Phylicia Rashad believes the demands of student protesters at Howard University have not only been heard, but also addressed.
Yet after more than two weeks since students first organized, the protests over housing and various other campus health and safety concerns continue. The actress-turned-Howard administrator — in May 2020 she was appointed dean of the College of Fine Arts — recently addressed questions about the protests alongside her famed actress-choreographer sister, Debbie Allen, as they entered an administrative building on Friday, Nov. 5. Video shared across social media last weekend captured an exchange between the sisters at the doors of the building.
“We know what the Howard student body means. In any country when the students don’t speak out the nation is not doing well,” Allen said. Her sister, Rashad, then interjected, “When the students do speak out, and they have been heard and their concerns have been addressed, and it’s still not enough — what about that?”
Acknowledging her sister’s comment, Allen said, “Oh, well that’s a whole ‘nother thing.” Both women are Howard alumna and have openly boasted about their positive experiences while matriculating at the historically Black university. Allen, who was flocked in a Howard blue coat, even mentioned to the media that she was on campus to hear from both parties, the students and Howard President Wayne Frederick, on the day of Frederick’s State of the University speech.
Assured of the steps the administration has taken to address the demands of students Rashad followed up with, “That’s what’s going on now.” And just as Allen looked to her sister and asked, “So, are the concerns being addressed?” Rashad said, “OK, let’s come inside … I wouldn’t get into that if I were you.”
To date, Howard’s president and other administrators have told students that concerns of mold in the dorms are being handled by outside cleaning and HVAC crews. But, students continue to press for more answers to their questions, and resolutions to their demands. Frederick took questions from students after his virtual address Friday, and Allen also took a mic and spoke to students as well as visited a campsite some have set up on campus.
Online, commenters were certain Rashad was playing her role as an administrator, whereas Allen was perceived as genuinely being there for the students. “Debbie Allen keeping it real. Phylicia not so much!” wrote one person. Others commented, “They are NOT reading from the same script. Debbie was about to expose Phylicia for her bull..[laughing tears emoji]” and “The needs of the Students have NOT been met..”
Allen threw her support behind the students days after civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the campus. Jackson, who recently recovered from COVID-19, took the time on Monday, Nov. 1, to speak with students and President Frederick amid the protests. Having spent his career as a public figure fighting against injustices of all kinds, Jackson reassured protesters he would do his best to act as a liaison to bolster a resolution between the student body and administration. The 80-year-old Jackson’s visit came at some personal sacrifice after he suffered a head injury on the campus and wound up having an overnight stay at Howard University Hospital.