A controversial “JHU Disorientation Guide” was anonymously released online on Wednesday, sparking an uproar on social media among undergraduate students.
The guide aims to debunk what it calls “the myth of the apathetic Hopkins student.” This character is portrayed as oblivious to the broader scale of his or her world outside of the Hopkins community. The guide attempts to systematically dismantle the supposed façades of campus life by addressing a series of grievances against the sociocultural structure of the University.
Students’ initial reactions to the guide have been mixed. Though its creaters claim it was intended to shed light on inequalities and double standards at Hopkins, the “JHU Disorientation Guide” has been viewed by students as more of an angry attack on campus culture.
“I think that it’s important that students are critical of the administration. However, I think that many of the statements in the pamphlet were inflammatory or accusatory in an unproductive way,” sophomore Camilla Dohlman wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The writers’ anonymity has drawn doubts from students about the validity of the document.
“I think it’s a general load of garbage. It does nothing but try to stir up activism through false claims and one-sided arguments,” sophomore Bianca Galasso wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “While they do have some good points, in general, the Tumblr social justice warrior who wrote this cannot be taken seriously.”
The “Disorientation Guide” begins by criticizing the members of the Board of Trustees, a major decision-making body at the University, for being principally motivated by profit. The document proceeds to target former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the school’s largest donor, and attacks several members of the administration.
“This image of corporate lord and groveling vassal only crystalizes the way the university is beholden, not just to big donors but also to the wealthy parents — current and potential customers — whose tuition ultimately keeps it afloat,” the document states.
From there, the document voices claims of injustice in the University’s food service, labor operations, fuel fossil divestment and student debt practices.
Racial issues and sexual assault each received their own chapters in the “Disorientation Guide.” The guide makes specific references to individual fraternities and forecasts their potentials for sexual assault. Students were generally outraged at these suggestions.
“[The guide makes] a statement that now that [Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE)] is gone, [Alpha Delta Pi (Wawa)] and [Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE)] can compete to become the ‘rapiest’ fraternity, which is just totally inappropriate and unfair. Statements like that delegitimize the message that the writers are trying to get across,” Dohlman wrote.
Eliza Schultz, editor-in-chief of The JHU Politik, attributed the growth in political activism to last spring’s sexual assault allegations.
“I think that last year, there was heightened activism that has enabled more people to come out as activists. I think here, in terms of the Title IX/Clery complaint, the petitions empowered a lot more people to come forward and protest aspects of this University,” Schultz said.
The guide takes controversial stances on several global issues as well, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The guide criticized the Israeli government and lambasted the University’s administration for opposing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is being waged against Israeli scholars and publications at other universities across the nation.
“Any movement like BDS which aims to cut off information and resources from our university is counter-productive because it prohibits educated discourse,” Joanna Wexler, former president of Hopkins American Partnership for Israel (HAPI), said. “Furthermore, claiming Israel is an apartheid state is a serious misrepresentation of the political and social realities of Israeli life. Israel is the only truly free and open Democratic society in the middle east.”
The President of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), junior Mutasem Dmour, confirmed that SJP contributed to the guide.
“We contributed to the part on Israel/Palestine, and [it] reflects our thoughts on solidarity on campus, dissatisfaction with President Daniels’s double standards on academic freedom and excitement over the growing solidarity movement in the U.S.,” Dmour said.
Other politically-minded groups, including The JHU Politik, denied any association with the “Disorientation Guide.
“Just to be clear, The Politik played no role in creating the ‘Disorientation Guide,’ but it is our goal as an organization to promote political dialogue on this campus,” Schultz said. “I have heard a lot of things about how the section on Israel [and] Palestine was received, but otherwise I think people are really invigorated by this outburst of political activism on campus.”
The guide also criticizes the University’s participation in drone research for the Department of Defense.
“[The University’s Applied Physics Lab] has worked on a number of systems used on these Predator and Reaper drones, the large armed drones built by General Atomics and notorious for terrorizing entire populations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq,” the guide states.
Not all students were wholly opposed to the document.
“I don’t necessarily agree with everything the authors wrote, but I’m glad there are students on campus who care enough about these issues to do something to draw attention to them and hopefully provoke discussion,” sophomore Mona Jia wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Sophomore Nadya Kronis agreed that the guide could be valuable for provoking important discussions.
“I really appreciate the work and echoes with the feelings of groups working towards social justice on campus. It was written maybe out of frustration with a majority uninterested student body, but it also illustrates the growing strength of activism on campus. The biggest example of that is the recent win for advocacy and awareness groups, who united over a common cause,” Dmour said.
“My thoughts are that it’s a solid step towards meaningfully discussing the important stuff that goes on at Hopkins, which we are generally encouraged to ignore,” Kronis wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “A lot of [the complaints the guide addresses] have been going on for a long time... but it’s definitely not something undergrads are made aware of in any way.”
The end of the guide takes a lighter tone, offering recommendations for students to explore Charles Village and Baltimore. The guide encourages undergraduates to leave the supposed safety zone of the area immediately surrounding Hopkins. It suggests that most Hopkins students are sheltered from the authentic urbanity of Baltimore.
Some felt that this document might have repercussions beyond the Hopkins community.
“The ‘Disorientation Guide’ was not perfect, but I endorse the idea behind it. When I was a freshman, there [were] very few resources to guide me towards activism... This is something that would really have come in handy to me, and I probably would have done [work] as an activist earlier,” Schultz said.
Despite the controversial nature of the “JHU Disorientation Guide,” Schultz hopes students will use it as to increase their political activism.
“I hope that this will have an impact on younger students and get them involved in causes that really mattered... I definitely think that activism is on the rise, but then again, [the Hopkins student body] can’t really get less active than it has been,” she said.