Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 21, 2020

No updates on Stieff Silver building noose incident after a month

By MICHELLE LIMPE | August 27, 2020

stieffsilver-08-11

FREDERIC C. CHALFANT / CC BY-SA

The Stieff Silver building in 2011, where a potential hate crime occurred in July.

Almost two months ago, University President Ronald J. Daniels announced that a rope fashioned into a noose was found in a construction site of a Whiting School of Engineering lab at the Stieff Silver building on July 2.

The University is currently investigating the incident through federal law enforcement and the Office of Institutional Equity. On July 27, the University sent a second email to the student body stating that the investigation was still ongoing and had no conclusive findings. Plano-Coudon, the contractor, has resumed construction on the site.

Rising junior Rahwa Yehdego, vice president of the Black Student Union (BSU), emphasized in an email to The News-Letter that she feels disheartened by the lack of progress on the investigation, especially because it has been a month since the latest update from Hopkins.

“That was a jarring moment for the Hopkins community, particularly the Black community, and it is frustrating not seeing any justice served,” Yehdego wrote. “The university should be doing more but without any updates I don’t know what more looks like as we haven’t been kept in the loop on what has been done.”

The public affairs specialist from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Baltimore Field Office declined to give an update, citing ongoing investigations into what is described as a potential hate crime.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) describes the noose as “one of the most powerful visual symbols directed against African-Americans,” as it harkens back to the postbellum South when white supremacists used lynching to terrorize former enslaved people and suppress the Black vote.

In his email, Daniels condemned this racist act near the Homewood Campus.

“We find such racist imagery horrifying and repugnant and a direct threat to the Black community at Johns Hopkins and in Baltimore,” he wrote. “Such an act stands in stark opposition to the values of equity, justice, and humanity to which we are firmly committed.” 

Rising sophomore and BSU member Nene Okolo shared that she did not find this event to be surprising because of the University’s history of racist behavior, such as the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks and her cancer cells

She called on the administration to do more to help students rather than leaving the burden to the Black community.

“It’s time for Hopkins to step up and actually work to provide an inclusive environment for black students instead of JHU having us talk about our trauma at Town Halls while having zero solutions ready to bring to the table to address the problem,” she wrote. 

Okolo hopes that the University will see this event as a sign to make changes on campus, including stopping the formation of the private police force and hiring more Black faculty and staff. In light of the incident, she encourages her peers to continue having discussions about racial justice. 

“I’m hoping that my peers check their biases and become more willing to listen and learn from us,” Okolo wrote. “Having these tough conversations with one another is the crucial first step in dispelling these hateful ideologies.”

Rising senior Peggy-Ita Obeng-Nyarkoh, research, history and education chair of the BSU, expressed that she found it problematic that the University has still not reported any findings to the investigation. She emphasized that the University already has an infamous history with the Black community, especially Black women. 

“The institution needs to throughly look at itself, and its actions to realize that the atmosphere it fosters basically condones racist behavior, whether in the form of microaggressions or hate crimes,” Obeng-Nyarkoh wrote.

In an email to The News-Letter, rising junior Melanie Pillaca-Gutierrez, a member of Female Leaders of Color, highlighted that she noticed a lack of Latinx professors, advisors, administrators and even non-white Latinx students.

“The general climate of JHU from a BIPOC perspective is impacted by microagressions, representation (or lack of), the demographics of the student body, and other factors,” she wrote.

In an email on July 8, Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar described ways in which the University is working to advance equity and inclusion. Their efforts include creating a Roadmap 2020 task force to assess and update the University’s first Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion and strengthening its anti-racism and anti-bias trainings for students and administration. 

“Where our progress has been insufficient, we need advice on new approaches and collaborations within and beyond our academic community aimed at ensuring more concrete progress in the years to come,” Daniels wrote.

Pillaca-Gutierrez agreed with Okolo that harmful acts have occurred several times at the University. She expressed that she does see the University’s efforts to correct instances of systemic racism, such as with the temporary suspension of creating the private police force, but urges the administration to educate the community more on these issues. 

“The university should integrate academic reforms that showcase JHU’s history in full and provide all students an opportunity to be educated on the effects of U.S. systemic racism as it pertains to their major and academic interests,” Pillaca-Gutierrez wrote. 

As part of the University’s initiatives, Daniels shared that the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute will be leading a series of different activities, including research, seminars and workshops, to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the University’s history with racism and discrimination.

“At an institution like Johns Hopkins, forged in the aftermath of the Civil War and implicated in the failed project of Reconstruction and the segregated society that followed, it is critical not only to chart a path for the future but also to understand, acknowledge, and grapple with the role of racism and other types of discrimination in our history,” Daniels wrote.

Yehdego noted that the University must make tangible changes, emphasizing that the issue lies not only with professors and students but also with counselling and advising centers. 

“I want my peers to be more cognizant of the ways in which they may be inadvertently contributing to making campus less than optimal for their Black peers, whether that be through micro aggressions or complacency,” Yehdego wrote. 

Chris Park and Leela Gebo contributed reporting to this article.

Plano-Coudon did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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