Hopkins is (mostly) improving life on campus

By ARIELLA SHUA | September 5, 2019

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COURTESY OF SADIE GARBER For O-week, freshmen got to eat out and explore the city at night — a departure from O-Weeks of previous years.

New year, new Hopkins? It’s not what the administration or students are saying. But the more that I hear about the changes that are taking place, the more I am convinced that it’s true.

Hopkins has revamped several aspects of campus culture, seemingly for the pure benefit of the students. No strings attached (except, of course, the thousands we all pay in tuition to be here in the first place).

As a junior, hearing about some of the updates made my head spin. A laundry stipend for all students who live in dorms? Freshmen access to Nolan’s, the dining hall that was previously restricted to sophomores and above? A wok station in the Fresh Food Cafe (FFC) and more Asian food options in Charles Street Market? It all sounded like a fantasy.

But it’s all true. Hopkins has made multiple changes over the summer, and there are plans to do even more. 

Andy Wilson, dean of academic and student services, explained to me in an email that the updates were made because of student input.

One key change began before this semester officially started. During Orientation Week (O-Week), students are traditionally split into groups. Each group is led by an upperclassman First-Year Mentor (FYM). In the past, groups were made randomly.

Last year, however, Hopkins made the choice to separate FYM groups based on freshmen dorm. Students would spend extended time with their house or floor-mates and get to know the students they’d walk past every day. As someone who didn’t know my freshman house at all, I wish we’d had something similar.

Another change: Instead of a full day to explore Baltimore, students were taken out for paid dinners instead. They then got to explore Baltimore at night — something that takes some students months to do.

Updates have been made in the realm of student well-being as well. Former Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger has been appointed to a newly created position: vice provost for student health and well-being. The role is the direct result of recommendations put forth by the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Wellbeing, which has been in operation since 2017.

In accordance with these developments for mental health on campus, my friends and I have noticed that most professors include a paragraph on the importance of emotional health in their syllabi, often followed by a list of mental health resources on campus.

Student services have also improved online. On Sept. 2, both Student Information System (SIS) and Blackboard, two crucial portals for classes, announced that they have a new feature to implement students’ preferred names into the database. 

A new health and wellness website was established for students as well. It lists all resources that students can access in one location.

Freshmen won’t notice, and likely won’t care, about these massive changes. They have nothing to compare it to. But those of us who have been here for longer are quite impressed with the school’s initiatives.

While Hopkins should be applauded for these positive changes — seriously, the fact that they haven’t sent proud emails or reported on the updates in the Hub is shockingly out of character — there are still some areas that could use improvements. 

Needless to say, a key issue is the Garland Hall fiasco.

During the 2019 spring semester, students and Baltimore community members held a month-long sit-in at Garland Hall. They were protesting the University’s decision to implement a private police force and the University’s contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

However, the final days of the sit-in led to the closure of the building and the emergency relocation of a number of student services.

The Garland sit-in officially ended in May with the arrest of seven students and community members. Immediately afterward, a fence was erected outside of the building. Student services were not restored to Garland. All through the summer, the question loomed: Where would these services go next year?

The answer is not a satisfying one. The University saw what happened when the students occupied Garland. Vital student services, from academic advising to financial aid to disability services, were disrupted, and these services are still elsewhere.

Some of these services have actually become more accessible. Student Disability Services will find its new home in Shaffer 103, a far more accessible home than the third floor room in Garland. The campus Apple store is now on the main floor of Levering Union, rather than hidden in the basement where many students had no clue it existed.

But many of the relocations make student services more difficult to access. The Petty Cash office, Academic Advising, Student Financial Services, Student Employment Services, the J-Card Office and International Services are just a number of departments that were moved to the Wyman Park Building. 

It’s out of the way and much less accessible than any other building at Homewood, simply because of its sheer distance. I didn’t even know where Wyman Park Building was prior to writing this op-ed, and I assume most students didn’t know until very recently, either.

Why would Wyman Park Building be chosen as the new hub for vital student services? The administrators are still working in Garland. 

Why not move the administrative offices instead? These administrators don’t necessarily interact with students everyday, while academic advisors and the financial aid office do on a regular basis. 

Then there are the aspects of student life that need improvement, but which no administrators are making an effort to change. 

As a Writing Seminars major, the topic of free printing is of extreme importance to me. I simply don’t understand why Computer Science majors receive free printing on campus while Writing Seminars majors (and other majors that routinely need to print for class) do not. I am fortunate to have my own printer — I no longer deal with the Brody printers multiple times per week. But some students do not, and can easily run out of J-Cash just printing assignments for class.

Despite the University’s shortcomings, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling impressed by Hopkins at the moment. There are parents who feel relieved that their children are being supported by the school, and alumni who are happy to see that the changes they may have fought for as students are being implemented. And of course, there are students on this campus who are glad to not have to complain about some of the things that have been slow to change over the past few years.

Hopkins has done a lot this year to improve. According to the administration, it was a direct result of student feedback. So for those continuing issues, from student services to free printing, continue to speak out. 

Even better, offer the school solutions. If Hopkins heard so much just over one summer, I have faith that the University will continue to listen in the future.

Ariella Shua is a junior from Livingston, New Jersey studying Writing Seminars. She is the Opinions Editor.

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