Hardy Williams is a senior completing a double major in Public Health and International Studies. In an interview with The News-Letter, he described his work in politics and LGBTQIA+ activism, as well as how his personal experiences have shaped his time at Hopkins.
The News-Letter: What inspired your interests in Public Health and International Studies?
Hardy Williams: I grew up in Oklahoma, which is not a very cosmopolitan place. You don’t really see a lot of people who are very different from you, so it can make you really want to get out — a lot of people there are very interested in international issues as an effect of that. So I grew up looking outwards.
Oklahoma has been largely abandoned by the rest of the country in terms of many of its public health issues; it requires a diverse coalition of many different organizations to get anything done. You see sexual health organizations working hand-in-hand with diabetes organizations, for example, to achieve the same goal, so when you work in public health there, you work in a bit of everything. It got me really interested in such a diverse field that has implications for our whole world.
N-L: How has the transition from Oklahoma to Baltimore affected you?
HW: I found that once I was out [of Oklahoma], there were a lot of things that I missed. That's a really big common theme that we can relate to in college. For me, it was how nice people were day to day in Oklahoma. It's a place where you can experience a lot of discrimination for a lot of different things, but at the same time, if you are in line at the grocery store, the person next to you will talk to you. If you are walking into the grocery store, someone's gonna hold the door for you. The culture and the community felt much more visible than it can when you move out here and you’re all by yourself. It taught me how to fight for friendships a lot more and not just expect there to be this natural thing holding me up.
N-L: How has your experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Baltimore differed from your experience in Oklahoma?
HW: I was in the closet for most of the time that I was in Oklahoma. I came out right after working in Washington, D.C. when I was a [high school] junior. I dated my first boyfriend [in Oklahoma]. It was hard: we were kicked out of restaurants many times — anytime we were sitting one-on-one or too close to each other. It was never like what you see in movies, where people are screaming and throwing things. It was just, “We don't really want to provide service here today. You guys come back another time.” It's a passive thing that you get very used to, and it makes you not want to try or go out — you don't even want to try and get into a relationship, because what would you even do if you were in one? What would your parents say? Just the mystery of it all.
The difference in coming to Hopkins is just safety by itself, regardless of whether I would or would not have gotten hurt for who I am in Oklahoma. The safety I feel here lets me go out and be myself, and I found that the person I am when I can do that is a lot more interesting, honest, vulnerable and impressive than the person who can create the perfect facade. That's something that takes a lot of people in my community time to grow out of: this idea that they can create the perfect illusion of the perfect person that will make everyone happy — that they can be the diplomat that crosses the bridge between liberals and conservatives.
In Baltimore, I found that pushing to be your truest self makes people like you a lot more, and the closer you can get to that, the happier you will be. But at the same time, you have to look back and remember where you came from, because there's a lot of growth to do. Just remembering where you came from and how far you’ve come can be really important to maintaining that mental health you need.
N-L: Can you describe your work in LGBTQIA+ life on campus?
HW: When I came to Baltimore, I think the most apparent issue that I had seen was the division between our [LGBTQIA+] community on campus and the one that's off campus. I've gotten to work with a couple of organizations, like Baltimore First, that have been able to connect the two a little bit, but it's still a really tough job. A lot of times at Hopkins, it can be really productive to start thinking about the organizations that already exist that aren't [LGBTQIA+], but that might have projects to contribute to our community. We can then think about how to divert the resources we already have to make projects that are actually feasible and that people are interested in, without starting whole new projects.
N-L: Are you involved in any research at Hopkins?
HW: I've gotten to work for the past two years with the [Program in] International Studies and the Maryland State Archives to look at the legacies of slavery within the Johns Hopkins family. It's been a very important project that has helped me understand the school much more and all of the debates that go on in between. It also gets into the legacy of Baltimore, and how the ideas that shaped our school guided the development of our city and the generations of people that have been affected in its wake.
N-L: Can you tell us a bit about your work at the U.S. Capitol (the Capitol)?
HW: When I was 16, I found a program called the U.S. Senate Page Program, and it lets you spend a semester working on the Senate floor in D.C. They pay you, you live in a special dorm and you work five days a week, oftentimes exceeding 40 or 60 hours on top of school, so it’s a lot of work. But you get to know everyone in the Capitol building, and you’re working for the building itself, which means there are no sides and you can be friends with everyone. You do that for a semester, and then doors all over the Capitol building are literally and figuratively open for you. You can explore everything and get to know all the committee members.
I like to go back usually every summer and work a job there. I’ve gotten to work as a chamber assistant, as a doorkeeper and with my congresswoman. Getting to see all the different sides of the Capitol and the human face of politics makes looking at our country [as] something that’s much more appealing.
N-L: Do you have any interesting stories to share about your time at the Capitol?
HW: Right now, the big news in the Senate is that they’ve gotten rid of the dress code. I think it’s a conversation that’s been intertwined with other conversations about sexism, classism and how we should display ourselves. But there have been a lot of jokes along the way. My personal favorite was my senator from Oklahoma, who didn’t really care for many of the dress code rules. So instead of wearing the proper attire, he would come in wearing just a dress shirt and vote by sticking his arm in the door. He wouldn’t, almost ever, walk into the chamber because he wouldn’t be in [the] dress code. It’s a very similar story for a lot of the senators. The changes in dress codes are oftentimes much longer stories that have been playing out for a long time with big debates; they are things that the senators argue about viciously on the floor, much more than policy.