Students at Bethune-Cookman University upset over mold, other unsafe school conditions

Students at Bethune-Cookman University said they’re fed up.

They’re planning a protest in response to the school’s announcement it had chosen not to hire NFL Hall of Famer Ed Reed as the new football coach.

Reed had criticized conditions at the school. Now, students bear the slogan, "Ed Reed was right."

FOX 35 News spoke with a little over half a dozen students at Bethune Cookman Sunday.

They all said Ed Reed losing his contract isn’t the point of their protest, but rather that it was the spark or the last straw for them.

"What started off as my dream school turned into something that’s far less than what I thought," one student told us. The Senior asked not to be identified, for fear of losing her scholarship.

Students at Bethune-Cookman complained of rats in the dorms and a lack of hot water there. Several said they leave the windows open year-round in their rooms because there’s no AC.

The biggest complaint FOX 35 heard was about mold in the dorms.

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Credit: Bethune Cookman students

Students sent picture after picture to serve as examples.

"I was in the room probably three days before I started experiencing symptoms," one asthmatic student told us. She said the mold in her dorm agitated her asthma so badly, she wound up in the hospital.

She came back with a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t stay in a dorm with mold.

The students said they pay $30,000 a year in tuition at the private HBCU.

"We’re constantly pouring money into this institution, and we feel like it’s not being poured back into us," a Senior at Bethune-Cookman told FOX 35. "We’re not seeing change. They just keep giving us false promises."

Ed Reed said he wanted to improve conditions at the school.

Shortly after he spoke out about those conditions, the school announced it wouldn’t be hiring the football coach after all.

The school explained in a statement:

"After undergoing a detailed assessment and review of the state of our football program, we have determined that it is in the best interest of our university, athletics program, and football student-athletes to reopen the search and identify the next leader of Bethune-Cookman Wildcats Football.

While we appreciate the initial interest in our football program displayed by Mr. Reed during the course of recent weeks, we are also mindful of the qualities and attributes that must be exhibited by our institutional personnel during what have been uniquely challenging times for our campus as we recover from the impact of two hurricanes during this past fall semester."

Maya Walker, another Senior who was okay sharing her name because she’s about to graduate, told FOX 35 she feels Reed was discarded after a single mistake.

"What he said was true," said Walker. "But the school wants to control the narrative and save face."

Students felt like now it was their turn to speak out. They hosted a protest Monday afternoon.

Students said they hope it will eventually lead to better conditions and the replacement of the Board of Trustees.

FOX 35 News has reached out to Bethune-Cookman for comment.  In a statement, the university said it has begun an assessment of all facilities and has enlisted the assistance of an Orlando-based construction company and "several environmental and architectural engineering firms." The process, the school said, will likely not be completed until late summer.

Read the full statement from Bethune-Cookman Interim President Lawrence Drake II regarding student concerns over housing and the recent departure of Ed Reed below:

"First, let me begin by saying that I was very proud of the manner in which our students handled themselves during yesterday’s student gathering. It was orderly and represented the best intentions of students sharing their voices. While social media and media outlets have seized on not continuing negotiations with NFL Hall of Fame player Ed Reed, many of our students chose to use this moment to voice their concerns. This administration takes no issue with this. In the coming days, I will meet with student leaders to ensure that we address many of the students' concerns and answer their questions as honestly as possible.   

"To close the chapter on Mr. Reed, he was a tremendous player. Still, as we continued to observe him, we felt that his behavior was not aligned with the traditions of our founder Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and the university. We have over 50+ inquiries concerning our Head coaching position and are very excited about our candidate pool. Many of them possess not only knowledge of the game and the ability to assist in raising funds for the program. Still, they are disciplined leaders who have demonstrated their steadfast commitment to our Christian values. They also have the leadership skills to mold successful young men who are also student-athletes.  

"We’ve also added a football player representative to join the search committee, giving the football team a stake and a voice in choosing our next Head Football coach.  

"We hope to announce our selection of a new Head Football Coach in the next week to ten days.  

"Next, Issues and concerns: Over the last year, Bethune-Cookman University has begun a complete assessment of all its facilities for fitness, renovation, and teardown, as well as the construction of new facilities to enhance our campus. We’ve enlisted the assistance of CTG Construction, an Orlando-based firm with extensive HBCU campus experience, our facilities partner Sodexo, and several environmental and architectural engineering firms to continue the assessment of over 100 buildings.  Simultaneously, we have begun to prioritize necessity and cost, as financial resources are limited. For some buildings and facilities, in light of two unprecedented weather events, Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole, and enrollment growth, we have begun renovation and construction immediately. As with any process, facility age, building conditions, time to remedy, weather impact, and expense are paramount. To ensure we are thorough, this phase will likely not be complete until late summer or just before the FY23-24 school year. Once school begins in the Fall, we will work around student movement and will likely require moving students around, which could be disruptive to their living and learning. Student logistics, campus housing, and instructional classroom spaces are keys to the university meeting its academic requirements.     

"While I believe the truth and transparency are always the best courses, some "facts" are not always friendly"! However, we have to do what is right even when it’s not popular. Our Founder Dr. Bethune once remarked," The progress of the world will call for the best that all of us have to give." 

"We will continue to move to be the best version of ourselves and truly appreciate the patience of our students and all concerned as we work to improve our community."