Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 18, 2024

Students demand more from University's antiracist measures

By SARAH ABDELLAH | September 9, 2020



The sun sets over the Homewood Museum, the former home of slave-owners. 

Two months ago, University President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar sent an email to the Hopkins community on July 8 detailing the creation of a 2020 Task Force to review the 2016 Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion (Roadmap). On Sept. 3, the University sent out a follow-up email to the Hopkins community with an update on the Roadmap 2020 Task Force and Progress Report.

In an interview with The News-Letter, junior Natalia Aguilar, a member of Female Leaders of Color (FLOC) as well as a First-Generation, Limited-Income (FLI) student, expressed her desire for the task force to prioritize Black perspectives and struggles.

“I hope the task force takes into consideration not only Hopkins history with Baltimore, but the safety of its Black students —  specifically, ending plans to create a private police force and amplifying Black student, faculty and community voices,” she said.

The University has also launched other initiatives, such as starting a scholarly exploration to understand the institution’s history of discrimination, expanding antiracist and inclusion training and education tools and establishing a committee to develop principles and a process for reexamining the naming of buildings and programs across the University. 

The email sent this week unveiled the Diversity Roadmap 2020 Task Force website, which is still in progress. The tabs for “Roadmap 2020 Task Force Meeting Materials” and “Roadmap 2020 Task Force Resources and References” currently state that more information is coming soon. 

Aguilar characterized the University’s actions as performative. 

“Creating a task force is an excellent idea but only if Hopkins is going to do it correctly,” she said. “Unfortunately, it feels as though the creation of this task force is more of a publicity tactic to respond to the student body's agitation while avoiding any real change.” 

Daniels and Kumar also provided updates on the Roadmap in the third annual progress report. They noted increasing diversity within each new class of students from 2010 to 2019, citing that the percentage of underrepresented racial minorities within each freshman class jumped from 14.9 percent to 32.5 percent during those years. 

They also highlighted the University’s goals to assign $75 million or more of the University’s endowment to a minority-owned management firm. There also plans to increase the University’s spending on Baltimore businesses by $25 million, with the majority of that spending directed toward minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned companies. 

“The fact that five years have passed, yet they are still providing such a similar roadmap, makes me feel like the Roadmap is more symbolic than anything, which is disappointing.”

University officials drafted the Roadmap following demands the Black Student Union (BSU) made in November 2015 in the wake of the Baltimore Uprising, a series of protests that followed Freddie Gray’s death from injuries sustained in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department.

Senior Grace Kanja, president of Sigma Gamma Rho, emphasized that the University’s recent antiracist measures are nearly the same as those from 2015. 

“The fact that five years have passed, yet they are still providing such a similar roadmap, makes me feel like the Roadmap is more symbolic than anything, which is disappointing,” she said. “Additionally, those in the task force should be paid. It’s exploitative to use POC for their labor in the task force but not compensate them for it.” 

Junior Julissa Garcia, a FLI student, believes that the success of the task force will rely on clear communication between students and the University. 

“The task force will only be efficient if the goals also include smaller and measurable tasks which must be shared with the student body so we can keep the task force accountable,” she said. “Additionally, Hopkins must be committed to seriously considering the recommendations, unlike the situation we are experiencing with the private police force.” 

Junior Edidiong Ekpo, a member of FLOC and the BSU, also called for greater student representation on the task force. 

“Students should be an equal part of this task force. I am not denying that the Hopkins admin is passionate about their jobs, but it’s the students whose entire lives, for the time being, are being shaped by Hopkins and it’s on-campus environment,” she said. “They need to have an equal say in things that are going to affect the school.”

Daniels and Kumar’s email from Sept. 3 publicized opportunities for student involvement, including applications to participate in working groups and a community feedback form.   

Freshman Jadniel Varela shared concerns over the relationship between Hopkins and the Baltimore community, citing the University’s inadequate responses to movements on campus and across the U.S.

“Only once Hopkins owns up to all of the dark parts of its past is when antiracism measures will be effective,” Varela said. “The University cannot think of itself as some angel-like guardian against racism; this will inevitably lead to complacency.” 

Junior Jordan Adams, a FLI student, argued that the University should provide support to the citizens of Baltimore, not just its own students. 

“I want the task force to search for ways to provide support for citizens of Baltimore City and not just focus on how to improve our university. I want the task force to create initiatives that force the University to open its wallet,” Adams said. “I have yet to witness any accountability. I want way more than two undergraduate students representing us in the task force.”

“When there was a noose on campus, no one was held accountable. They sent an email explaining their solidarity, but that doesn’t make me, a Black person, feel any better.”

Beyond the task force, Kanja highlighted the need for greater diversity in the University’s faculty

“The University needs to hire more full-time, tenured Black professors. It’s a... highly effective way to actually increase diversity and inclusion,“ she said. “In my four years at Hopkins, I haven’t had any Black professors... That sends a message to Black students that they don't belong in higher education.” 

In addition, Kanja described the University’s response to the noose found in an off-campus building as inadequate.

“When there was a noose on campus, no one was held accountable. They sent an email explaining their solidarity, but that doesn’t make me, a Black person, feel any better because it seems like they’re condoning this kind of behavior by letting them off with the slap of a wrist,” she said. 

According to Adams, updates on racist incidents could be better conveyed in other formats. 

“I would appreciate video responses on these issues instead of constant email notifications. These racists incidents are too important to be mentioned in an email blast,” Adams said. 

The first Town Hall meeting with the Task Force is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. EDT.

Ekpo stressed that students need to hold the University accountable for taking actual action. 

“Unless we hold their feet to the fire, any real change is going to be lost in committees, or meetings or town halls or surveys,” she said. 

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