On Wednesday, students at Wilberforce University, a small historically black college just outside of Dayton Ohio, gave a demonstration of what student power can mean.
Fed up with the college’s failure to address its longstanding problems, than three hundred of the school’s five hundred enrolled students marched on Wilberforce’s administrative offices to request transfer applications. Some 337 the demonstrators — two thirds of the college’s student body — are said to be prepared to request transfer to nearby Central State University next fall if their demands aren’t met.
The students’ complaints include high tuition, reductions in student services, and unchecked mold in one dormitory.
Founded in 1856, Wilberforce is the oldest private historically black college in the United States. (Many of its earliest students were escaped slaves.) But the college has struggled in recent years, amid charges of mismanagement leveled against top administrators — enrollment has fallen by half in the last seven years, and the institution is tens of millions of dollars in debt.
WU student government president Brandon Harvey, who organized Wednesday’s protest, considers the threat to withdraw a last-ditch effort to save the university. “Academic life, spiritual life and social life are at an all-time low,” he told the Dayton News. “I’m afraid when I come back three to five years from now, Wilberforce University will not be alive.”
Wilberforce president Patricia Lofton Hardaway held a press conference in response to the protest, but made no specific pledges for reform. Students plan to demonstrate again next week when the college’s board of trustees meets at an off-campus location.