Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 2, 2021

A look at the four individuals giving their names to campus buildings

By MEGHANA RAVI | November 21, 2021

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COURTESY OF TEJA KAKANI

The student residence Charles Commons will be renamed for Frederick Scott and Ernie Bates, two Hopkins alumni.

Future undergraduate students at Hopkins will know the Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories (UTL) and Charles Commons by other names. In an effort to recognize and elevate historically marginalized and underrepresented people in the institution’s history, Hopkins will rename these campus buildings and the Hopkins Outpatient Center in their honor. 

This effort was made as part of the Diverse Names and Narratives Project, which created a task force to search the annals of Hopkins history and communicate with the Hopkins and larger Baltimore community to select four people to honor. 

The project was co-led by Susan Daimler, a Hopkins trustee, and Dr. Robert S.D. Higgins, surgeon-in-chief at the Hopkins Hospital and director of the department of surgery at the School of Medicine. Higgins described the selection process in an interview with The News-Letter

“We garnered a lot of important and really prestigious recommendations of well over 50 potential candidates for naming some of these buildings. And we worked through that group and narrowed it down, then made a recommendation to the board of trustees,” he said. “They’ll be recognized as part of the institution’s history for many years to come.” 

The renaming comes as a result of the work of the University’s Committee to Establish Principles on Naming (CEPN), which was tasked with developing a framework through which to evaluate naming and re-naming practices. Senior Adelle Thompson, the sole undergraduate representative on the CEPN, expressed her hopes for how these new standards will impact campus culture in an interview with The News-Letter. 

“Taking the first step to be like, ‘Okay, this name does not represent our university’ is one more step to making Hopkins more accessible for everybody,“ she said. “And also just to remind people that names have history – so many names on our buildings have a lot of bad history, and it takes a toll.”

Allison Seyler, an archivist and public historian currently serving as the Hopkins Retrospective Program Manager, expressed her satisfaction that two of the three selected buildings were undergraduate spaces in an email to The News-Letter

“It’s important for students to see folks around campus that look and sound like them or who approach the world similarly, so I do think there is meaning in making sure these figures are prominent in undergraduate spaces,” she wrote. “These spaces are also quite visible and visited by many people each year, so this change can also make a lasting impression of our commitment to a larger community.”

The UTL will be renamed after Florence Bascom, the first female geologist in America. Bascom became the second woman in the U.S. to earn a PhD in geology, awarded by Hopkins in 1893. Beyond being the first woman hired by the U.S. Geological Survey and the first woman to be elected to and hold office on the Council of the Geological Society of America, Bascom was highly regarded by her peers as one of the 100 leading geologists of America. As a faculty member at Bryn Mawr College, Bascom founded the geology department and trained the next generation of woman geologists. 

Seyler reflected on the legacy of the trailblazing scientist.

“She truly carved out a space for herself within a male-dominated field and set the tone for women in graduate school at Hopkins,” Seyler wrote. “One of the things I love most about Florence Bascom is her tenacity — I mean this in terms of her pursuing the career that she wanted, being recognized in her field for her professionalism, and then her efforts to pay it forward.” 

The two towers of Charles Commons will be named after Frederick Scott and Ernest Bates. Scott, a Baltimorean, applied to Hopkins in 1945 and became the first Black undergraduate student. He also was a founding member of Beta Sigma Tau, the first interracial fraternity in Baltimore that included members from local universities, like Loyola University Maryland and Morgan State University. Bates graduated in 1950 with a degree in chemical engineering and went on to work for Radio Corporation of America laboratories in New Jersey and to serve as editor for the American Laboratory journal.

Scott felt the pressure of being the first and only Black student at his time at Hopkins. Aside from participation in the Beta Sigma Tau fraternity and his bridge group that played cards in Levering Hall, Scott often experienced feelings of social isolation during his time at Hopkins in addition to the academic challenges. 

In the 1960s and early 1970s, other Black students at Hopkins formed the Fred Scott Brigade, a Hopkins alumni group, in his honor.

Ernest Bates was accepted in 1954 as the first Black student in the School of Arts and Sciences. He would go on to serve as vice chair on the University’s board of trustees, the first Black man to enter many of the white spaces at Hopkins. 

“This was a continuous trend in his life,” Seyler wrote. “He completed his neurosurgery residency and became one of the first three Black board-certified neurosurgeons in the United States.”

For his fellow Black students at Hopkins, many of whom lived off campus in Baltimore, Bates was a refuge. He provided a place to hang out and leave books, lunches and coats between classes, even letting classmates sleep overnight before a big exam so they wouldn’t have to commute in the morning. He kept this up all four years at Hopkins.

Bates was honored with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree earlier this year, accepted on his behalf by his grandson, a then-senior at Hopkins. 

Finally, the Hopkins Outpatient Center will be renamed after Levi Watkins Jr., a cardiothoracic surgeon who was the Hopkins Hospital’s first Black chief resident. On February 4, 1980, Watkins and Vivien Thomas were the first doctors to successfully implant an automatic defibrillator in a patient. Seyler explained that Watkins was not only active in cardiology but also in civil rights. 

“Levi Watkins attended the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and personally knew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — civil rights activism was part of his foundation as a child and teenager — he even participated in the Montgomery bus boycott as an 11-year-old,” she wrote.

Higgins described the role Watkins took in recruiting minority students to Hopkins.

“I knew Levi Watkins personally as a cardiothoracic surgeon,” he said. “I interviewed with him as a medical student and also as a potential faculty member over the years... I think he was somebody who raised the bar in the educational realm in terms of medical school admissions and PhD support for underrepresented students in the School of Medicine.”

According to Higgins, the community-led aspect of renaming the buildings was critical.

“These were people who were impactful in our communities, particularly in the city of Baltimore, which I think is really important for the University to make a connection to the community, Baltimore being such an important component of our academic mission,” he said.

According to the Diverse Names and Narratives Project, events to celebrate the naming of these buildings are still in planning; the details will be shared later. To share potential recommendations with the task force for future naming opportunities, students can email diversenamesandnarratives@jhu.edu or fill out this form.

Zachary Bahar contributed reporting to this article. 

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