CBSN

"Life has turned completely upside down," says student at center of Howard University scandal

Howard University protesters made history as protests over alleged financial mismanagement lasted through the sixth day on Tuesday. An anonymous Medium post published last week accused Tyrone Hankerson, Jr.  of embezzling more than $400,000 from the financial aid office, and the third-year law student told CBSN on Tuesday that since then, "life has turned completely upside down." 

The Medium post, which has since been taken down, alleged that employees of the financial aid office had stolen $1 million while getting grant money. Hankerson was personally accused of embezzling $429,000 and photos of him wearing expensive clothes and taking expensive trips soon went viral. Hankerson, who attended Howard as an undergrad as well, told CBSN he did not embezzle any money from Howard. 

He said he has faced "bullying and harassment" in the past week.

"I've tried to manage by pulling myself away – I have a great support system of friends making sure I'm OK at the law school," Hankerson said. "We're just trying to get through it as best as possible. But the biggest thing is safety concerns because people are tweeting and posting while I'm in class. I would hate ... for somebody to target me and for anything to happen to any of my classmates or myself."

After the Medium post was published, Howard University president Wayne Frederick said that he became aware in Dec. 2016 of the alleged mismanagement between 2007 and 2016, and after an independent auditor investigated, six employees were fired in Sept. 2017. Further, Frederick pledged a series of reforms for the financial aid office, including a third-party review of who was using the financial aid module.

But the scandal has only grown at Howard as questions remain about who knew about the alleged mismanagement and why it took so long for the information to become public. Low-income students at the historical black university have been hit hard by a university policy that forces students to register for classes to have a zero balance, or pay one-third of their outstanding bill and be enrolled in a payment plan. The university said it had $22 million in uncollected student tuition in 2017.

The sit-in at Howard has broken records from the 1968 and 1999 protests, CBS affiliate WUSA-9 reports. "We've made it past that, and it looks like we'll be going for a little bit longer," Ahmari Anthony, with the protest group HU Resist, told WUSA-9.

Hankerson told CBSN he was a student worker at the Office of Financial Aid. He insists he is not one of the six people terminated, saying his employment with the university ended because he was entering the law school. He told CBSN that it was not a "responsibility" of his at the financial aid office to award himself with aid. 

In an interview with Roland Martin last week, Hankerson estimated that as an undergrad, he received $200,000 in financial aid, grants and employment stipends, but he said the "context" was that he was a year-round student who also did study abroad. He also received funds as a law student. He insisted the number was under $400,000. 

Hankerson and his attorney, James Walker, demanded on CBSN that Howard University apologize for "leaking" his records. The school has refused to name who the six employees were who fired, claiming it violated school policy and FERPA, a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. 

"What's more troubling to me is that Howard hasn't come out and apologized to this young man – this could be anyone's son, nephew, brother," said Walker, who was in Atlanta. "Regardless, Howard should have come out and said we're sorry, this should not have happened, his file should not have gotten leaked."

Walker placed blame on Howard for being transparent with students.

"The university has a chance here to show how they operate and run the university and how they move swiftly to fix a problem," Walker said. "The reason students are protesting is because they feel like every one of their issues, every one of their demands over the years are not met in a sufficient or quick or swift manner."