Today, August 14th, 2015 around 2pm I went to Howard University’s Financial Aid Office to get an account balance error fixed so that I could register for my fourth year of classes in my PhD program. The task of cleaning my account should be simple enough. It happens a lot at Howard (and probably other places but I can only speak to my experience). Last year a mysterious $10,000 balance appeared and I went to FinAid and they removed it, no problem. I remember that unexpected victory because I took a picture that day and posted it to instagram.
This year, ~$3,000 mysteriously appeared on my account. After three weeks of going in person, being hung up on by offices they told me to contact, and emailing individuals who never responded, I was understandably frustrated.
I walked in today and spoke with Mr. Harbin. Or at least I think that’s his name. He’s never had the cordial professionalism it takes to offer your name. But we speculate, I guess. Mr. Harbin seems to operate on the “we don’t give no fucks, yeah” motto popularized by rapsinger Future. Once, while speaking to him about financial aid, he banged out a beat on his desk like this was a high school cafeteria and the Clipse’s “Grindin’” had just came out.
Childish. But I moved on. Bigger problems in life.
A year later, today’s incident isn’t something I could just move past. Today’s incident makes me want to leave Howard University completely. Not even transfer. I just want to quit. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Here is a paraphrased summary of events:
Harbin: Yeah nobody here can help you, so you’ll have to leave.
Me: I cannot leave here today without registering for class.
Harbin: Well, I can call security.
Students and parents in the office looked on in absolute shock. The girl next to me asked what was going on and in response just said, “Wow”. Someone’s mom had to come speak on my behalf when at one point, I broke down.
It was comical at first that this guy behind a desk called the cops on a 5’2” nerdy student. But once campus police arrived, I lost my cool. I cried.
I cried because I went to Ferguson last summer when police murdered Michael Brown. I went and protested and left unscathed. I protested at the White House this year after Rekiya Boyd and Eric Garner were murdered by police who received no punishment. No cop trouble. Yet when I went to register at Howard, police were called.
I chose Howard University because of the mission statement. I chose to be there. Not that these details should matter, because a student is a student and should be treated with much more respect and compassion than I was given regardless, but for Howard University to allow financial aid to criminalize a student who just wanted to register for class and achieve some semblance of Black Excellence is tragic.
But also, and most embarrassingly?
Two decades of rule following and working diligently and I got criminalized within 10 minutes of our conversation. But that shouldn’t matter. I’m a pretty “woke” person. I know I’m not safe in America. I know cops are killing Black people without consequence. I know that. But this was different. It was a Friday afternoon in the financial aid office at my Historically Black University and I was just a doctoral student trying to register for class. My mind was nowhere near the reality of the world outside those University walls.
Radicalization – the process of causing someone to become an advocate of radical political or social reform
As “woke” as I thought I was, it appears as though I still had some respectability politics in me. I sat in that office pleading with this guy offering the fact that I’m a 25-year-old doctoral student, hoping he’d be so amazed he’d stop being awful. He didn’t stop. And as odd as it sounds, I’m glad. Because that got that last little “treat me like a human because I’m achieving in life” out of me. Treat me like a human, because I’m human. Forget my CV or resume.
Nothing I do can stop me from being killed by cops. Everyone from Sandra Bland to John Crawford to Tamir Rice can attest to that.
And now I know there’s nothing I can do to stop even being criminalized. Even attending an HBCU didn’t help that.
So I might as well go all out and fight the system. Black, White, or blue. Everyone can get it. I held back a tiny bit before, but no more.
Some Huxtable Suggested Reading: Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected