"There were slurs directed toward the MSU house, but at some point very quickly, certain responsible students got involved and said this is not right," he said. There were no physical confrontations and no damage occurred as a result of the unrest, he said.
Howard called the incident "a perfect storm of a tense nation, an uptight" nation and a campus of young men.
"We love our men, but they're young men," he said. "Young men sometimes act before they think."
He added, however, "You've got to look the facts in the eye and say what happened on that night was ugly."
Howard said those who attended the Wednesday night meeting were intent on addressing the root causes and how to move forward.
"This is not who we are and we're going to do better," Howard said, calling the offending students "bad seeds."
Hampden-Sydney, located about 60 miles southwest of Richmond, has a black enrollment approaching 9 percent of its 1,080 students. The private, tradition-bound school was founded in 1775 and is one of only three all-male colleges in the U.S.
The campus is known for its decorum and honor code. Visitors are greeted by passers-by, backpacks are left lying around without fear of theft and students dress in coat and tie for football balls.
Students are expected to hew two standards of honorable behavior:
"The Hampden-Sydney student will behave as a gentleman at all times and in all places."
"The Hampden-Sydney student will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do."
Its former students have included a president, William Henry Harrison, and comedian Stephen Colbert.