Howard University said its Department of Public Safety is investigating an incident where a group of people broke into an abandoned building on campus and posted about it on TikTok. But some people are more concerned about what the TikTokers reportedly found inside.
The video shows at least three unidentified individuals searching in broad daylight for a way to get into Benjamin E. Mays Hall, Mays Hall for short, which housed the Howard University School of Divinity until 2015. The doors and windows of the building are seen boarded up, but the video shows the group was able to enter through a mechanical room.
The suspects referred to the building as a “huge abandoned college in DC,” apparently not knowing it was part of the privately owned university’s 23-acre East Campus site.
“In the video, a group of individuals are observed rummaging through Mays Hall, running through the stacks of its library, flipping through books and files, and even deploying a fire extinguisher indoors,” said the School of Divinity’s dean, Rev. Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert in a statement.
Throughout the TikTok video, you can see pieces of statues, scrapbooks, photos, books pre-dating the 1800s and old newspapers. This led some people on social media to ask, why weren’t these artifacts preserved when the building was abandoned eight years ago.
"Unfortunately, the disrespect highlighted the neglect. We should be disappointed with our institutions when they fail to preserve a history already on attack," an Instagram user commented on a post about the incident from the account washingtonianprobs.
Gilbert said when the School of Divinity relocated to another building on the university’s West Campus — a little over five miles away from Mays Hall — the items seen in the video were left behind because there wasn’t enough room to store them in the new space. However high-value collections of art, administrative files and other archival materials were removed from Mays Hall at the time.
Howard University began working to redevelop the former site of its theological school as part of Washington’s comprehensive plan in 2017, according to Gilbert. Plans are in motion to designate it as a historic landmark.
“Despite the University’s efforts to remove historically relevant materials from the site in 2015, the actions of those who trespassed and broke into Mays Hall remind us how some are willing to violate the sacred boundaries of our beloved HBCU campuses and threaten to embolden others with similar actions,” said Gilbert. “The University is taking the necessary steps to ensure the School of Divinity’s most precious archival materials are in safekeeping.”
In the meantime, the university said it will increase security patrols of the site and “reassess the contents of the building.”
“While [the Department of Public Safety] continues to investigate, we want to make it abundantly clear that the University condemns the unlawful entry of this group of misinformed individuals,” Gilbert said. It is not clear if the suspects in the video will face charges if identified.
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