Preserving Culture and Tradition: Howard University in the Midst of Gentrification

Howard University, a historically Black institution located in Washington, D.C., has long been hailed as the “Mecca” of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). However, recent attention has centered on the impact of gentrification in the neighborhood surrounding the university, once a predominantly Black community. The Shaw neighborhood, where Howard University is situated, has a rich history of Black-owned businesses and cultural sites, including jazz clubs and a section known as “Little Ethiopia,” reflecting the vibrant diversity of its residents.

The influx of luxury housing and the subsequent increase in rental prices have led to the displacement of many Black residents, making way for a new demographic characterized by young, affluent, and predominantly white individuals. Census data now reveals that the median income in the Shaw neighborhood is nearing $85,000, reflecting a significant shift from its historical demographics.

As the neighborhood undergoes these changes, Howard University, deeply rooted in the area for over 150 years, is experiencing growing tensions between its Black student body and the new wave of white residents. Incidents have surfaced of new residents disrespecting the university’s private campus, known as “The Yard.” Students have expressed frustration over the unauthorized use of the campus for activities such as jogging, picnicking, and even allowing dogs to defecate on its grounds. Such actions are perceived as a disregard for the institution’s significance as a symbol of Black excellence.

Reports have emerged of confrontations, including white residents calling the police on Black students for hosting gatherings in both off-campus housing and university-sanctioned events. The term “colonizers” or “interlopers” has been used by many students to describe these newcomers, emphasizing the disruption and intrusion they feel within their revered space.

In response, Howard University’s President, Wayne A.I. Frederick, addressed the issue of pets on campus, acknowledging the necessity of service animals while urging pet owners to respect the campus as a private area. Despite this, students are adamant that the sanctity of their campus must be upheld, sending a clear message that the university will endure as an unwavering bastion of tradition and cultural pride.

While the university administration continues its efforts to address the challenges posed by the gentrification of its surrounding community, the students remain resolute in their commitment to preserving the essence of Howard University as a beacon of Black heritage and academic excellence.

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