Howard student activists send message to James Comey during convocation
The former FBI director will have a chance to address issues as a professor in public policy
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While celebrating Howard University’s 150th academic year and welcoming approximately 2,200 students of the freshman class, former FBI director James Comey had hoped to give a speech that would inspire the audience to fight for “what is right and what is true.”
— Howard University (@HowardU) September 22, 2017
However, shouts and chants of “Go home, Comey, you are not our homey,” “No justice, no peace,” “We shall not be moved” and “I love being black” by more than 50 student activists and protesters overshadowed the opening convocation on Friday inside Howard’s Cramton Auditorium. This was Comey’s first public speech since he testified before Congress in June about his firing as FBI director by President Donald Trump.
“I’m only going to speak for 12 minutes,” Comey said to the protesters before attempting to begin his speech. “I’m at Howard to try to be useful and to try to have healthy conversation.”
The disruption, led by a collective of student activists known as #HUResist, lasted the entire duration of Comey’s speech once he was introduced by university president Wayne A.I. Frederick. According to an official statement released by the organization, the protest was based on their criticism of the administration’s choice to select Comey after reports that he allegedly “dismissed racist state-sanctioned violence” and made “efforts to dismantle the growing Black Lives Matter movement” during his tenure as FBI director.
— #StudentPowerHU (@HUResist) September 22, 2017
“James Comey represents an institution diametrically opposed to the interests of Black people domestically and abroad,” said #HUResist in a statement. “While his tenure at the FBI has finished, his impact on our community remains. … Furthermore, we challenge Howard University’s ties to the establishment at large and seek to create an environment in which the spirit of liberation prevails.”
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) September 22, 2017
Jason Ajiake, a junior sociology major who participated in the protest, said the reason for the disruption was to hold a vigil for victims who had their lives lost at the hands of the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement organizations.
“This wasn’t a platform for us to have a discussion, this was him speaking to us,” said Ajiake. “What can he really tell us, as we know our conditions better than anyone else?”
While most of Comey’s speech was drowned out by the shouts and chants, his remarks focused on encouraging the students to make a difference through the difficulty of the real world. In his conclusion, Comey emphasized the duty of giving back.
“My perspective has not changed. … I’ve lived decades in the so-called ‘real world,’ and I still think places like this [Howard] are part of the real world,” said Comey. “Howard University has always been different; that’s why I want to be a part of it.”
For many in attendance, while they did respect the students’ right to protest, they didn’t necessarily agree with the method.
“I personally respect the right to protest,” said Nigel Knights, a senior civil engineering major and executive president of Howard’s College of Engineering and Architecture Student Council. “Just like President Frederick said: The way you go about it and the way you convey the message is very important. … I respectfully disagreed with the way they went about it today.
“I knew there was going to be a bit of controversy, as this group has a presence on campus, but I didn’t expect it to blow up like it did.”
“I wanted to hear him [Comey] speak from the very beginning, as I feel like different perspectives bring a lot to this campus,” said Dontae Bell, a senior economics major. “I did expect a protest, as I don’t agree with a lot of what Comey has done and has stood for, but I think that he can bring a valuable perspective that can help us round out our experiences here as students.”
“I did expect a protest because at Howard you can foster different dialogues and you can have your own ideologies; however, you have to be able to listen to others to see where they are coming from,” said Keona Dwynne, a senior biology major.
Although met with mixed views, Comey was appointed the 2017-18 Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy. The former FBI director will lead and conduct five lectures featuring speakers who will touch on several topics.
According to Howard University, the King Chair was established to provide students access to experienced senior public service executives who developed and advanced public policy initiatives. Comey will announce the topic of the lectures after consulting with student leaders and other campus stakeholders on topics relevant to the Howard community.
Paul Holston journalism major from Summerville, SC. He attends Howard University and served as 2016-17 editor-in-chief of The Hilltop.