Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2023

BSU challenges Daniels on diversity, race relations at Hopkins

By WILL ANDERSON | November 13, 2015



See more photos from the demonstration

Students led by the Black Student Union (BSU) protested the state of black rights on campus, interrupting a planned video shoot in front of Gilman Hall with University President Ronald J. Daniels today at 1:45 p.m. They issued a list of demands to Daniels to increase the representation of black faculty, students and staff on campus, as well as addressing the lack of support for black students.

Protesters gathered at 1:30 p.m. in the tunnel under Gilman, and then marched up the Breezeway between Remsen and Mergenthaler Halls, chanting: “It happens at Mizzou. It happens here, too.”

They were referencing the recent events at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) where students have been protesting the state of black rights on campus. They demanded that the number of black students, faculty and administrators be increased to 10 percent of the total and that more diversity curriculum and support be provided.

Yesterday, the BSU organized a group photo to show solidarity with Mizzou.

Friday’s protesters congregated in front of Gilman, where Daniels was expected to film the annual “Thank You” video with some Hopkins students. Protesters held signs that read “Why Don’t My Professors Look Like Me?”, referencing the fact that there are only five full-time black faculty members at the University. Some other signs read “#BlackCollegeUnity” and “Apathy is Violence.”

There was a limited police presence at the protest.

BSU President Matthew Brown read out the BSU’s list of eight demands. The demands include more accountability toward those who target black students and a requirement that all students take a semester-long course on cultural competency and that all faculty and administrators are trained in the subject as well. They demanded that a meeting be held with the student body with at least Daniels, Provost Robert C. Lieberman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin G. Shollenberger and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Maureen Marsh.

They also demanded that the Center for Africana Studies become a full department at the University; that the number of full-time black faculty members be increased in the Center for Africana Studies, the Women, Gender and Sexuality program, and other departments of the University; that the new hirings reflect equal gender representation; and that the faculty are in fields relating to people of African descent.

Furthermore, they demanded that the admissions office create a five-year plan for better welcoming and retaining black students and that black bodies be removed from diversity marketing campaigns until they have done so.

After Brown read out the demands, protesters chanted “Where is Ronny D?” until Daniels arrived at the protests. Then, Brown read out the demands to Daniels and asked him whether he accepted them.

After listening to their demands, Daniels said that the University’s most pressing priority was to listen to what the students had to say.

“It seems to me that what is taking place here trumps anything that we would think about doing at this particular moment, in this particular space,” Daniels said, referencing the video shoot that was scheduled to take place. “So we understand that, and so right now the only thing that really matters is having an opportunity to give you the space and the support and our attention to your concerns, your demands, your frustrations, your anxieties and your sense of solidarity with an issue that is coursing through campuses throughout the United States.”

Daniels said that he sympathized with the protesters’ sentiments.

“I know that we should not deflect this, conflate it, distort it to be about anything other than what it is. It’s about us. It’s about our community. It’s about who we are. It’s about what we value,” Daniels said. “I’ve had chance to talk with you in a number of different contexts and look at you today, at all the faces, across a number of different racial groups, a number of different communities, and seeing the pain, the disappointment that you’re communicating to me now is deeply, deeply sobering.”

Daniels said that he encourages open discussion about this sensitive issue on campus, and while the University has been working on the issue, he looks forward to meeting with students.

“I want you to know first and foremost that I take responsibility for the University and that part of the grievance and the unhappiness that you’re expressing today,” Daniels said. “The issue of ‘Why don’t my professors look like me?’ is a key and urgent challenge for the University, and that’s something we we’ve been aware of for some time… I thank you for the courage, the determination, the sincerity of effort.”

After Daniels finished speaking, BSU Vice President Tiffany Onyejiaka pressed Daniels to set a date for a forum between administrators and students, to which Daniels agreed.

“We had these same conversations last year,” Onyejiaka said. “There are five black professors on this campus, and next year there will be three. We don’t have time for you to plan and advocate. We want action now, and we want a forum with all students, not just the leadership. We want you to talk to everyone here.”

Daniels said that a forum would take place the Monday after Thanksgiving break, Nov. 30.

After the protest, Vice Provost Shollenberger spoke with News-Letter reporters about the situation both at Hopkins and around the nation.

“I know our students have similar complaints here. If you look at some of the complaints at Yale and the University of Missouri, there were similar kinds of climate issues, and so I’m pleased that our students are organizing and bringing voice to those concerns,” he said. “Like the President said, there’s a number of initiatives that we’ve been working on, but there’s certainly a lot more that we need to do.”

Shollenberger said that his office was there to represent students and their grievances and that the administration was working on proposals.

“Our role in Student Affairs is to really help support students in having these kinds of protests and programs and making sure that they have an avenue to express their concerns,” he said. The BSU has brought a number of these concerns to us before.

Daniels sent an email several hours after the protest, listing diversity initiatives that the University is undertaking, such as the JHU Forums on Race in America, the new Baltimore Day program for freshmen and the Faculty Diversity Initiative, which will be formally announced later this month and will be implemented across the University.

Jacqui Neber and Catherine Palmer contributed reporting.

Vice President of the BSU Tiffany Onyejiaka was mistakenly referred to as the Publicity Chair. The error has been corrected.

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