Student at Center of Howard University Financial Aid Scandal Speaks Out: It's Been 'Very Hurtful'
A Howard University law school student at the center of a social media storm is telling his side of the story amid headline-making claims that university officials misappropriated financial aid funds.
Tyrone Hankerson Jr., 25, of Atlanta, Georgia, drew the ire of social media users this week after someone alleged in a now-deleted blog post that he received more than $400,000 of university-provided awards in financial aid during his time as a student employee in the school’s financial aid office.
Now, the graduating law student says he’s done nothing wrong.
“That is not true. I received over $200,000 for the four years I was an undergrad at Howard, but that wasn’t just a traditional schedule,” Hankerson Jr. tells PEOPLE. “I also went to summer school, and I also had opportunities to study abroad. I did not receive any award that was labeled something when I actually was not entitled to it.”
His attorney, James Walker, notes that Hankerson Jr. graduated summa cum laude from the university’s undergraduate program with a 4.0 GPA. He is expected to graduate from the Washington, D.C., law school next month.
The comments come less than a day after university president Wayne Frederick revealed in a statement that six employees had been fired from the university for “gross misconduct and neglect of duties.” In the statement, Frederick acknowledged that, in December 2016, he was alerted “that there may have been some misappropriation of University-provided financial aid funds.”
He said officials launched an investigation and found that, from 2007 to 2016, some university employees received “inappropriate refunds” thanks to university grants that “exceeded the total cost of attendance.”
Hankerson Jr. says he was not fired from his position, but left the job after completing his undergraduate degree in 2015. He tells PEOPLE he has “never been contacted by the university about any investigation” or his student account.
“He’s clearly innocent. He didn’t do anything illegal,” Walker says of his client. “It’s not what it looks like … he has fine taste.”
However, the law student has faced scrutiny from internet users who quickly discovered his social media accounts, which featured Hankerson Jr. wearing lavish furs, designer handbags and even posing in front of a luxury Range Rover. But Hankerson says the photos are not what they seem.
“Me and my mom believe in balling on a budget. Anything I received I have not paid full price for. It was bought at a discounted cost,” he said, noting that he worked over the summers during his law school career. “I saved money so that I could buy the things I like because I’m into lifestyle and fashion. I had a blog and a social media presence where I was pushing that individual brand.”
After the report surfaced, social media users quickly began sharing photos of Hankerson Jr. wearing the fur coat, a Gucci handbag, and appearing to take trips overseas. The users were quick to call the Range Rover into question — but Hankerson Jr. says the car isn’t his.
“People are making these stories up and creating false stories about me. It’s very disheartening and very hurtful. I was at Howard for homecoming … My roommate at the time was a photographer so we would go out and take pictures,” he says.
“There was a Range Rover that did not belong to me — I don’t know whose car that is! We took a picture by it. We were showcasing lifestyle pictures. At Howard’s homecoming there is a really big push around fashion and clothing. But that Range Rover does not belong to me.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, a Howard spokesperson expressed concern about the apparent disclosure of information from Hankerson Jr.’s personal student account, and said any employee responsible for such a privacy violation would be “severely disciplined, and very possibly terminated.”
According to the university’s website, tuition and fees for undergraduate students living on the school’s campus for the 2018-2019 calendar year is about $22,500 per semester.