Spring Fair has been an annual tradition at Hopkins for nearly half a century. Billed as the nation’s largest student-run festival, the event brings local musicians, carnival rides and community members to Homewood Campus.
This fall, an organizational review in light of allegations of hazing, underage drinking and other violations of the Student Conduct Code prevented Spring Fair Committee (Spring Fair) from planning for the celebration, generally a yearlong endeavor.
By now, the artist performing at the headliner concert the Saturday of Spring Fair has usually been selected. JHUnions and Programming Director Hal Turner, who oversees Spring Fair, told The News-Letter on Tuesday that the concert, typically held at Rams Head Live! downtown, will take place in the Recreation Center on April 18. The relocation, he believes, will make the concert more accessible and manageable. As contracts have not yet been finalized, Turner declined to predict when the artist will be announced.
According to Turner, he and Spring Fair’s new leadership are currently determining an appropriate scale for this year’s festival overall, given the rushed timeline.
Sophomore Saumya Nimmagadda, part of the Kids’ Committee last year, estimates that of the 52 people originally on Spring Fair, only 10 to 15 remain following the audit — which was led by Turner; Executive Director of Student Engagement Laura Stott; and Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) Director Calvin Smith, Jr.
More than a third of previous members, Nimmagadda estimates, were kicked off. Over another third quit, she said, sometimes wiping out entire committees.
Nimmagadda expressed concerns about the University’s treatment of students’ emotions during this process.
“It didn’t seem like administrators particularly cared that they were hurting students. Spring Fair’s obviously something that we love. That they could just get rid of people who were so integral to it — that they didn’t care about the greater student body or consider the impact on the greater Baltimore community — has been very disappointing to see,” she said. “I hope that in the future it gets better. But I also don’t necessarily see how that’s possible.”
Turner highlighted the importance of adhering to University policies.
“Removing members from student organizations is never our goal, but it was deemed necessary in this case due to the severity of the incidents that occurred last spring,” he said. “The goal of this audit was to help address those violations and make sure that we have a positive culture that is focused on serving the community.”
Sophomore Bella Ferrara, previously a Spring Fair staff member, emphasized the festival’s role in the University’s self-promotion.
“They can’t not have it. Hopkins uses Spring Fair for so many marketing purposes to incoming students,” she said. “It’s a big part of who Hopkins says they are.”
Last year, junior Carmen Schafer was head of Plant Operations. On June 4, she and co-chair applicants for the 2019-20 academic year received an email calling for an organizational review of Spring Fair, citing alleged misconduct.
Three Spring Fair members — Schafer, junior Aspen Williams (who declined to comment) and senior Harrison Elliott — were selected to represent the organization. Schafer recounted difficulties communicating with Stott during the summer.
“There was a lot of back and forth and a lot of me being ghosted,” Schafer said.
On Aug. 27, Director of Student Conduct Dana Broadnax at the Office of the Dean of Student Life (DoSL) notified the representatives that the group was charged with 10 Student Conduct Code violations that had occurred during spring 2019.
“A lot of the anecdotes and evidence provided were just wrong,” she said.
Schafer added that the file contained notes from their former advisor Liz Pence, who left Hopkins after Spring Fair 2019.
“She wasn’t there to tell anyone’s side of the story,” Schafer said.
According to Turner, evidence was provided by staff volunteers, facility employees, security and additional DoSL staff.
On Sep. 23, Spring Fair was found responsible for hazing, theft/damage/vandalism, underage possession or consumption of alcohol, failure to comply, misuse of University property and condoning a violation of policy. Schafer acknowledged the existence of photographs of Spring Fair staff drinking.
The organization was not, however, found responsible for consumption or possession of drugs as alleged earlier. Schafer mentioned that a different member of Spring Fair had left a drug-test kit in the group’s office, which she said administrators originally presented as evidence.
“A lot of personal belongings accumulated there. It didn’t have much to do with the organization as a whole; they were just looking for things to get us for,” she said.
Sophomore Xandi Egginton agreed, noting how administrators regarded the practice of first-year staff members wearing costumes in the Kids’ Zone as a form of hazing. The University defines hazing as “any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”
“During my costume hour, one volunteer was like, ‘So, do only freshmen do this?’ You could tell she was implying there was hazing involved,” Egginton said. “It was very much a framed argument.”
As a freshman, Schafer was permitted to skip her costume hour, she said.
In addition, Egginton denied the allegation that freshmen were assigned to unfavorable duties.
“When you do trash, you have to go through the entire campus and learn all the quad names. It’s something that isn’t as serious or as high-stakes,” he said. “A big part of actually becoming useful is just learning how Fair works.”
Sophomore Sebastian Hernandez echoed Egginton’s sentiments.
“No one was being hurt or ridiculed in any sense... I’m sure that if a freshman had gone to one of the co-chairs and said, ‘I don’t feel comfortable doing this; can I have a different job?,’ they would’ve given them one,” he said. “I was shocked to see it spun as hazing.”
Similarly, sophomore Sahnya Abdulla, previously on the Nighttime Committee, argued that SLI misrepresented the group’s actions.
“When we as the Spring Fair staff... wanted to have a little bit of fun on the weekend of Spring Fair, we obviously would not have done anything to severely impact in a negative way Spring Fair itself,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is our baby. We would’ve never done anything to ruin it.”
Following the hearing, Spring Fair was put on probation until June 1, 2020, requiring that Spring Fair obtain Stott’s explicit approval for all operations and activities.
Broadnax’s email to the representatives mentioned that Spring Fair would undergo a review conducted by SLI and Student Engagement until Oct. 21.
On Oct. 23, Stott announced applications for Spring Fair 2020, due one week later, requiring members to be reinterviewed.
As part of the review, Schafer and fellow representative Harrison Elliott agreed to send Turner a list of members who they thought should not return to Spring Fair. Then, during her interview with administrators on Nov. 11, Schafer was the first to be fired from Spring Fair.
“I worked so closely with these people, and it seemed like we both had the same goal of making the organization better. They didn’t think I should have a part in that,” she said. “I don’t know if they needed someone to blame for everything and I happened to be the obvious choice, or if they could tell that I was going to be resistant in terms of not letting them step on us.”
According to Schafer, Smith fired her due to golf cart accidents, whose damages were insured, she said.
“I can’t be blamed for every person who crashes a golf cart. I myself fell off a golf cart and got really hurt,” she said. “The golf cart was completely fine. They used my accidents, my injuries, as evidence against me, as evidence displaying how careless and reckless I was.”
Schafer stated that Smith also accused her of failing to clean up the Mattin Center, where the group is based during the festival.
Yet Schafer cleaned the space the Monday morning right after Spring Fair, though doing so was not her designated responsibility, she said.
“After I cleaned it, I sent pictures to our advisor. Liz was like, ‘Great, thank you so much,’” she said. “And I presented these screenshots as evidence at the conduct meeting, but they didn’t help change the case at all.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Elliott explained that Schafer’s firing highlighted administrators’ lack of transparency, leading him to resign that same day.
“I decided that I’d had enough of working with people who didn’t have our group’s best interest in mind and were actively undermining the group,” he wrote. “I do not trust DoSL/SLI/JHUnions to act with any kind of integrity.”
According to Elliott, who was formerly chair of the Music Committee, Stott trivialized his concerns about Spring Fair’s ability to secure a popular artist.
“Laura told me that, given her ‘25 years of event planning experience, we’d only need 3-4 months to get a headliner concert together,’” he wrote. “In actuality we need about 6 because, as a university, we don’t have as much brand appeal.”
A few days after her rejection, Schafer received an email from a case worker at DoSL.
“Calvin broke my heart and then sent someone else to take care of my emotional damage,” she said. “He didn’t care about me at all.”
Turner explained that Stott and Smith could not discuss details related to individual students out of respect for their privacy.
However, he spoke on behalf of the administrators, underscoring DoSL’s goal to treat Hopkins students with respect.
“Our standard practice is to provide support to students to the extent that we as administrators are able to do, as well as refer students or cases to our colleagues in Student Outreach and Support,” he said.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Egginton shared an excerpt from a letter he read to Smith on Nov. 15 during his interview, in which he stressed how his initial hopes for the audit had dissipated.
“‘You sent a 19-year-old girl home crying, having blamed her arbitrarily for things she could never have been responsible for. Not only were you cruel, but you killed a community in that moment that meant the world to her and to all of us,’” he said. “He didn’t answer me. He was just like, ‘Alright, you can go.’”
Many others, Schafer said, were also kicked off, such as a fifth-year student who was told his application was not strong enough, despite having been on Spring Fair the longest.
“They gave really bullshit reasons for why people were being dismissed,” she said.
Sophomore Saumya Nimmagadda criticized the decisions of DoSL staff.
“They were kicking off anyone who an administrator previously had issues with, even if they were not necessarily breaking a Hopkins rule,” she said.
Turner stated that students were removed from Spring Fair for violating the Student Code of Conduct, for condoning such violations or for submitting inadequate applications.
Schafer questioned why there were barriers to entry for those who reapplied, noting the audit’s focus on revising Spring Fair’s recruitment practices in accordance with SLI’s Expectations of Student Organizations. This document requires that groups, with certain exceptions, be open to all students, in order to receive money from the Parents Fund.
Spring Fair’s violations and probationary status, Turner explained, highlighted the need for a re-application process.
Traditionally, Nimmagadda explained, Spring Fair has sought to accept individuals who members think will fit in with the culture of the group.
“When we applied for Spring Fair initially to get in, a lot of it is like ‘Are you capable of working an entire weekend off of very little sleep and constantly working?,’” she said. “They’re not looking at you and making a decision on how you look.”
Schafer voiced her apprehensions about administrators’ processes.
“The whole essence of Spring Fair is that it’s supposed to be a student-run fair, but when you gut the student organization that was behind it, I don’t think that’s actually a student-run organization,” she said.
What is the future of Spring Fair?
Sophomore Sebastian Hernandez explained why he resigned from the Music Committee.
“Spring Fair gives people with different interests and passions the opportunity to come together,” he said. “The school was clearly trying to break that up.”
During finals, sophomore Bella Ferrara declined an offer to lead the Website and Graphics Committee. She characterized Spring Fair as one of the University’s few social outlets.
“Being able to give back to Hopkins and the Baltimore community is something that drives you to stay, but after the review, I felt like it wasn’t worth it for me to start over with a whole new group of people who weren’t experienced and didn’t have the same type of bond,” she said. “Not being part of Spring Fair, there’s a big part of my life that’s missing.”
On the other hand, senior Elina Hoffmann, who was selected to be co-chair at the end of November, chose to remain on Spring Fair. In an email to The News-Letter, she shared her confidence in new and returning members, who she said are both undergraduate and graduate students.
“Spring Fair might look slightly different this year, and we have to prioritize what we believe to be the essentials of the event organization; that being said, those essentials that students have come to expect and love will still be there, and that’s what I think is the most important,” she wrote.
Hoffmann, who previously led the Food Committee, conveyed her excitement for Spring Fair 2020, which begins on April 16.
“We spend a lot of time studying in the library and endure unhealthy amounts of stress. I would argue that Spring Fair offers some sort of reprieve from the academic pressures throughout the semester,” she wrote. “It’s a time where everything lets up a little, and we can take a step back, breathe, and enjoy this place. It’s a weekend where Hopkins is genuinely open to the Baltimore community.”
Spring Fair will likely partner with other student organizations, she stated, in order to overcome scheduling delays.
Sophomore Xandi Egginton worried about local vendors, who likely have not yet heard from Spring Fair, he said.
“There are a lot of local people who’ve been doing things at Spring Fair for a long time, and those relationships have very much been woven into the tradition of Spring Fair,” he said.
He predicts that last year’s budget constraints will be exacerbated by the tightened schedule. In fall 2018, SLI told dozens of student groups that they had deficits in their accounts, sometimes going back upward of a decade. Last year’s Spring Fair treasurer recounted difficulties figuring out how much the group owed, citing fluctuating and inaccurate numbers from SLI.
That treasurer, Schafer noted, was fired.
“There’s no one on Fair now who understands how to do a budget,” she said.
Egginton suggested that administrators may need to take over budgeting and planning. Turner, however, indicated otherwise.
“As in years past, students are going to be the ones who are driving this process, and the administrators, campus partners and staff are there to help at the request of the Spring Fair members or myself as the advisor, in collaboration with the Spring Fair leadership,” he said.
Schafer cited the removal of Executive Assistants, an important logistical committee, as an example of ineffective communication with administrators.
This committee has recently been reinstated, Turner said, following further discussion.
“We’ve been working diligently to establish strong lines of communication with the new Spring Fair leadership,” he said. “We’re doing everything that we can to support them and get their committees up and running.”
However, junior Sonomi Oyagi stepped down from their position as Music Committee on Jan. 10 because of communication issues.
“If it was shown that they made an effort to actually improve communication… it would be nice to work on it again. I couldn’t picture myself working with them in a constructive way,” they said.
Turner, who became JHUnions’ inaugural director this August, emphasized his optimism for the future of Spring Fair.
“I firmly believe that Spring Fair is a terrific organization with tremendous potential,” he said. “Our goal is to... promote a culture of teamwork and accountability that’s geared toward serving our student population and Baltimore community first and foremost.”
Editor’s Note: Carmen Schafer was a Copy Editor for The News-Letter during fall 2018. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.
The JHUnions Student Programming Board, which Hal Turner oversees, played no role in the audit of Spring Fair.