Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 18, 2021

Students discuss what it means to be Black and Latinx at Hopkins

By CLAIRE GOUDREAU | March 28, 2021

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The University’s current freshman class is the most diverse class in University history, with 14% of students identifying as African American or Black and 17% identifying as Hispanic or Latinx. However, many students, such as junior Laura Rodriguez, have expressed that they still do not feel welcome at Hopkins. Rodriguez explained that life for Black and Latinx students is inherently different.

“In my own classes, I have seen Black students being treated in a negative way, whereas white students would never get those kinds of comments. I’ve seen professors choose favorites based on race and skin color,” she said.

Several Black students also reported feeling unsafe or unwelcome on campus.

Junior Jordan Jenkins explained that she and her friends often have to jump through hoops to exist without confrontation.

“My Black friends have to wear Hopkins apparel or have their J-Card showing when they walk around at night just so that security won’t stop them and ask them where they’re going,” she said.

Junior Diego Thompson also told The News-Letter that he felt he had been racially profiled by staff in the Recreation Center while trying to play a game of basketball with his friends.

“They ended up trying to kick us out. There were other white students who brought friends who didn’t go to the school, and they never complained about them playing in the gym. But every time I do it, they had a problem with it,” he said. “I told them, ‘It seems as though you’re reacting to me on the basis of my race rather than actually having a policy that you enforce for every single person that comes into the gym that does the same thing as me.’”

According to Thompson, the Recreation Center made some changes after his complaint. However, he believes that the issue is part of a much larger problem on campus.

“There are countless other examples of microaggressions, but the overarching goal is that you feel ostracized and feel like you don’t belong on campus,” he said. “When you’re from Baltimore like me, you’re supposed to feel at home in your own city, but I don’t feel like that on campus.”

Recent University events and initiatives have sought to help minority students feel more supported on campus. The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) hosted an event titled “Black & Latinx @ Hopkins State of Affairs” on March 1.

The event featured keynote speaker Karsonya Whitehead, an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, and included live poetry and group discussions.

Junior Jevon Campbell, who attended the event, told The News-Letter in an email that it was a very positive experience.

“I wish I got to hear more students' stories, but it was a great space that should definitely be continued,” he wrote.

Junior Dabeluchukwu Emegoakor, who helped run the event as part of the new Black and Latinx State of Affairs Team (BLX Team), stressed the importance of events like this.

“There’s a lot more commonalities being a person of color in today’s society. We all suffer and go through injustices on a regular basis,” he said. “With an event like this, the whole point is to be able to address problems from a joint standpoint.”

According to Emegoakor, members of the BLX Team will hold similar events in the future.

“The idea is to encapsulate the struggles found in different diasporas, as well as see what can be done to better everybody’s time here,” he said. “Even though we’re different ethnically, we all suffer the same issues in a society based around race.”

OMA Director Joseph Colón explained that his office is committed to providing platforms to marginalized students and communities in an email to The News-Letter.

“All year, we have been hosting events around identity to help educate the Hopkins community,” he wrote. “We will continue to create spaces to have conversations about what has been occurring with violence against our APIDA [Asian Pacific Islander Desi American], Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities during this pandemic.”

Another initiative on campus is the Hopkins Underrepresented in Medical Professions program. Rodriguez recounted her experiences with the program when she first came to campus.

“That program did a really great job making me feel like I had a sense of community here, surrounding me with people who were like me and had similar stories to me,” she said.

However, she noted that programs like these can be rather small in comparison to the total number of students who might benefit from them. To fix this, Rodriguez encouraged the University to expand these initiatives.

Despite administrative efforts, not all students view these programs and events as the best way to improve tensions on campus.

Thompson told The News-Letter that OMA and other Hopkins events often fail to address the campus’ larger problems.

“Instead of hosting events where they just listen and don’t do anything, [the University needs to] implement change within the institution to create support for students,” he said. “A lot of it, in my opinion, is a facade to save face, rather than a genuine response to issues.”

Junior Diarra Oden shared Thompson’s concerns, arguing that many of the University’s diversity initiatives fail to provide concrete progress.

“We don’t want to wait five years. We want the people in our communities to have a chance now, not a chance 10 years from now. I don’t think they have a sense of urgency. All of the ideas and sense of urgency come from the students,” she said.

When asked how the University can best help minority students, Thompson stated that the University should end its attempts to implement a private police force, arguing that there is no safe way to do so.

“Given the history of police violence against Black people, their desire to have a police force on campus directly endangers their Black students because the system of policing in this country is inherently racist, and they can’t really do anything to structurally change that,” he said.

Oden suggested that the Department of Athletics could take a more active stance against hate speech.

“One of my friends during tryouts hadn’t even had their first practice yet and someone asked him, ‘Are you one of those Black guys that gets mad when people say the n-word?’ He was literally a scared freshman,” she said. “It’s uncomfortable, and he should be able to feel comfortable enough to go talk to his coach and know that there are going to be repercussions.”

Several students also suggested that the University hire more professors of color.

Rodriguez stressed the importance of providing the student body with a diverse set of role models. She also explained that having more professors of color would help bring new angles and perspectives into the classroom.

“I’m a Public Health major, and talking about the topics like health disparities with a professor who hasn’t necessarily lived through those experiences can feel a bit disconnected at times,” she said. “Having a faculty that’s representative of the students on campus would help bridge that gap.”

Oden agreed with Rodriguez, noting that Black students are less likely to want to attend Universities with such an obvious lack of diversity.

“One of my friends who was born in Baltimore, who lives five minutes down the street, told me that nobody wants to go to this school. You’re going to come, and you’re not going to see a single person or any teachers who look like you,” she said.

Unsatisfied with the University’s actions, some students have taken matters into their own hands. One example is the Black Student Athlete Association (BSAA), which was founded last June following the George Floyd protests.

Oden, who is the secretary of BSAA, explained that the group is taking on multiple issues that were left unresolved by the University.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap in the Baltimore community that Hopkins broke so long ago. We want to have a community for the Black student athletes because there’s so few of us,” she said. “Why are the students creating all these programs and clubs and initiatives and talks?” 

Colón encouraged students to reach out to OMA to continue conversations about improving campus and educating peers.

“Get involved with affinity groups, invest in learning about other cultures, come to our office to help you plan your course,” he wrote. “Let our office make those connections and find opportunities to give back through mentoring programs, being a facilitator or working with us in various leadership opportunities.”

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