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Howard University says student protests over housing have caused layoffs

Howard University said employees have been laid off due to weeks of student protests against dorm housing conditions, the institution said Tuesday. Students claim that mold, mice, roaches and fleas are common in dorms, and have camped out inside the university's social hub, the Armour J. Blackburn University Center, for more than two weeks demanding change. 

"We're sad to report the occupation of Blackburn has led to an unintended consequence for the HU community," the college wrote on Twitter. "Due to the café being closed, some Sodexo workers have been laid off. We are committed to working with our students to avoid more repercussions like this one."

A spokesperson for the food services business Sodexo told CBS News that some employees at Howard University have also been relocated to work at different locations on campus where it is possible. 

"Sodexo respects the students' right to a peaceful protest," the spokesperson said. "We remain committed to providing exceptional service during these difficult times and we hope that both parties will soon come to a mutually beneficial resolution."

Protestors have demanded an updated housing plan to accommodate current and future classes before 2022 and to appoint current and former students to the board of trustees. 

Cynthia Evers, the university's vice president of student affairs, said Tuesday that the school has invited public officials, health inspectors, students and parents to examine residence halls amid the student protests. She called for transparency and emphasized the importance of seeking common ground.

"We have created these opportunities not only as a good faith effort to demonstrate that the University is not attempting to conceal any information from the public, but also to uncover any overlooked problems and establish regular channels of communication among a diversity of individuals with different perspectives and areas of expertise," Evers said in a statement

Howard University
This July 6, 2021, file photo shows a sign outside the Howard University campus in Washington.  Jacquelyn Martin / AP

The protests continue amid Homecoming — one of the school's most popular events for alumni and students that's intended to highlight the school's culture and community. Organizers have encouraged planned attendees to boycott the weeklong celebration to bring added awareness to the protest's cause.

Howard President Wayne A. I. Frederick encouraged the university's community to tune into his state of the University address, which was scheduled to take place on November 5. He said the presentation would be an opportunity to converse with students. 

"I'm sure it will be an illuminating opportunity for the entire Howard community to learn more about the present and future outlook of our University and to hear more about current updates on our campus," Frederick said regarding Homecoming. 

But later on Tuesday, the university's president announced that he will no longer deliver his traditional Homecoming address this year, citing the current "campus atmosphere."

Last week, Frederick called for the occupation of the Blackburn University Center to end. 

"The current occupation of the Armour J. Blackburn Center is a departure from past norms," he wrote in a statement. "There is a distinct difference between peaceful protest and freedom of expression and the occupation of a University building that impedes operations and access to essential services and creates health and safety risks."

Zoe Christen Jones contributed reporting. 

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