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Howard University aims to reassure students after recent violence | #schoolsaftey

Howard University leaders sought to reassure students and parents this week after the school year began with alarming incidents on and near campus that injured multiple students and left one person hospitalized after a stabbing.

University leaders described a throng of 50 or so young people — a “fight club” that campus and city safety officials had been monitoring this summer — swarming areas around campus over the weekend as students were arriving for the school year. A restaurant near campus was disrupted by a large fight, and later a melee broke out on campus with Howard students injured, according to the campus chief of police, Marcus Lyles, who called the incidents “disturbing” and “disgusting.”

It was an alarming start to the school year — usually a joyful time as students move into dorms and reunite or meet new friends — and another sign of escalating crime in the city.

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University leaders apologized for the initial response to incidents, announced steps to strengthen security and removed two safety employees from campus.

Anthony Wutoh, the university’s provost and also a father of a Howard student, said during a virtual town hall this week, “We certainly apologize for any failings in the university’s initial response and certainly will do better on behalf of our students, our faculty and staff to make sure we are keeping everyone as safe as we possibly can.”

The university’s president also apologized to students in a message earlier this week.

At the emergency town hall Tuesday — held after the school’s president cut short a university-related trip to return to campus — Howard leaders talked about what happened, how the university fell short and what they were doing to improve safety on campus. University officials also talked about how to improve communications to provide safety alerts more quickly.

They do not know if Howard students were specifically targeted, Tashni-Ann Dubroy, an executive vice president and chief operating officer at Howard, said during the town hall, but “it doesn’t help that it is the start of the school year. … This is a vulnerable population because they’ve never been in D.C. before.”

She said the videos circulating on social media are hard to watch, because she saw students “being pummeled, by people just intent on harming them.”

Lyles said a group of young people had gathered at a field across Georgia Avenue from Howard’s campus on Saturday evening and were dispersed by city police officers but moved to a nearby sandwich shop. A video of girls fighting and screaming inside the shop was widely shared on social media, with the hashtag #HU27, but campus officials said the people causing the disturbance were not students. Campus and city police dispersed the group.

The group later returned to the field, Lyles said, and a juvenile was arrested with a gun as police dispersed them and people streamed down the street. After midnight, early Sunday morning, people converged in front of a dorm and began fighting.

“We had multiple students that were caught up within that melee and were injured,” Lyles said.

“They’re part of a fight club,” Dubroy said. “They go to restaurants to instigate fights. And the reason why it escalated so quickly and became violent is because that’s part of their strategy.”

According to city police, a man was stabbed and robbed of his keys, sneakers and cellphone there in front of the dorms. On LinkedIn, a man with that name identifies himself as an architecture student at Howard.

Misha Cornelius, a spokeswoman for Howard, wrote in an email she could not confirm the identity of the victim of the stabbing and was not aware of the victim’s medical status on Wednesday.

Nia Naylor, a senior who is president of the Howard University Student Association, said by phone Wednesday that she knows the student who was stabbed and is feeling the impact both on the campus — where many people worry there aren’t enough officers to combat such a large crowd — and on the victim’s friends personally. She said he is out of the hospital, doing better and back home with his family. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

A student group posted on social media that four students were “brutally assaulted” by more than 50 non-Howard students, and that when they asked campus police for help, they were told the incident was outside their jurisdiction, even though there was video indicating it happened on campus.

Monica Lewis, a spokeswoman for the university, said students reported the incident to a private security person contracted by the university who “did not provide the support we would expect.” Lewis said students then reported the incident to a Howard University police officer, who also “did not provide assistance.”

The private security officer was removed from the job — the contract was terminated — and the campus officer was suspended pending an internal investigation, Lewis said.

Howard’s urban campus in Northwest Washington includes both private and public areas — such as city streets — and its safety oversight includes the campus department, private contractors and city police officers. That may have led to some confusion about jurisdiction, campus officials said, but the conduct reported by students prompted an urgent response.

“It is unacceptable that a Howard University Department of Public Safety officer would tell any student on this campus, whether close to the campus or on our campus within our jurisdiction, that there’s nothing that they can do,” Dubroy said. “That’s not the type of police force that we train. That’s not the type of police force that we expect to operate within our campus. And it’s unacceptable. So that person will be removed from the campus. … And that has already happened.”

There have been other incidents near campus in recent weeks, including reports of sexual abuse and a man killed on campus during a robbery in July.

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“Washington, D.C., is having a tough time right now,” Lyles said. “There are too many guns on the street, too many juveniles that are conducting violent crimes.”

Lyles said university officials would continue to watch for problems such as large groups of young people causing trouble near campus, and they are communicating with students — many of whom are new to Howard and the city — about how to get help quickly. The school had installed hundreds of new security cameras and plans to add about a thousand more. An armed officer was stationed in front of the building where the fight took place, and additional officers are present on campus, he said.

Naylor said they’re trying to educate students about the number for campus public safety — (202) 806-1100 — and that the school is handing out devices that students can click to call for help. She said some of the traditional fun Bison Week events for new students are being held inside rather than on the Yard to increase safety.

On Thursday, the school will host a campus-safety event, including self-defense lessons, she said.

“We want to prevent what happened from happening again,” she said.

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