For over a week, members of the Hopkins and Baltimore community have participated in a sit-in at Garland Hall to protest the proposed private police force and the University’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The protest is organized by Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE.
Members of these groups attempted to deliver a letter to University President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar at their offices on Wednesday, April 10. The letter asks to open negotiations between protestors and members of the administration. As Daniels and Kumar were not available at the time, the protesters gave Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka the letter.
Sophomore Jeremy Berger, who has been participating in the sit-in, explained that it was important that the letter be delivered in person. The letter stated that protesters had requested a meeting over email with Daniels and Kumar on Sunday, but did not receive a response. According to the letter, the email asked for a response by 5 p.m. on Monday.
“They’ve ignored all our voices, student voices, community voices, faculty voices. The reason we’re at the sit-in is to demand that our voices be heard. Once again, after asking to negotiate, we’ve been ignored so we went upstairs to more directly ensure that we were heard,” Berger said.
The letter further outlines stipulations from the protesters. These include complete academic, professional and legal amnesty for those participating in the sit-in. The letter also requested the presence of a News-Letter reporter and a non-Hopkins affiliated mediator at negotiations, along with a University-wide email approved by protesters to announce the start of negotiations.
“We are confident that you will find these demands simple, feasible, and reasonable. More importantly, they are crucial to the development of a safe campus. A safe campus is in the interest of us all,” the letter reads.
In a statement emailed to The News-Letter, Vice President for Communications Susan Ridge explained that students do not have the right to occupy buildings or disrupt events, and doing so violates University Policy. She wrote that the University supports the expression of controversial or critical views.
According to Ridge, the students participating in the sit-in are violating University policies on protest and demonstration.
“The University’s position is unchanged,” Ridge wrote. “The President and Provost welcome reasoned, thoughtful discussion about ways to improve the university and the community of which we are part. They meet regularly with students from across the university, even when the issues raised are difficult and the views presented are in opposition to their own. But they do not meet with students or organizations who are in clear violation of university policy.”
Ridge further emphasized that Daniels and Kumar have attended meetings during which they heard from both supporters and opponents of the bill which would allow Hopkins to create a private police force. This bill passed in the Maryland General Assembly on April 1.
“Over the last 18 months… the case for and against a sworn university police department was discussed, analyzed and debated from a number of different perspectives,” Ridge wrote. “The legislation that was adopted by strong votes of both houses of the Maryland Assembly was based on that report and then subject to more than nine hours of committee hearings and modified by 18 separate amendments.”
Sit-in participant and Hopkins Coalition Against ICE member Adela Chelminski explained that the protesters would not leave until negotiations begin.
“Clearly they realize that we are here,” she said. “We’re staying here at the very least until negotiations begin. And if they want us to leave this space it’s very simple – just set up a time and a place for negotiations to happen.”
According to Chelminski, the University has begun to use tactics to cause division among protesters. In particular, she pointed to a request by the administration that there be no more than 35 people in Garland past 6 p.m., less than half the maximum allowed by the fire code. The administration announced the reinstitution of a policy which requires those entering Garland to show a Hopkins ID on Tuesday. The Hopkins ID policy was first instituted last fall, but was paused after the sit-in began.
“With the IDs in particular, it is a policing of our space which is a form of social control and it’s looking to instill fear and also divide us from community members who are not Hopkins affiliates,” Chelminski said.
She explained that sit-in participants will not comply with requests to show their J-Cards.
Ridge emphasized that anyone entering Garland Hall will be required to show their Hopkins ID or sign in, citing safety concerns.
“As per normal operating procedure, those without a Johns Hopkins ID and visitors not affiliated with Johns Hopkins, including those who wish to attend protest activities, are required to be checked through to their meeting or destination and to sign in if not on the daily list of expected visitors,” Ridge wrote. “Community members are welcome on the Johns Hopkins campus.”
Drew Daniel, director of graduate studies in the English department, saw the reinstitution of the ID policy as a way to divide student protesters from members of the Baltimore community.
“[The policy is] designed to inhibit precisely the connections that need to be made between the surrounding community and Hopkins students. So it does not surprise me, but it saddens me,” Daniel said.
Daniel expressed his support for the protest. He stated that because administrators are enacting policies that are not popular with the community, they should not be surprised by the protest.
“The participants in the sit-in represent the best of Hopkins. They represent people who are serious and committed and who are drawing connections between how Baltimore is treated and how the United States treats immigrants,” Daniel said.
Daniel further explained why it is important for faculty to support the protest.
“I can’t teach a student who doesn’t survive. And it’s only a matter of time once we have armed police on campus before there’s an incident similar to what happened to Tyrone West on the Morgan State campus. We can’t say in 2019 that we don’t know what the outcome of increasing the circulation of guns will be,” Daniel said. “I don’t believe the arguments that arming this campus is the only way to protect students.”
During the sit-in, protesters organized a teach-in. Organizers invited a number of different groups, including the Black Student Union, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance to host discussions in Garland Hall.
Mariam Banahi, a graduate student in the Anthropology department, helped organize the teach-in. She explained how she and the other protesters decided the lineup.
“This teach-in was organized over the last day and a half, so we came up with the lineup by focusing on community organizations we wanted to bring,” she said. “We wanted to incorporate community members, the public, Hopkins community members and groups so that it would be a collaborative space.”
Over the past week, various faculty members have held their classes at the sit-in as a show of support.
Alessandro Angelini is an assistant professor in the Anthropology department. He brought his class, “Human Nature under Capitalism,” to Garland Hall on Tuesday.
“It seemed very natural for us to at least hear what’s going on in Garland and conversations about how privilege is protected and reproduced on college campuses,” Angelini said. “This is about questioning what security looks like and how else can we ensure safety for students and faculty and staff members on this campus while mending the social divide between the University and the city.”
Samiha Abd-Elazem is a student in Angelini’s class. She felt that by holding the class at the sit-in, she was able to gain more insight into practical applications of what she is learning.
“It’s basically showing that our classrooms are not just bubbles. We need to be able to apply what we learn in the classroom, and this is a perfect representation of what we can do in our institution to help,” she said.
SAPP member and senior Marissa Varnado attended the teach-in. She emphasized that it shows the administration that the students skipping class to participate in the sit-in are still prioritizing education.
“At the end of the day we are still trying to learn, but we are trying to make it clear that we don’t feel safe learning at a place that condones having more guns on campus, more violence on campus,” she said.
Diva Parekh contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Adela Chelminski as a member of Students Against Private Police (SAPP). She is a member of the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE and a participant in the sit-in, but not a member of SAPP.
The News-Letter regrets this error.