed the nation’s stance on what he and others call the “Israel-Hamas conflict.” The secretary expressed his condolences and solidified the department’s “ironclad support” for Israel in a statement on Oct. 13. The nation’s stance became clear when White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. had no intentions to put troops in Gaza now or in the future, according to Reuters.
Howard entered a partnership with Boeing, the world aircraft manufacturer, to provide an internship and a pipeline to careers with the company in 2018. Boeing recently expedited delivery of about 1,000 bombs to Israel and has been doing so since 2021, according to Bloomberg.
“It’s time to open up the room for dialogue,” Aaron said. “Are HBCUs underfunded? Yes. Let’s have that conversation, but let’s not try to make that funding up through genocide. It’s time to work with the people to find new solutions.”
As protesters shouted “guilty” every time a connection between the university and Israel was mentioned, more people gathered on the outskirts of Howard Pl. Among the onlookers were Howard faculty, Howard University Student Association (HUSA) President Nia Naylor, HUSA Vice President Murphy Jones and other students.
Despite the protesters’ initial peaceful gathering, the first set of doors of the administration building were locked and security presence increased inside, including Marcus Lyles, the Howard University Chief of Police.
Potential campus tourists were evacuated from the building, and tours were moved to a different location.
Students began pushing past the officers, shouting at the onlookers inside. Protesters yanked on the doors and called for officers and administrators to come outside to “talk” to them about the university’s connections, to what they referred to as “a genocide.”
The progression of the student protest calling for not only a ceasefire in Gaza but for Howard to disinvest in “zionist connections” pic.twitter.com/d8Z9Ff9bXq
— Alecia (She/Her) (@AleciaReports) November 15, 2023
As the protest concluded, the leaders urged students to continue to spread awareness and call for the university’s disinvestment in several companies.
“Our worst day here is nothing compared to those in Gaza,” said Jayla, a member of Students for Socialism. “The bare minimum we can do is have those conversations with our mothers and our parents and our sisters.”
Similar protests at other universities have surfaced around the country. In some cases, colleges and universities have issued disciplinary actions or suspended organizations, citing them as antisemitic and violating the student code of conduct.
George Washington University, also located in the district, banned the university’s SPJ chapter from protesting on the university’s grounds for 90 days, according to the Hatchet.
Columbia University in New York City also suspended its chapters of SJP and Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for an unauthorized walkout in early November, according to the Columbia Spectator.
Howard has not responded to the student protests or their demands.
SJP is encouraging students to boycott major brands and continue educating their families over break.
*For safety reasons, students’ last names are not being used.