HBCU Students Are Getting Fed Up with Housing Issues. It’s Time to Give Them the Truth About Why They Can’t Be Fixed

An increasing number of students at historically black colleges and universities nationwide are becoming increasingly frustrated with what they describe as substandard or unsafe campus housing conditions.

Citing ongoing issues with living conditions and executive transparency, the LeMoyne-Owen College Student Government Association has called for the resignation of president Andrea Miller, the second such request in the last two years at the college.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports this week on a letter sent to the LOC Board of Trustees last December, calling for Miller’s departure for unresponsiveness to residence hall concerns and alleged cronyism and nepotism in staffing. Alumni of the college joined the students in their appeal for Miller’s removal, and board members could meet soon to address the president’s future.

“The current climate and well-being of the institution is at stake,” the letter read. “In fact, a growing trend of students expressing their desire to no longer attend, transfer, or simply not refer the college to other (prospective) students is occurring.”

LeMoyne-Owen board could soon meet to discuss student calls for president to resign – Memphis Commercial Appeal (Jennifer Pignolet)

A month prior, Tennessee State University Meter Student Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Shayla Simmons publicly called for more attention to be paid to housing issues in an open-letter editorial.

In the months leading up to this semester, several students, myself included, were faced with issues regarding housing and financial aid. Upperclassmen have been housed in freshmen dorms because of unfit conditions in several on-campus apartment units. Those currently housed in apartment units have also reported mold and plumbing issues. I can not speak for students currently housed on-campus, but I must remind readers of the student protest held last year because of the living conditions in the Wilson dormitory.

A plea to President Glover and the administration of TSU – The Meter Newspaper (Shayla Simmons)

Last month, Wilberforce University President Elfred Pinkard published an open letter to the campus community responding to student concerns over living conditions on campus. Two days later, Dr. Pinkard published a list of current renovations and repairs being made to living facilities and infrastructure.

These recent complaints follow last year’s student protests at Howard University, which among the several demands which prompted a takeover of the campus’ administration building included a call for expanded on-campus housing options for undergraduate students.

Students deserve safe housing that inspires learning, good times and fond memories of an institution when they leave as graduates. Most HBCU leaders want nothing more than state-of-the-art facilities to attract more students, but are unwilling to charge current students higher tuition costs to make the upgrades possible in short-term capital planning.

What HBCU students deserve and what HBCU presidents are willing to charge them to build are two very separate things which meet in the middle of public discontent over facilities. The only common ground for both sides of this issue is for the school, somehow, to raise more money or to secure financing through private or federal capital lending programs.

The U.S. Department of Education often require schools to put other campus buildings up as collateral or to secure notes of credit from banks to guarantee that the feds will get their money back from HBCU Capital Finance Loans. This is a proposition that for most private HBCUs, the campuses usually suffering from students publicly railing against poor housing, is difficult to accept.

Amidst all of the complexity of who will pay for more housing and how much it should cost today’s students, other issues are silently killing the struggle, literally, just below the surface. Antiquated heating and cooling systems on campus are being stressed by extreme regional temperatures. Buildings designed with materials and architectural layouts from generations ago are revealing challenges which complicate renovation and expansion and can cause health problems for occupants.

Pipes burst, mold grows, ceiling fixtures collapses, and before you know it, an entire building has to go offline for hazardous conditions; because no one has any clue on how to pay for it when enrollment and tuition revenue are not sure shot numbers from year to year.

The answer, beyond increasing enrollment or Bennett College-level fundraising windfall, is to prioritize infrastructure over student scholarship access, over faculty and staff salaries and benefits, over program development, over athletics, and over everything else which helps to make money for an institution. It is not an easy answer to find and because it isn’t easy to figure out, students are beginning to ask an even tougher question:

Is it really worth staying at an HBCU for all of this nonsense?