Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 22, 2024

Lack of progress on Name Review Board renaming efforts raises concerns

By HELEN LACEY | November 18, 2022


The Name Review Board (NRB) was established to decide whether to rename or de-name Hopkins facilities, professorships, scholarships and other programs in October 2021. This establishment came at the guidance of the Committee to Establish Principles on Naming (CEPN), which developed substantive criteria to guide the name review process.

Any Hopkins student, faculty, staff, alumnus, patient or local resident is allowed to submit proposals to the NRB. Currently, there are two proposals pending formal committee review listed on the NRB website. 

One of the pending proposals concerns Woodrow Wilson. Although the submitter of the proposal remains anonymous, there have been previous efforts to rename programs and buildings using Wilson’s name, including the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship

In November 2016, Professor Nathan Connolly submitted a referendum calling for the fellowship to be renamed in light of the former U.S. president’s racist legacy. Six years later, the fellowship has yet to be renamed.

Recently, other academic institutions have decided to rename schools using Wilson’s name. D.C’s largest high school, formerly known as Woodrow Wilson High School, changed its name to Jackson-Reed High School in Dec. 2021. Princeton University removed Wilson’s name from its public policy school in June 2020. 

The Student Government Association (SGA) voted in favor of renaming the fellowship in June 2020. The resolution cites many reasons to remove Wilson’s name from the fellowship, including Wilson’s fierce defense of Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan, opposition to Black suffrage and discouragement of Black students from applying to Princeton University.

In an email to The News-Letter, SGA Executive President Breanna Soldatelli affirmed that SGA continues to hold that the fellowship should be renamed.

“Our stance remains the same as when we wrote it, and… we believe this is vital for the University to do in order to reconcile with its history,” she wrote. “They’ve made strides in renaming Charles Commons to Scott-Bates [Commons] in order to honor other graduates, and should continue that momentum.”

Postdoctoral fellow Jo Giardini submitted the other proposal pending formal committee review by the NRB, which requests the renaming of the Caroline Donovan Professorship in English Literature. They explained their motivations for submitting the proposal in an interview with The News-Letter, citing her role in the slave trade.

“Caroline Donovan was a part of a Baltimore family who made their wealth almost entirely via running essentially a bounty hunting operation for enslaved peoples in the pre-civil war era,” they said.

Giardini submitted another proposal to the board requesting the Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing be renamed. The proposal has not yet moved to the formal committee review. 

McHugh is the current University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine and has been criticized for his transphobic and homophobic views. In the 2018 Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index, the Hopkins Hospital received a 25-point deduction for its failure to address anti-LGBTQ misinformation published by faculty members McHugh and Lawrence Mayer.

Giardini denounced McHugh’s research. 

“What [McHugh] is doing with regard to sexual orientation, gender and trans people… it is a mistake to refer to that as research,” they said. “He’s not using any established scientific or humanistic methodology to do the work.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, PhD student Ryan Warwick expressed their discontent with the University having a program named after McHugh.

“It sends such a clear message about the place of people like me in the University when I come to work here as a doctoral student and I see that the [Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing] exists,” they said. “It [makes] me feel like I was not intended to be part of this place.”

Hopkins was originally a pioneer of gender-affirming surgery, opening the first gender identity clinic (GIC) in 1966. McHugh was appointed psychiatrist-in-chief at Hopkins in 1975, and he arrived at Hopkins with intentions to close the GIC because of his belief that such surgeries were cooperating with mental illness. The clinic’s abrupt closure in 1979 was inspired by the views of McHugh and other hospital leaders.

Warwick emphasized that the closure of the University’s clinic had lasting negative impacts on gender-affirming care.

“[Hopkins’ GIC closure] sparked a national wave of closures of similar programs because [Hopkins] was a leader in the field,” they said. “Closing it at that time set the discussions around trans care in political settings and in the broader public eye back 30 years.”

Giardini also noted that they faced problems with timeliness after submitting their proposals. The NRB website states that submitters can expect to hear back about their proposals in four to six weeks, but Giardini waited nine months before they were notified about the status of their proposals.

In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President for Media Relations and News J.B. Bird commented on the board’s timeliness.

“It has taken longer than anticipated to get the NRB up and running,” he wrote. “The thoroughness and care of NRB members has been reflective of their commitment to the seriousness of the task, and they will be updating the website to indicate the length of time needed for review of proposals, especially in this beginning period.”

Junior Adelle Thompson was the only undergraduate student who served on the CEPN. She stated that, while she found their meetings generally productive, she would not be surprised if faculty members are out of touch with the interests and desires of the student body in an interview with The News-Letter.

“I found out that a lot of upper administration [are] not connected to students at all,” she said. “They are getting information third-hand, so by the time it gets up to them it’s either so diluted that the message is lost or they’ve just already decided… they will consider it when it becomes pertinent.”

Giardini also questioned the process's ability to remain unbiased, as the NRB has connections to the Board of Trustees. Trustees serve alongside other members of the board, and the NRB Process calls for proposals under formal committee review to be submitted to the University president and the Board of Trustees when appropriate.

Bird stressed that members of the NRB are selected with adherence to the guidelines established by the CEPN and that members are asked to recuse themselves from discussions about proposals for which they cannot remain unbiased.

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