In an interview with The News-Letter on April 28, University President Ronald J. Daniels discussed the University's plans to vaccinate its constituents, the Innovation Fund for Community Safety, efforts to increase sustainability at the University, progress on ongoing Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) investigations and the announcement that the Class of 2026 will not be able to choose their own roommates.
Earlier this month, the University announced that all students returning to campus in the fall will have a vaccination requirement. Although vaccines are open in the U.S. to anyone 16 years or older, Daniels acknowledged that guidelines are not the same around the world.
Though he noted that the State Department is frequently updating guidelines for international students, he emphasized the University’s role in easing their transition back to Baltimore.
“We’re acutely sensitive to the importance of finding easy pathways for the international students to come to Baltimore and then ensuring that they’re properly vaccinated either before they come to the space or as soon as they get here,” he said.
According to Daniels, COVID-19 vaccination clinics will open on the Homewood Campus so long as supply allows.
“Depending on what the expected demand looks like for the University’s students, faculty and staff and if we can secure the vaccine supply, it’s entirely conceivable that we will have clinics on Homewood Campus,” he said.
Freshman Irene Lee, an international student from Korea, highlighted the importance of vaccine clinics in an email to The News-Letter.
“It will be very helpful given that for our age, getting vaccinated in Korea is difficult and it will certainly be a huge financial burden on us to go to the States about a month earlier to get fully vaccinated,” she wrote.
Daniels noted that the University is in conversation with the Maryland state government and is optimistic about the increasing availability of vaccines. For students currently in Baltimore, he highlighted the University’s Blue Jay Shuttle service to M&T Bank Stadium.
“In the meantime, instead of being able to get the vaccine to where the people are, we’re trying our best to move people to where the vaccines are being administered,” he said.
In September, the University announced the creation of the Innovation Fund for Community Safety, a $6 million initiative to support community-based public safety programs and provide alternatives to policing in Baltimore. Proposal applications for the fund were open from January to February.
According to Daniels, about 60 different projects have applied to the fund, with proposals including employment programs, environmental improvements, crisis mental health services and arts education.
“There was tremendous interest,” he said. “With the projects having been developed and the partnerships between University and community having been forged, now falls the task of selecting the ultimate recipients of the Innovation Fund.”
In order to pick which programs to support, the University formed a grant selection committee last month. Of the committee’s 12 members, six are community members with no affiliation to the University who are meant to represent community perspectives.
Daniels expressed that the administration is excited to see which programs the committee chooses.
“Rather than us knowing exactly the modality for how people would think about community safety, we really want to invite a bottom-up, very community-oriented approach to the issue,” he said. “The only thing that we’re really insistent upon is that there be a meaningful impact on public safety in the neighborhoods that are around our campuses. With that pretty scant guidance, we’ll leave it to the committee to figure out what’s right.”
The University plans to announce the winning programs in late May or early June.
Daniels emphasized the University’s commitment to sustainability, citing the recently created Ralph S. O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI) as evidence of that commitment. According to him, the Institute was inspired by faculty and student demands to look for alternatives to carbon-based energy sources.
He expressed hope that construction on the new Homewood student center and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute building will begin over the summer. According to him, the University wants these buildings to fall under the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation: platinum.
“There are some really interesting aspects of those projects in terms of energization and water recapture that the community will feel really good about,” he said. “Getting those right and really environmentally sound is a high priority.”
In the past, students have argued that the University must divest from its fossil fuel investments in order to demonstrate its commitment to fighting the climate crisis.
In an email to The News-Letter, Refuel Our Future President Elly Ren reiterated the call for divestment.
“By continuing to finance, and to profit from, fossil fuel companies, Johns Hopkins’s investments will always undermine the research done by the Institute and any new sustainability research initiatives,” she wrote.
On Wednesday, however, Daniels stated that the University’s Board of Trustees have not reconsidered the issue since 2017 when they decided to divest from thermal coal companies but not all fossil fuels.
“The Board of Trustees considered this issue pretty carefully a few years ago and after an extensive period of deliberation ultimately decided, as you know, to pull back investments in coal,” he said. “At this time, I’m not aware that the trustees are revisiting that issue.”
This April, the University announced that students will not be able to choose their own first-year roommates beginning with the Class of 2026. According to Daniels, this decision was made to promote pluralism among students at the University.
“If you start with the proposition that the University is about diversity, there should be very intentional efforts to harvest those benefits,” he said. “You don’t just want to have representation on a university campus, you want to ensure that diverse representation ultimately gives rise to conversation and interaction.”
Daniels reflected on polarization in the U.S., stating that people tend to socialize with people of similar socioeconomic, political and racial backgrounds. He promoted the decision to move to solely random roommate assignment as an attempt to counteract this polarization.
“This policy change represents our commitment to diversity and wanting the University to really break down silos and mix it up and do so for the moment that students come to the University,” he said.
Sophomore Andrea Guillen, who works as a First-Year Mentor (FYM), expressed her concerns over the new policy in an email to The News-Letter.
“The desire for diversity in friendships makes sense, but it is a huge gamble to use someone’s living situation as the testing ground for that,” she wrote. “I don’t think it's worth it to take the choice from students or to run the risk of students getting stuck with a homophobic or racist roommate, something I don't think a lifestyle questionnaire can ever screen or account for.”
Guillen added that there are other spaces she believes the University can improve diversity within, such as FYM groups.
“There are so many existing spaces that can be invested in to solve the problem that do not interfere with students having a safe space in their dorm,” she wrote.
Daniels recognized that some students are concerned about their well-being if placed with a randomly assigned roommate.
“We are being attentive to the issues around supporting those students, particularly around gender inclusivity, where students are concerned about the match they get, and the University will deal with those issues in an appropriate manner,” he said.
Earlier this semester, four swastikas were found carved into a dormitory elevator on the Peabody Campus, prompting OIE to open an investigation.
According to Daniels, the investigation has determined that this graffiti was relatively old.
“The strongest sense is that the etchings were not recently made but perhaps made at some point between February 2018 and fall 2019, and so it wasn’t something that occurred this academic year,” he said.
This semester, OIE also opened an investigation after a teaching assistant asked Twitter followers if she should dock points from Zionist students.
Daniels explained that, due to federal privacy laws, the University is not allowed to disclose much information about the outcomes of the investigation.
Despite not being able to elaborate on the investigation, Daniels did emphasize the University’s commitment to academic integrity.
“Academic integrity is simply a foundational value for the institution, including the principle that all academic work should be judged on its merits alone,” he said. “We take seriously any and all allegations related to academic integrity, discrimination, harassment or any other kind of misconduct.”
The News-Letter reached out to Shanon Shumpert, the vice provost for institutional equity, for additional information regarding the investigations; however, she was unable to provide further details.
New naming committee
The University announced the creation of the Diverse Names and Narratives Project in an email on Friday. This initiative will honor University associates from marginalized or underrepresented groups by naming unnamed buildings, programs and professorships after them.
The project will begin with finding names for the Charles Commons residence hall, the Undergraduate Teaching Labs and the Hopkins Outpatient Center.
Daniels explained that these three buildings and programs were picked due to their visibility, highlighting the Outpatient Center in particular.
“That’s a very significant portal for Baltimore and a lot of Baltimore residents. It's typically, unless you’re in an emergency situation, the first way you enter the health system, coming through the outpatient clinic,” he said.
Last July, the University created the Committee to Establish Principles on Naming (CEPN) to develop guidelines for renaming buildings with names tied to racism or inequality. The committee released a draft report on April 6 whose recommendations will be adopted by the end of June.
According to Daniels, CEPN’s work prompted the creation of the Diverse Names and Narratives Project.
“A number of people have said, ‘Well, why can’t we start thinking about fixing names to buildings that don’t have names and to see that as a possibility to honor and celebrate people from a more diverse set of backgrounds?’... so we’ve identified three sites,” he said.
Friday’s email, which was written by Daniels, Chief Executive Officer of Hopkins Medicine and Dean of the Medical Faculty Dr. Paul Rothman and President of the Hopkins Health System Kevin Sowers, echoed this sentiment.
“Even as [CEPN’s] work progresses, we believe it is incumbent upon us to... recognize and elevate diverse people from our past in more tangible ways that do not require the ‘de-naming’ of an existing facility or program,” they wrote. “Many thousands of people… have made an outsized impact on so many different areas of human endeavor. Yet we know that our institution’s recognition of some of these achievements has been insufficient.”