The Student Government Association (SGA) organized the first annual Student Activism Fair during Orientation Week. The Fair, targeted toward incoming freshmen, represented over 20 student activist groups.
According to SGA Executive Vice President AJ Tsang, most of the student activist groups represented received around 50 first-year student sign-ups over the duration of the Fair.
Sophomore Class President Sam Schatmeyer, who started reaching out to the leaders of various activist groups over the summer, discussed why he and SGA decided to host the Fair.
“I felt like there’s a lot of good activism work going on on campus, but often you don’t see them in the same space,” he said. “I really wanted to attract freshmen as early as possible to this notion that there is more than academics here and in life.”
Junior Class Senator Pavan Patel, who helped organize the Fair, also discussed SGA’s decision to host the Fair in an email to The News-Letter.
“SGA’s primary purpose is to echo the concerns of students and act in their best interest,” he wrote. “By working to provide an environment that helps foster the growth and development of the advocacy and activist groups... SGA is taking a positive step towards amplifying the voices of undergraduates at Johns Hopkins.”
Tsang explained that SGA made a point to include groups from both sides of the political spectrum, citing examples such as both Voice for Choice and Voice for Life as well as College Democrats and College Republicans.
Schatmeyer stated that creating the list of student groups to include in the Activism Fair expanded his perception of what activism is.
“Activism can be anything from direct action and direct protest to more policy-oriented lobbying of the administration to even more secondary processes of compiling legislative information and [forming] policy-directed think tanks. The definition became more broad than I would have imagined,” he said.
In an email to The News-Letter, College Democrats Programming and Campaigns Chair Kelvin Qian wrote about SGA’s decision to include groups with opposing values. According to him, inviting groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum was necessary for the Fair to remain inclusive and representative of diverse ideas in the student body.
“Not every freshman or college student is going to be liberal or progressive,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Activist conservative students, like liberal ones, need to have a way to channel their energies and passions; if recruitment events don’t feature opposite groups, some students will inevitably feel left out from the Hopkins community.”
Senior Charlie Gulian, who represented Sustainable Hopkins Innovative Projects (SHIP) at the fair, appreciated the opportunity to interact not only with first-year students but also with leaders from other activist groups that he was not familiar with.
According to Gulian, SHIP, along with other environmental and sustainability-based activist groups, has been trying to find ways to bring like-minded groups together, and formed a sustainability coalition of seven or eight groups last spring. Gulian believes that by remaining aware of activist efforts on campus, SGA could facilitate student activism by supporting groups trying to form similar coalitions.
He added that the Fair seemed like a largely positive first step to introduce first-year students to activism earlier on in their Hopkins careers. Though he met several students who were already involved with sustainability efforts at their high schools, he appreciated that the Fair also exposed students who weren’t previously socially engaged to activist issues.
“When they see that they’re on a campus where people really care about these important issues, that probably inspired a few of them to get involved,” Gulian said.
Senior Haley Province was at the Fair representing Hopkins Undergraduwates for Harm Reduction (HUHR), an organization that works with the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition to assemble naloxone kits and run training sessions on how to use those kits to reverse opioid overdoses.
She said she was surprised by how many freshmen attended the Fair and seemed genuinely interested in what her group did.
“The number one question we got... was ‘Does this also go to the broader Baltimore community?’” Province said. “I was really excited about that, because it’s nice that they care enough to ask about the community as a whole, not just the school.”
Province added that having the Activism Fair occur before the larger Student Involvement Fair (SIF) where all 300+ student groups are represented helped smaller groups like hers with their recruitment efforts.
“The clubs that I’m in don’t necessarily do that well at SIF, just because we’re not flashy. We don’t have any cool props, we don’t have a huge budget, we’re just a group that’s about social justice and advocacy,” she said. “So it’s hard to draw people in a setting when there’s over 300 clubs.”
Tsang agreed, adding that SGA’s goal was to interact with the first-year students when they were still able to absorb information before being exposed to an overload of information at SIF.
He hoped that the Fair would be able to give students a head start and allow them to engage with activism as soon as possible.
“There are a lot of activists who are seniors, but it takes time to get to that point. It takes time to develop a sense of the University and how it fits together,” he said.
Qian also appreciated the chance to encourage students to get involved and take advantage of increased opportunities before they become bogged down with academics.
He commended SGA for promoting student activism and political participation through both the Fair and through their partnership with TurboVote, a tool that helps students register to vote. He added, however, that there was more SGA could do.
“SGA can directly partner with clubs like Hopkins Democrats and Republicans to promote activism, such as by holding voter registration drives,” Qian wrote. “Ultimately, SGA should continue to find ways to have a real and measurable influence on students’ lives, and these activities are a good way for SGA to shape the campus political culture.”
Freshman Elliott Herskowitz-Hale described his experiences interacting with groups that exposed him to new ideas.
“We’re living in a time where it’s so easy to be distracted or just flooded with endless information,” he said. “It’s important to get started young and on a campus of like-minded individuals, to find your group, find your people, find something you’re passionate about.”
Freshman Jake Lefkovitz agreed, adding that because he came from a suburban community, he didn’t have as many opportunities to get involved as he does in Baltimore. He appreciated that groups like Tzedek allowed him to combine his Jewish faith with becoming more active in the political sphere.
“I just figured if I’m going to be in this city, I owe it to both myself and the [Baltimore] community to get involved,” he said.