Atlanta students protest for better housing and more funding for HBCUs

Clark Atlanta University senior Alivia Duncan reads a list of demands from Atlanta University Center students to their schools and federal officials for better housing and student loan debt relief. (Eric Stirgus/

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Clark Atlanta University senior Alivia Duncan reads a list of demands from Atlanta University Center students to their schools and federal officials for better housing and student loan debt relief. (Eric Stirgus/

Several dozen students from Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities began a protest Monday afternoon demanding improved student housing from administrators and that congressional elected officials from Georgia provide more funding for the schools and student loan debt relief.

The students began the protest outside Rush Memorial Congregational Church at the Atlanta University Center, where HBCU students organized demonstrations in 1960. The students said they will not leave until their demands are met by presidents of the schools and addressed by federal officials.

The students have a list of six demands and want the presidents of Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Morris Brown and Spelman to meet with student leaders to discuss a full assessment of housing needs and quality of life. They also want Georgia’s two U.S. senators and other elected officials from the state to address the “much needed” $45 billion investment in HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions through President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill, known as the Build Back Better Act.

Students from Clark Atlanta University along with Morehouse, Morris Brown and Spelman colleges are involved in the protest. Students posted signs that read, “All Students Need Housing. End The Housing Crisis” and “Tell Old Joe Raise The Budget,” referring to President Biden.

“It’s time to cash in on these promises ... We must demand better together,” said Marcellus Kirkland, 22, a Morehouse College senior majoring in sociology.

The protest is in solidarity with ongoing demonstrations at Howard University, a HBCU in Washington, D.C., by students there demanding better housing conditions along with other student representation issues. Howard University students say rats and mold are just some of the issues they’re forced to live with there.

The Atlanta students complained about washing machines and other equipment not working in their dorms. Clark Atlanta University had to put nearly 500 students in temporary housing before the semester started because of renovation delays to some of its student housing. Atlanta University Center students pay up to $7,000 a semester for student housing, but a larger percentage of those students borrow money to pay tuition and other fees.

“Even though we are doing this in solidarity with Howard, these are our issues,” Clark Atlanta senior Alivia Duncan told the students.

Many colleges and universities have decades-old dorms that are in need of renovations. One recent analysis found that schools spend about $37 billion annually to operate and maintain buildings, but there’s a $112.3 billion maintenance backlog. The study was done by the company Gordian, and APPA Leadership & Educational Facilities, an association that represents more than 1,300 colleges and universities worldwide. APPA has called for more federal funding for aging facilities and HVAC upgrades. Experts say the problems are even greater at HBCUs.

Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell has talked about the need for more residence halls. Clark Atlanta listed building maintenance in its 2018-2023 strategic plan, and officials there have said the university does not have enough on-campus housing to meet student demand.

The Atlanta schools have historically received less money from philanthropists and foundations. Donations have increased in the last year, but much of the money has been directed toward student scholarships.

Students said they’ve heard some interest from administrators at the schools to address their concerns. By nightfall, they pitched tents and some prepared to sleep on a lot near the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library.

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