<![CDATA[The Johns Hopkins News-Letter]]> Wed, 23 Sep 2020 04:43:47 -0400 Wed, 23 Sep 2020 04:43:47 -0400 SNworks CEO 2020 The Johns Hopkins News-Letter <![CDATA[SLI enforces ban on exclusivity practices in student organizations]]> Last year the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) announced that registered student organizations (RSOs) must accept all applicants, putting an end to competitive application processes.

According to SLI, if a RSO is caught rejecting applicants and demonstrates that it is unwilling or unable to accept all applicants, the group will be put on "provisional status." Under provisional status, organizations lose access to University resources and the ability to operate on campus. Exceptions will be made for performance-based groups and Greek life.

SLI Director Calvin L. Smith, Jr. clarified in an email to The News-Letter that these expectations for inclusivity are not new, as outlined in SLI's Expectations of Student Organizations. According to Smith, barriers to membership actively hurt morale within the student body.

He stated that in a biannual survey conducted for graduating seniors, and in subsequent one-on-one conversations, students claimed that being excluded from club memberships because of selective processes negatively impacted their sense of belonging on campus.

"The purpose of student organizations is to build community and these practices do not align with that goal," he wrote.

The new enforcement has received mixed responses from RSO officers this semester, many of whom are now grappling with the change for the first time.

Junior and Co-President of the Political Science Steering Committee Mario Aguirre explained that he wants his club to be inclusive, but fears that accepting all applicants will spread club resources too thin.

"Accepting all the new members can have adverse effects on the training and recruitment process because then the club won't be able to focus all the resources on specific individuals, and it just degrades the quality of the club on a competitive level as a whole," he said.

Junior Sejean Yang, who is the Retention and Recruitment Chair for the Hopkins Organization for Programming (HOP), explained that the group created an entirely new membership tier to make room for the influx of members; however, it is still unclear what this tier's responsibilities will be.

"It's too early to tell right now whether this is going to be positive or negative," she wrote. "I do see the reasoning behind the policy, but it does take away the exclusivity of the organization."

Junior and Executive Director of the Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) Ryan Ebrahimy was initially apprehensive about the new rule. Ebrahimy explained that a lot of the work FAS does is confidential for the first half of the school year, so he worried that having more members would make the symposium harder to set up and run.

"We work behind the scenes. We don't want a lot of our operations to be made public because we're trying to assemble our lineup. We want to make sure that everything is secret until we announce our lineup in the spring semester," he said.

However, Ebrahimy explained that his opinion has shifted since originally hearing about the change.

"I've actually grown to really support it," he said. "It goes against the idea of building a community if we're only letting a select group of students be part of our organization."

Senior and Hoptoberfest Co-Chair Isaac Lucas said that although he, like Ebrahimy, was initially worried about the change, it had worked out well for his organization.

"When they first rolled out the rule, I was expecting that we'd get a lot more applications, a lot of people just showing up and not putting in the work, but that has been the total opposite of what's happened. We did get a few more members than normal, but they all have contributed immensely," he said. "We've gotten some of our best contributions from our new members."

According to Lucas, Hoptoberfest still conducts interviews with all new applicants to get to know them better and make sure they are ready to put in work, although they no longer make any cuts.

Senior Christine Cho, a fellow Hoptoberfest co-chair, also felt positive about the change, reporting that it helped both her organization and applicants.

"It's a really good opportunity for freshmen and underclassmen in general to get more involved with organizations," she said. "I can't really speak for other student organizations, but for us it's been great to have a lot of new members, and every single one of them has contributed so much... It helps having a lot more hands."

Executive Director of Student Engagement Laura Stott explained to The News-Letter in an email that the University chose to better enforce RSO acceptance rules after hearing through surveys that club rejections were a contributing factor in students' decisions to transfer or drop out.

She pointed to one student who was rejected from 11 clubs in one year as an example of how exclusivity can be damage a person's college experience.

Additionally, Stott noted, a significant amount of RSO funding comes from the Parents Fund. Stott explained that donations collected by the Parents Fund were supposed to be available to all students, and funding RSOs that rejected most applicants went against the fund's core principle of inclusion.

"Parents Fund monies are designated for events and services that are open to every student. Always has been - this has not changed this year. Asking if the Parents Fund pushed for student orgs to accept all members this year is mis-informed. The principle of inclusion of all students in all events has always been an aspect of Parents Fund support," she wrote.

In an email to The News-Letter, Junior Class President Nathan Mudrak indicated that this might be a turning point for student life and campus culture.

"This year's first-year and transfer students likely won't even know the experience of tackling the unnecessary and stressful hurdles of club admissions as they begin their college journey," he wrote. "I also hope that it catalyzes a long-overdue conversation about our competitive culture on campus and how our actions can promote or dismantle it."


Student leaders report mixed feelings about renewed SLI interest in enforcing its inclusivity rules.

<![CDATA[Voting in a pandemic: Hopkins students navigate challenges with absentee voting]]> The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed how many Americans will cast their ballot in the upcoming election. To limit COVID-19's spread, many states have made mail-in voting more accessible as a safer alternative to voting in-person.

This election is expected to be the largest mail-by-vote election in the history of the United States. Maryland has sent an application to request an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state. Other states, like California and New Jersey, have automatically sent absentee ballots.

Hopkins Votes has been working to increase voting rates at Hopkins, notably through its Commit to 100 percent campaign that aims to get student organizations to register all of their members to vote. Today is National Voter Registration Day, which is celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of every September.

Junior Reshmi Patel, the events and resources coordinator of Hopkins Votes, stated that she is working to support students as they navigate the democratic process.

"Hopkins Votes is an organization committed to supporting members of the JHU community in their efforts to be civically engaged and participate in the U.S. democratic process," she said. "We partner with other groups on campus, hold events such as registration drives and absentee ballot parties, and provide informational resources to aid students in registering in their state and voting by whichever method they choose."

The Student Government Association (SGA) has been organizing voting-related initiatives as well.

Sophomore Class Senator Talia Shadroui, a member of SGA's Civic Engagement Committee, noted that the group, in partnership with Hopkins Votes, have been working from different angles, such as social media, to increase voter turnout among the student body.

"The committee has been working on a multi-faceted approach to encourage people to vote," she said. "We are looking for ways to incentivize student groups."

Given that Election Day - which falls on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November - occurs during the fall semester, many students at Hopkins typically vote with absentee ballots. The pandemic and political debates surrounding absentee ballots, however, have complicated the process.

Sophomore Casey Levitt, who is registered to vote in Maryland, had to request her absentee ballot again after changing addresses from her dorm to an off-campus rowhouse.

"I registered to vote in Baltimore when I moved, but I recently had to change my address from the dorms to my new rowhouse," Levitt said. "It wasn't that hard to change my address, but I did have to use the mail, and with the mail you never know where things are. It's more unpredictable than doing it online, but in the end all the forms ended up where they needed to go and it all worked out."

Voting in-person remains as an option for those who feel comfortable going to their polling location.

Sophomore Emi Ochoa, who is registered in Maryland and currently residing off-campus, is one of these students. She plans to visit a polling booth near her house to avoid the uncertainties of mail-in ballots.

"I ordered a mail-in ballot, but it's being really slow, and I think maybe I shouldn't put pressure on the postal system. Since I, and all of my roommates, are young and healthy, I can afford to go and vote in-person," Ochoa said. "I'll be voting at the polling booth at Barclay Elementary school."

The National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement published a report in 2018 about college age voting rates in the 2012 and 2016 general elections.

According to the report, in 2016, only 55.8 percent of eligible Hopkins students voted in the election, which was an increase from 2012 when only 42.5 percent of eligible students voted. Overall, only half of all eligible college-age voters voted in the 2016 general election.

The report also broke down voting rates by field of study within universities. Business, management and marketing majors, as well as communication and journalism majors, had the highest voter turnout with 68.2 percent and 69 percent, respectively. Mathematics and statistics majors only had a 29.8 percent voter rate, while engineering and engineering technologies majors had a 46.9 percent voter rate.

Levitt stated she expects many more students will vote in the upcoming election.

"I'm hoping that, because we are all so active on social media talking about politics, voting and social justice, hopefully there will be higher voter turnout among students," she said.

Sophomore Kevin LaMonica, an Ohio voter, avoided any obstacles in requesting an absentee ballot to his off-campus address. However, he expressed concern about the youth vote being suppressed.

"I do think young people will vote because [they] have been so active in the activist space this summer, but I also worry about the number of young people that have to rely on ballots being mailed to them and the number of different issues that could arise during that process," he said. "Obviously the Trump administration trying to gut the postal service might cause problems as we approach November, but I'm hoping that won't be the case."

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the integrity of absentee voting and threatened to withhold funding from the United States Postal Service (USPS), which handles absentee ballots. Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general who took helm of the USPS in June, also made changes in the operations of the USPS which, according to voting experts, could negatively impact the election.

Shadroui stressed that the outcome of the upcoming election will directly affect college students.

"It's really important that students are involved and aware of politics and what's going on," she said. "So many issues impact college students, and that's why civic engagement is especially important to me."

Chris H. Park, the volunteer coordinator of Hopkins Votes, is a News & Features Editor for The News-Letter. He did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.


Students register to vote at a Hopkins Votes event in February.

<![CDATA[Hopkins researchers develop a robotic system to remotely control ventilators ]]> The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused a surge of patients requiring mechanical ventilation in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) rooms. Consequently, the units now require increased staffing of trained respiratory therapists in addition to more ventilators. Every small change on a ventilator requires staff to enter a patient room, which risks potential exposure, and to frequently change personal protective equipment.

However, a collaboration between the Hopkins Hospital, Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics and the University of Maryland led to the innovation of a robotic system to remotely control ventilators in COVID-19 patient rooms.

The robotic system is secured to the ventilator on a horizontal bar spanning the top of the ventilator touch screen. Two vertical bars are also attached, allowing a stylus to move in all directions across the screen. A camera captures an image of the current screen and sends it to the operating tablet, which can be used to control the robot outside of patient rooms. The respiratory therapist simply has to tap a screen and the robot will travel to that position on the screen of the ventilator.

Axel Krieger, a Hopkins assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was one of the team members who worked on the project.

In an email to The News-Letter, Krieger explained how the idea to use a robot to control ventilators originated from Zoom calls with frontline health-care workers like Dr. Sarah Murthi, a doctor in the University of Maryland Medical System who specializes in critical care medicine.

"Dr. Murthi showed us pictures of her ICU bay. She presented the difficult problem that nurses and respiratory techs must enter contaminated areas to make simple adjustments to equipment such as ventilators or infusion pumps," Krieger wrote.

Over the next few months, Mikhail Khrenov, a University of Maryland computer science graduate student, and Balazs Vágvölgyi, a Hopkins research scientist, worked to develop the robotic system prototype.

Khrenov explained in an email to The News-Letter how two distinct system designs were originally considered. One design included the use of a Six Degree of Freedom (6-DoF) robotic arm, which would closely mimic a human hand operating the ventilator. However, the current system is a Cartesian robot fixed directly on the screen.

"The 6-DoF concept was appealing in that it in theory allows for greater flexibility," Khrenov wrote. "It posed far greater challenges for the quick implementation that was necessary for this project to be of use for the COVID pandemic."

In addition to considering how the robot would be implemented in ICU rooms, the team prioritize efficiency, weight and cost. They also evaluated how the robot could be sanitized in the future.

After carefully planning the design of the robot, Khrenov built the first working prototype in his basement. In April, due to strict COVID-19 research restrictions enforced by the University, Khrenov printed the parts on a consumer-grade FDM 3D-Printer (Prusa MINI) and bought stock components such as linear rods and motors.

Vágvölgyi, who helped build the prototype, worked on the robot's controller algorithm. In an email to The News-Letter, he explained that the algorithm accounts for any possible errors the robot could make.

"I added an automatic error correction algorithm in the robot controller method, that tracks the position of the robot's pointer in the camera image and if the pointer is not pointing accurately to the expected position, then it corrects the error by moving the robot to the right position," Vágvölgyi wrote.

After creating a prototype, the robot moved into the testing phase. However, since ventilators were in short stock testing opportunities were limited. The system was eventually tested on a ventilated mannequin in the Hopkins Hospital's Biocontainment Unit. Jonathan Cope, a respiratory therapist, operated the robot.

Cope used his expertise in mechanical ventilators to guide the design of the prototype.

"I was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy of the prototype in moving the stylus to where we tapped on the remote screen," Cope wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

This groundbreaking project will unquestionably impact the safety and staffing of respiratory therapists in the future.

"With the ability to remotely control a ventilator from outside a patient room, we can save significant time and resources." Cope said. "This robotic system has the potential to be a force multiplier for bedside clinicians to provide timely, detailed care to a larger number of patients."

The team is currently working on making the robot more robust and adaptable to ventilators without touch screens. The robot will soon be tested in a clinical setting with real patients.

CC BY 4.0

A camera captures an image of the ventilator screen and sends it to the operating tablet, which can be used to control the robot outside of patient rooms.

<![CDATA[Undergraduates develop a memory foam attachment for CPAP machines]]> As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues, health-care professionals continue to face new challenges. In a time of need, some health-care professionals have suggested using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines in lieu of ventilators to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients. However, one of the biggest concerns with placing an infected patient on this machine is the aerosolization of viral particles, which can infect others.

A team of Hopkins undergraduates sought to address this problem when they returned home in March at the beginning of the national health crisis.

Min Jae Kim, a junior Biomedical Engineering major, put together a team of undergraduates to create a solution for the rapid spread of the virus using CPAP machines.

Kim was joined by juniors Adam Kenet, Ankur Govil and Joshua Ni, who are all Biomedical Engineering majors, as well as Varahunan Mathiyalakan, who is majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

First, the team conducted preliminary background research for two months regarding COVID-19 and mechanical ventilation. They then reached out to medical professionals at Hopkins, such as Amir Manbachi, an assistant professor of neurosurgery and biomedical engineering, for further advice.

For funding, they applied to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Student Grant program. Since June, the team has been working on developing a device that can minimize the spread of aerosolized viral particles from an infected patient on a CPAP machine.

"There was one hypothesis that we had that later proved wrong," Mathiyalakan explained in an interview with The News-Letter. "We initially thought that the main source of leaks was due to [viral particles] escaping through material. Rather, there's a gap, so the mask isn't conforming directly to the patient's face, and that's where the aerosolized particles are escaping."

The team then combined their initial research and engineering knowledge to design a device to close the gap. They turned to memory foam because it is a pliable, widely accessible material. They created a memory foam attachment for the CPAP mask. The purpose of this attachment is to close the gap between the mask and the patient's face so that there is no space for the aerosolized viral particles to leak.

The team has conducted efficacy tests of their prototype by using LED lights to visualize the viral particles released from a patient's respiratory tract. This aerosol was simulated with the use of a CPR dummy.

"We can then test the efficacy of the prototype by applying a CPAP mask with padded-foam on the dummy, and see if we can visualize the release of aerosol particles via these lights," Kim explained in an email to The News-Letter.

The team did not comment on the results of these efficacy tests. However, Kim mentioned the prototype is ready for clinical testing and is awaiting an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.

The IRB requires a sub-approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for clinical efficiency testing of new devices. The FDA provides an exemption for devices that make a minor change to pre-existing FDA devices utilized for their pre-approved purposes. The team is not yet sure if they qualify for this exemption, but they are working towards submitting their first draft of their IRB. They hope for the application to be approved by October.

The team is currently working on designing a new prototype.

"We realized that our early stage, just memory foam [prototype] probably is not going to work," Mathiyalakan said in an interview with The News-Letter. "Since then, we've refined our concept a little bit. We are still in the design phase, but we're talking with people from the Center for Bioengineering Design, and we're thinking of a three-pronged approach."

The three features include a material that conforms to the face, an impermeable material and an adhesive to stick the memory foam attachment onto the mask. The need for an impermeable material is to minimize the amount of aerosol leakage. Although the memory foam prototype conforms to the face to reduce gaps, aerosol can still leak through the foam.

"We would implement an impermeable yet flexible material resembling film to provide an additional mechanism to fully prevent the aerosol leakage for future prototypes," Kim wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Others have also attempted to address this issue. A pair of Harvard and Yale professors designed a circuit that is able to filter air breathed in and out by patients on positive airway pressure machines. The Hopkins team believes that their design is more useful because of its simplicity.

"A memory foam add-on device would be easier for clinicians to adapt into their workflow," Kenet said in an interview with The News-Letter. "We would just give them the memory foam padding with some adhesive that they can peel off, and they would just be able to attach it onto their CPAP masks directly."

To address the potential spread of viral particles from the exhalation port, the team suggested the use of a filter, but no further information was provided regarding this design.

The group is hopeful for their device's impact in the medical community.

"It could potentially reach beyond just COVID," Govil said in an interview with The News-Letter. "This could potentially go beyond just the respiratory issues of COVID but other respiratory diseases as well."


The team tested their prototype with a CPR dummy to simulate aerosolization.

<![CDATA[SGA joins pro-voting initiatives]]> The Student Government Association (SGA) discussed various pro-voting initiatives for students at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

One such initiative was the Time Off to Vote (TOTV) open letter campaign, created by the student-led, nonpartisan organization Every Vote Counts. The campaign was presented to SGA by Executive Director Campbell Streator, who explained that the goal was to empower student voters once they enter the workforce and to eliminate obstacles standing in the way of voter participation.

"I recognized a specific power that students as future employees can have in reaching out to their future employers to advocate for issues like time off to vote," Streator said. "We're advocating for students on campus being able to vote, and it makes sense to try and do something for their first steps out of college."

The letter, drafted by students in collaboration with their student groups and associations, is aimed at the 400 corporations that employ the largest numbers of recent graduates. The corporations are urged to implement the TOTV policy by granting employees two hours of paid leave to vote on Election Day. At the time of the meeting, the letter had received support in the form of signatures from 73 distinct campuses.

SGA voted unanimously to sign on to the campaign.

Senior Class Senator Keidai Lee introduced another student voter initiative, "How to Vote on Planet Earth," on behalf of the Civic Engagement Committee.

"How to Vote on Planet Earth" is an endeavor by the committee to cultivate a diverse digital community encouraging young people to vote. According to Lee, it will be a video project consisting of commentary about voting from storytellers of international backgrounds, paired with visuals of participants making cultural recipes from their respective countries.

"We invite any story about any country," Lee said. "More importantly, we'd like each person to compare their system with America's voting system. They can talk about the ups and downs, as well as their criticisms and support of the current government."

The initiative will be directed by Lee, who has worked on similar projects in the past. Through this project, he hopes to foster openness within the University's diverse student body.

"[The goal is] to encourage people who are normally closed to people of different races or different backgrounds and encouraging them to be open. Hopefully the recipes also serve as a metaphor for the point that they're trying to make," he said.

Lee explained that "How to Vote on Planet Earth" is open to any students motivated to participate, especially video/audio editors, animators, scriptwriters and social media marketers.

SGA also witnessed the confirmations of Sophomore Class Senator Obi Onyinanya and Junior Class Senator Talal Widatalla as chair and vice chair of the Black Caucus, respectively.


On Tuesday, SGA joined the Time Off to Vote open letter campaign, which advocates for paid time off to vote.

<![CDATA[Hopkins finds dialysis patients at greater risk of COVID-19]]> Ben Bigelow, a fourth-year medical student, is part of a crew of health-care workers bringing coronavirus (COVID-19) testing to the community. He and his team began noticing a worrying trend at nursing homes - patients on dialysis in nursing homes contracted COVID-19 at higher rates. This highlighted the need to examine how the virus could be spreading in care facilities and how that transmission chain could be eliminated.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Bigelow explained that there were several aspects of dialysis treatment that could expose patients to the disease.

"There's so much involved in moving a patient to a dialysis center and taking care of them there that it might be its own vector for disease transmission," Bigelow said.

Bigelow was the lead author of a paper analyzing dialysis center risks published mid-August in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The paper centered on "Facility A," an unnamed nursing home that had an outbreak of COVID-19 in April. The facility had an on-site but independently operated hemodialysis center.

The report analyzed transmission risks at the center and nursing home, as well as the results of testing conducted on nearly all the residents and health-care workers there. At the time of the outbreak, the facility held about 170 residents, 32 of whom needed dialysis at the on-site center.

Staff members were screened for symptoms before their shifts, community dialysis patients were screened before their appointments and residents of the nursing home were screened every eight hours. Patients from the nursing home were scheduled at the same time as patients from the community and patients stayed in a waiting room until their appointments.

While all patients were strongly encouraged to wear masks throughout their appointment, some of them found it difficult to keep the mask on the whole time. Additionally, dialysis machines could not always be spaced six feet apart due to limited space.

Unfortunately, the problems in this on-site dialysis center are common among other centers. Bigelow explained that there were several other dialysis centers with similar issues his research team considered including in the report. They narrowed it down to Facility A to provide a closer, case-study look at the virus transmission chain.

"We actually had multiple facilities that we initially included in the paper, but we narrowed it down to one facility because we thought it was better to present one facility in great detail as opposed to multiple facilities in lesser detail," Bigelow said.

After two weeks, the results were in for Facility A. Fifteen of the 32 patients that needed dialysis tested positive while only 22 of the other 138 residents did. That's 47 percent of dialysis patients compared to only 16 percent of the other residents.

Nursing home patients are already at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 - these patients often have close contact with multiple caretakers.

Additionally, many of the patients at nursing homes are immunocompromised or have medical conditions that put them at greater risk for the virus. This is especially true for patients who need dialysis. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease often make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Bigelow explained that bringing together people from several different groups and risk levels increases the chances of infection.

"In general, there's always a mixing of people. You have people that are coming from nursing homes. You have people coming from the community. There's always the risk one group could give it to the other," Bigelow said.

Other risks include waiting rooms, transport between nursing homes to dialysis centers and rooming (patients often share rooms in nursing homes).

The study had limitations; some of the asymptomatic staff at Facility A could not be tested. Additionally, adherence to infection control and prevention practices in the dialysis center was not examined. Finally, the risk of patients leaving for other medical appointments aside from dialysis was not measured.

Despite these limitations, Bigelow explained this report could push dialysis centers to establish stronger measures to reduce the risk of an outbreak.

"We reached out and started working with some of the largest dialysis centers out there to try to create new protocols, try to offer insight we've gained. Once we have the best working model, we can roll it out across multiple facilities," Bigelow said.

Regardless of any new procedures, hand hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing and symptom monitoring will remain foundational to stave off future outbreaks.


A Hopkins study revealed several factors that might indicate why COVID-19 rates are higher for dialysis patients.

<![CDATA[Reflecting on myself as a senior ]]>

So I thought I'd have my life all figured out by now. I would be a legal drinker and one step closer to a mortgage. I was positive I would have every step planned from graduation to grave by the time senior fall came around. Oh, how I was wrong.

I don't even have a planner yet or a Google Calendar. Well, I take that back; I have a Google Calendar, but the events are from 2010: dance class, field trip to the blueberry farm and school night sleepover! Obviously, I marked the important stuff, but now, when I truly need a planner to keep my head from exploding, I buy one but then decide random sticky notes and my unreliable memory are sufficient.

So to first-year Addy: no, you will not have it all together. But, that's okay. You will make mistakes - tons of them. You will fail intro chem tests, and you will confuse one person for another in the Fresh Food Cafe. You will forget names and reintroduce yourself, and you will be annoying at times. You will ask dumb questions, and you will get answers wrong and sometimes you will be totally lost in class. But, you aren't alone. Pretty much every person experiences this, unless somehow they just glide through freshman year and college like it's nothing. If you are that person, wow, I am in awe. But if you aren't, don't feel bad because most people are just like you.

You will probably go to O-Week parties, and you will most likely have to "take a lap." Uni mini will be a hotspot, and there will always be someone who gets a special with hash. You will find yourself making friends in random places and at random times, like at M-Level tables and at Spring Fair. You will find people that you want to hold onto, because being separated is just too painful. You will find friends to go on adventures with, and you will find people who just totally and completely understand you. At the same time, you will have fights with people. There will be drama and plenty of gossip. You will say things you regret, but you will learn.

I thought the seniors I met my freshman year knew exactly who they were and what they were doing, and maybe they did, but that hasn't been my experience. I have continued to learn about myself and at some points I have convinced myself that I am a certain person even when I'm not.

I tried on different professions as if they were school uniforms that I detested, and when one didn't look horrible, I decided it was the one for me. It was to be the path I followed. I tried to prioritize practicality, and I argued with myself and persuaded myself that I could sit at a desk from nine to five everyday and be completely happy. In that argument, I left out the fact that I need a spinny chair for Zoom classes because sitting still for an hour is difficult. I left out the fact that I procrastinate, and the thrill of an impending deadline is the only way to get me to finish something.

I neglected to consider that I don't want to sit and stare at a screen for eight hours a day. I'm not made to do that, but I convinced myself that I was so that I could have a career path. I thought everyone else had settled on one, so I couldn't understand why I hadn't. Was there something wrong with me? Was I not good enough?

I went through the list of questions, and in those, I found even more questions about myself. Could I do something on my own, or did I always need to be around people? Did I like who I was? Was I being real? In the end, I think the answers are "yes," but the jury's still out because I honestly don't know exactly who I am yet. I've learned so much about myself, but I don't have all the answers right now, and being okay with that, tells me I'll figure them out someday. I'm okay with the uncertainty.

Even recently, in my last year, I have panicked and tried to think about how I could switch my major and still graduate on time. I still feel like I'm trying to get my footing.

And now, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and everything has changed. All the things I thought I had figured out have shifted. The way I interacted with people changed, as did the next steps of my "future" and so much more, but I'm not going to get into all the personal details. Don't worry, they aren't as exciting as they sound. And there is just so much more to think about than what classes I'm taking and how I'm going to satisfy the need for social interaction.

Nothing showed me this more than when I was at home. I was forced to confront my parents' mortality. My dad is in his late 60s, and my mom is turning 60 this year (shh I didn't say that in here). For six months I rarely left home, as my town wasn't like other cities. Restaurants were open - the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was happening, but just somewhere else. This terrified me. I didn't want to bring COVID-19 into my house and get my parents sick. The three of us kept up with the news, and every time some new research or statistic was published, I found myself running through scenarios of what would happen to my parents if they got sick.

I'm an only child, and I really felt that while I was home. We even had the conversation about wills being in order. Well, they had the conversation, and I was nosy and listened through the door. Yeah, not my best moment. It was like being in high school all over again, but I had to actually think about the truth of what they were saying. This is just my personal family, and we talked about how we were lucky and how we could stay inside for a long time. My parents could avoid situations that put them in harm's way, but so many others couldn't and still can't.

I believe this year has asked all of us to step back and reflect, and that's what I want to do this year. Am I still going to worry about my job, or graduate school, or what my next step is? Of course, but that's just one small piece. It's time to think about what's going on around me and not just about myself. It's time to grow up, and I hope that's what I do this year.

If I graduate with no plan and no idea about what's coming next, I will be more than happy as long as I have learned from my peers and if I have become a better person. Because at the end of the day, that's what college is about, right? To become a better person. So, here's to senior year and realizing that I'm a mess, but that's okay.

<![CDATA[Former New York Times journalist discusses the dangers of fake news]]> The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Agora Institute hosted, "SNF Agora Training: Facts or Fakes?" on Sept. 12. The training session was part of its online workshop on "Navigating the News in an Age of Disinformation."

Keynote speaker Scott Shane presented recent case studies of false information to teach attendees how to distinguish real news versus fake news. Shane, a former New York Times journalist and visiting fellow, is currently a part-time lecturer at the SNF Agora Institute.

In an email to The News-Letter, SNF Agora Student Engagement Board member Nichi Pandey shared that he felt more informed after attending the event, but expressed concern about the ease with which fake news can spread.

"I thought that the event was fantastic. Professor Shane's presentation was amazingly clear and insightful," he wrote. "I did come away feeling more prepared to spot facts from fakes, but at the same time, fakes have become so well made that it's definitely going to become more of a challenge to sift through the news."

Shane explained how the media landscape has changed drastically due to the rise of social media and mass information. When news was concentrated in fewer channels, it was easier to minimize the spread of propaganda and misinformation.

Several images shared online by American political parties were presented as examples.

One was a doctored image of U.S. President Barack Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In reality, the photo was taken of Obama shaking hands with former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.Similarly, a photoshopped image of U.S. President Donald Trump golfing actually depicted the body of John Daly, a professional golfer.

According to Shane, the doctored images aim to confirm reader biases, leading many to instinctively believe the contents instead of confirming their validity. If a person did not support Obama, they would assume that the doctored photo of Obama was real without fact-checking. The same is true for the fake photo of Trump playing golf.

"We all look for evidence to support our preconceived notions," Shane said. "Even stories from dubious sources that seem to scream 'bogus' can have quite an impact."

He encouraged virtual attendees to rely on a few mainstream, well-edited and transparent sources to get basic news to combat disinformation in the current media landscape. Readers should also expose themselves to diverse sources of news and information to challenge their biases while utilizing fact-checking and verification tools before sharing stories on social media.

Catherine Pierre, the director of communications for the SNF Agora Institute, explained how the Institute chose to discuss disinformation in an email to The News-Letter.

"Understanding the ways in which disinformation has shaped and is shaping our public and political conversations, and learning how to recognize disinformation and misinformation, are crucial to our mission of improving and expanding civic engagement and informed, inclusive dialogue," she wrote.

She also highlighted that many attendees praised the event and its speaker.

"People really like Scott's experience and the real-world examples he uses in his presentation," she wrote. "When Scott did this training in person in February, feedback was also very enthusiastic, and participants especially liked the hands-on portion."


Journalist Scott Shane previously spoke at an SNF Agora Institute event in 2019 on digital disinformation.

<![CDATA[A love letter to Chinatown]]>

The roast duck at Alan's deli next to Great Wall supermarket hangs in a neat row, skewered in place by the neck and dripping with oil. My mom half-shouts to be heard over the sound of a chopping knife as she orders duck, char siu and crispy pork belly from the man behind the counter.

She hands me the bag of stacked styrofoam boxes. I carefully hold it with both hands, one hand grabbing the knot at the top and the other balanced underneath.

Sundays often follow this routine. After church, we drive to Chinatown, arguing over what we want for dinner on the car ride there. The plazas are always packed with cars, the parking is non-existent, and every inhale of air comes with the sour tang of pollution, yet the place elicits only fond memories.

In Houston's Chinatown, popular spots include Ming Xing, a perpetually busy eatery that sells everything from boba to dumplings to calamari for super cheap; Tan-Tan, a family style restaurant that opens until 3 a.m. on weekends; and ShareTea, a popular boba chain.

Each restaurant, bakery and boba shop lining the streets is attached to memories of birthday dinners, late night hangouts and family celebrations.

Seven Leaves is where my friends and I studied junior and senior year of high school. We lived in an area with few good options for Asian food and boba, so despite the half hour drive, we went all the way to Chinatown to study. In a packed cafe, inches apart from the other customers, we sipped on milk tea and completed chemistry problems. I finished my college essays at this cafe, where I laboriously typed with the support and sympathy of friends.

For a short while, a Korean restaurant called Tofu Village was a favorite dinner spot for my family. My parents always got galbi and spicy tofu soup while my sister and I shared a kimchi pancake and bibimbap. The side dishes were especially good, little plates of creamy mashed potatoes, seaweed salad and tangy red-and-white kimchi.

Six Ping and 85c were popular bakeries, but we always paid a visit to King Bakery, sandwiched between a Taiwanese dessert cafe and noodle house. My mom griped and groaned about how the shelves were never stocked and the decorations were tacky, but she came back every time for egg tarts and bo lo baau, or pineapple buns.

We usually celebrated holidays with hot pot at home, spending the day before buying ingredients. We bought fish balls from the grocery store a few blocks away from an old boba place. The fish balls were stored in a freezer box at the front of the store with half-torn plastic labels, and I would fill a bag with the flavors and fillings I wanted. Then, we'd walk around the store and look at mismatched plates and cups and pick up a box of red bean popsicles before paying.

Chinatown represents not only fond childhood memories but the growth of immigrant populations in America and the cultural diffusion that results. The first significantly populated Chinatown originated in San Francisco in the 1850s as a way to support the politically and socially marginalized Chinese community. Although these ethnic enclaves began as places of refuge from racial discrimination, they also became beloved cultural landmarks and a large part of the Asian American experience.

Being Asian American is sometimes awkward. The American part of the compound is often more influential. I watch American TV, read books in English, listen to American news, learn American sayings, act American, think American. I may speak some Cantonese and eat Chinese food and visit China occasionally, but I don't understand neither the intricacies of Chinese politics nor the sayings or slang of the language. I don't know the customs or habits that come with growing up and living in China.

However, despite the fact that I have only ever known an American way of doing and saying and being, I am seen by other Americans as slightly foreign. Being Asian American is finding an identity in between two different worlds that is distinctly its own.

In some ways, Chinatown is the perfect analogy for the Asian American identity, and not just because it is commonly frequented by Asian Americans. It is an ethnic enclave in a diverse country that can be both welcoming and hostile to minorities. It is shaped by both Asian and American influences, and yet, it isn't entirely one or the other.

Chinatown is just Chinatown.

Hequals2henry/CC BY-SA 3.0

Li discusses her experiences in Houston's Chinatown and her Asian American identity.

<![CDATA[Shaming is not a productive part of the mask debate]]> As the coronavirus pandemic progresses, Hopkins has appealed to the personal responsibility of students by coining the phrase "JH Needs U," which soon became a hashtag on social media. In Instagram post, the University asked students to send or post a picture of themselves wearing masks and a quote explaining why they do it, with the intention of inspiring others to follow suit. The caption reads, "Wearing a mask has never been more important."

Despite heartwarming responses from students explaining why they mask up, the comment section was full of sarcasm and overt hostility from anti-maskers. One response to the post dismissively reads, "Blah blah blah."

Another blaring, now-deleted comment read: "Only uneducated university students believe in moronic nonsense! Please stop the left wing crazy!"

Not only is this insulting to all who are trying to protect themselves and others, but it also dangerously politicizes a public health issue where science should guide actions - not political stances or propaganda.

The use of the word "uneducated" suggests that anti-maskers assume this insult will hurt Hopkins students more than other names like "sheep" and "hoax." It also shows that in the eyes of some, mask wearers are all left-wing "intellectuals" who hold a holier-than-thou, woker-than-thou attitude that is intrinsically elitist and out of touch with the common folk.

I fear this anti-elitism could evolve into anti-intellectualism and disbelief in science. Recent attacks on well-known public health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci make clear the dangers of hostility towards science.

Out of frustration, people may resort to shaming rhetoric, telling others to "wear a damn mask!" This is often followed by accusations that the anti-masker is putting themselves, those around them and essential workers at risk. While it may be true that refusing to wear a mask puts others in danger, I have found this method to be an unsustainable and unsuccessful strategy of persuasion in our political climate.

The elitist university student is not trustworthy to many members of the American public, who prefer the image of commonplace, normal folk, such as former President George W. Bush and the current president.

Thinking back to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many reportedly distrusted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she represented "big government." Donald Trump did nearly the opposite to appeal to his base by speaking in a blunt, straightforward manner and promising to "drain the swamp" by ridding the government of the rich, the experienced and the "manipulative experts" who use the state to exert control over the people.

His victory proved that this type of messaging worked and that a significant portion of Americans believes that experience means manipulation and intellectualism means arrogance. This reality, along with the alarming growth of anti-intellectualism, proves that shaming is a counterproductive strategy for people to adopt in order to convince others to put on a mask.

Frustration that some people insist on making public health into a political controversy can make it easy to resort to shaming. Yet, the suspicions of anti-maskers are only confirmed when the "so-called intellectuals" act condescending; we are perceived as arrogant and detached from the beliefs and views of common folks. This finger-wagging method only reinforces misunderstanding and mutual hostility.

I do not claim to know what the best strategy is to encourage mask compliance, but it should be tailored to the specific context and intended audience with a sincere intention for polite communication and productive dialogue. In this unprecedentedly chaotic time, communities and neighbors need to be united, not divided. Shaming each other will get us nowhere.

Shizheng "JJ" Tie is a senior studying Environmental Engineering from Luoyang, China.

<![CDATA[Prodensity app created through five-month collaboration]]> The Prodensity app was designed through a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Technology Innovation Center (TIC); Geraldine Seydoux, the vice dean for basic research at the School of Medicine; and George Economas, the executive director of security for Hopkins Medical Institutions.

The app originally began as a way for labs to keep track of who was using their facilities and when. It has recently expanded to include daily health checks and communication tools.

Development of the app began in mid-April, after all on-campus activities and research were limited to essential activities due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. During that time, many of the labs at the School of Medicine realized that they had no method to keep track of who should be let into facilities, creating a logistical nightmare for many researchers and principal investigators (PIs).

When it became clear that the School of Medicine would allow for some increased density on campus, labs submitted plans for safe reopening. Square footage and overall lab layout would determine what the lab capacity would be.

However, Seydoux realized that a method was needed to help labs abide by these new capacity limits. Students and researchers needed a way to know when lab space was open for their use, security needed a way to keep track of who was entering the building for safety purposes and in addition, each lab had an obligation to report back to the University who was entering the building to ensure that COVID-19 capacity restrictions were being followed.

On April 15, Seydoux reached out to TIC inquiring about potential electronic ways to keep track of building occupancy and density requirements. While Seydoux first envisioned a new card swiping system to keep track of building capacity, TIC envisioned a new app being created from scratch, and from there, Prodensity was formed.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Seydoux commented on her experience working with TIC on the app's development.

"We'd meet twice a week every week over Zoom. I have been able to get a private view of how a group like that develops something from scratch," she said. "It's been so inspirational for me to see them work together."

In the app, users can select the space that they want to go into and see how many lab members are already there and whether capacity in that space is full.

Once arriving on campus, the user scans a QR code that will allow their presence to be known to other lab members through the app. In addition, Prodensity has a communication platform that allows lab members to contact other members directly through the app, in case a shift change is needed.

As of August 26, all individuals reporting to any Hopkins campus are required to complete a daily health check for COVID-19 symptoms via the Prodensity app.

Users are required to fill out a short questionnaire to assess symptoms or other risks of exposures. If the user is free of any symptoms and any potential exposures, they are issued a digital campus pass that permits them to be on campus for up to 12 hours, after which they are required to fill out the questionnaire again. If the user does have any symptoms or potential exposures, they are be denied a campus pass and be instructed to self-isolate and call the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Call Center.

In the future, the app will also be used to send alerts to users about guidelines and changes in restrictions.

On Seydoux's end, one of the most difficult parts of creating the app was collecting all the data that were needed for app infrastructure. In order for the check-in system to work, they needed to know the PIs, students and researchers that were a part of the over 600 labs at the School of Medicine. These data were collected in early June, two weeks before labs opened for Phase One of the University's reopening plan on June 15.

According to Seydoux, the app has created a safe environment for graduate students and researchers in Phase One of lab return. She believes that it will do the same for undergraduates once the University decides to move into Phase Two.

Seudoux encourages users to submit feedback on the Prodensity website to keep the app current with the evolving COVID-19 situation.

"We welcome feedback from users, not only about their app experience and any bugs they may encounter, but also new ideas in which this app can be used," Seydoux said. "The idea is that this is an app that will continue to evolve as the situation on campus evolves. Things will change, rules will change and the app will be flexible that way."


The Prodensity app has expanded upon its original goal of helping labs social distance.

<![CDATA[In my thoughts always ]]>

Content warning: I'm going to discuss suicide in this column. Please don't continue reading if you aren't in a place where that's something you can read about - I know that I wasn't for a long time. Take care of yourself, and if you or anyone you know is suffering, know that you are not alone, and that help is available. Please see the bottom of this article for a list of resources.

This column is not an easy one for me to write. In fact, it is easily the hardest thing I've ever tried to write, and I have tried to write it several times before. I've tried writing poems and stories and articles and letters, and nothing has ever felt quite right.

But just as I don't feel like I'm truly ready to write this now, I don't think I'll ever feel like what I do finally write is right or enough, so I'm just going to give it my best shot and hope that for someone, somewhere, this helps.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. There are a number of heartbreaking statistics I could tell you here, but I truly can't bring myself to do that. So instead I'm going to tell you a story.

On August 20, 2017, I set off for Pre-Orientation with a group of strangers I was about to spend the best part of a week with, without phones or watches or showers. We spent the days backpacking and hiking, rock climbing and kayaking.

And, every evening, a few of us told our life stories.

Everyone in the group got to know each other on fast forward. It brought us together. It made us reflect on our lives and think about the future. It was incredibly moving.

I grappled for days with what I'd say. But when it came to my turn, I brought everyone right up to the day before we left Baltimore, to when I sat in a car parked outside Chipotle and read a Facebook post vaguely explaining a childhood friend's passing. At the time, I could only assume that the cause was suicide.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have thought about that friend at least once every day for the past three years. That night I thought of her and felt devastated that her story had ended. Mine got to continue - in many ways it felt like it was just beginning - and hers had already ended.

I was even sadder on the day of her funeral, when the girls from my primary school filled the church in London while I grieved from afar in Baltimore. During my freshman fall, I cried randomly in classes and on quads to friends who had only just become friends.

Today, I think about her through tears, as I try to write something that does justice to her memory. For a long, long time I would cry whenever I thought of her. But since then there have been so many moments that bring me so much joy. Any time I hear someone say "cool beans," or I watch the movie Hairspray, or I see Hello Kitty or Doctor Who or eat lamb chops, I think of her and I smile.

She was one of the most incredible people I have had the privilege of knowing. From the age of four, she was funny and caring and kind and made every single person feel loved and important.

Part of the reason writing this is so difficult for me is that it feels like I'm placing myself at the center of her story. But unfortunately her story is now left for others to tell. All I can do now is make sure that she is not forgotten and that her story continues to be told, and that as many people as possible will stay around to tell their own stories. And to make sure that happens, we have to talk about it.

I have a real fear that I will lose another friend to suicide. Any time someone makes a joke saying something is so bad they want to kill themselves, I explain why that makes me uncomfortable. And when friends have shared suicidal thoughts with me, I have quite literally gone running.

While no one person is the reason that any other person makes the tragic decision to end their life, we can all do our part to be there for the people we care about. Right now people are feeling even more isolated than usual, and it might be the case that just one text or sharing one resource is enough to make a difference.

So take the time to be there for the people that matter to you, and most importantly, be there for yourself. Don't suffer in silence.

You are in my thoughts and my heart this month and always. I miss you.

If you or someone you know is suffering, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, 24/7 and confidential support through a hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Counselors at the Crisis Text Line can be reached anytime by texting HOME to 741741.


Isaacs remembers her friend, who loved snowdrops.

<![CDATA[Protesters demand end to University's medical debt lawsuits ]]> The Coalition for a Humane Hopkins (CAHH), which aims to hold Hopkins accountable to the communities it has harmed, held a protest on Sept. 15 against the University's practice of suing patients over alleged medical debt.

About 20 Hopkins affiliates and community members drove or biked through campus in protest. The caravan ended in Harriet Tubman Grove, where speakers criticized the University's actions and praised community activism.

Mihir Chaudhary, a physician at a Hopkins field hospital, criticized the School of Medicine for not living up to its mission statement, which includes improving health in both the community and the world.

"We're focusing for a second on one arm of Hopkins' strategy of structural displacement and oppression: medical litigation," Chaudhary said.

Hopkins Hospital has used hardball tactics to sue thousands of its Black and low-income neighbors in East Baltimore - for a median amount of $1,089 in alleged medical debt, according to a report published by CAHH, National Nurses United and the AFL-CIO in May 2019.

The report noted that Hopkins, along with other Maryland hospitals, was the subject of a Baltimore Sun investigation on medical debt lawsuits in 2008. After the investigation, Hopkins cut back on the number of lawsuits per year.

However, CAHH's report illustrates that Hopkins filed over 2,400 lawsuits in the 10 years since.

Chaudhary noted that Hopkins has only sued in 17 cases over the last year.

"But even one litigation is one too many," he said.

During the protest, five students taped a letter to University President Ronald J. Daniels' front door calling on Hopkins to officially stop suing patients over medical debt. The letter also demands an end to wage garnishments, in which money is taken from people's paychecks to pay off debt. Over 200 Hopkins affiliates signed the letter, along with 10 community groups.

In an interview with The News-Letter, graduate student Meg Chow expressed her hope that the letter, which she helped write, will prompt a response from the administration.

"We knocked on the door today," she said in an interview with The News-Letter. "They didn't answer and only responded by sending a bunch of security people out to check on us."

Hopkins sues more patients living in the 21213 zip code, where nearly a third of residents are under the poverty line, than any other area.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Chaudhary stressed that the fear of future lawsuits prevents low-income patients from seeking medical treatment.

"Even life-threatening condition patients are sometimes hesitant and very nervous to get treated because of hospitals like Hopkins' medical lawsuit practices," he said.

Kim Hoppe, vice president of communications at the School of Medicine, stated in an email to The News-Letter that Hopkins provided $1.4 billion in aid and offers financial assistance programs.

"In April 2020, Johns Hopkins stopped authorizing new legal action related to patients with unpaid medical debt, even though hospitals in Maryland are required to comply with the state's rate-setting commission which mandates that health care systems pursue payment from people who have not paid for their care and do not demonstrate financial need," she wrote.

However, CAHH feels that this is not enough until Hopkins commits in writing to halt its practices once and for all.

Father Ty Hullinger, pastor of three East Baltimore churches, explained at the event that even though Hopkins responds to community pressure, it resumes its practices later.

"They'll lie in wait, they'll let go, they'll stop the suing now, knowing they can start it up again," he said. "The one thing that can prevent that is to get them - committed - to put it into writing."

Chow, who completed her undergraduate degree at the University, emphasized that her view of the University changed once she began working at Hopkins Hospital.

"I realized a lot of the talk is mostly facade," she said. "Behind the scenes, there's a lot of exploitation of community members around Hopkins and the patients that they serve, as well as the students and workers of the Hospital itself."

Chaudhary argued that medical debt lawsuits are only one way that Hopkins mistreats low-income communities of color, noting that the University's private police force was going to be centered in East Baltimore.

"It's very easy to see how there's a geographical and structural plan to change the nature of those communities, to remove those working-class Black families and to remove them from their homes and change both the racial and class composition of the communities around Hopkins," he said.

Last month, the Coalition Against Policing by Hopkins, consisting of about a dozen student and community groups, marched against the implementation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD). Speakers underscored how the JHPD would add to the University's history of gentrifying the area, citing the East Baltimore Development Initiative, which displaced over 700 families near the medical campus.

Donald Gresham, president of the Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment, thanked everyone present for their commitment against medical debt lawsuits.

"I appreciate you all standing up for right and shaming the wrong," he said. "I'm excited by you all. Only you can be the difference."

Correction: The article originally stated that a majority of patients sued by Hopkins reside in the 21213 zip code area. While a plurality of residents sued are from this area, the total is under 50 percent.

The News-Letter regrets this error.


Protesters demand Hopkins to commit in writing to ending its practice of suing patients over alleged medical debt.

<![CDATA[Tips to secure remote research]]> Although undergraduates are not permitted to join in-person research projects, there are many opportunities for students, even freshmen, to achieve their research goals.

Tracy Smith, director of the Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research (HOUR), explained that with current pandemic-induced social-distancing measures and research possibly remaining limited for the near future, learning remote research skills would be greatly beneficial.

"Remote research presents students with the opportunity to still get involved in the research process and learn about literature reviews and get acquainted with lab workings," Smith said.

Such skills are becoming increasingly useful in all areas of research, so students can also reach out to principal investigators to see if there are specific skills they may value for students to have when conducting research in general as well as remote research.

Smith also discussed resources for students looking to get involved in remote research this semester.

One example is ForagerOne, an online-search platform where students can log in with their Hopkins credentials and search for faculty conducting research in areas ranging from chromatin biology to educational equity.

On the platform, a key term search can yield information about the more than 4,000 researchers listed in the database. Hundreds of researchers have updated profiles and many are actively looking for undergraduates to join their projects.

According to Smith, ForagerOne has proved to be a resource that continues to improve with each year as more students and faculty enter the database and are able to form valuable connections across University campuses. She explained that, particularly for freshmen, this is a way to get to know the various research areas at Hopkins and the faculty in those departments.

Department and lab specific sites are also a valuable resource to read about the published and current projects of faculty, their background and current collaborators.

Using the myJHU portal, Hopkins-affiliated students can search up the email of any faculty member simply by searching their name. When reaching out to professors and researchers, Smith suggested two key steps: a clearly demonstrated interest in the research project and a description of personal strengths which will contribute to the project.

"The most important aspect of an email to a researcher is that it should be brief and should not require much scrolling on the readers part," she said.

The student's introduction should be succinct and specifically mention the professor's research. Then the student's discussion of their strengths can range from brief summaries of past experiences to discussions of why they are excited about the work. Concluding with reliable contact information is critical.

Smith explained that emails should be as brief as possible as professors are quite busy and receive countless emails over the course of a day. Following up is also imperative; students should not be hesitant about emailing multiple times, keeping in mind to do so in a respectful manner.

For students who are not in Baltimore and prefer in-person research, Smith suggests seeing if there are alternative research institutions nearby that are open. Of course, all students should evaluate their personal comfort and ensure that social-distancing guidelines are met when conducting research in-person.

Additionally, Smith emphasized that students should not feel obligated to join research projects right now if they don't believe the experience will enrich their education.

"Joining a research project should be a personal experience, not because you may think that everyone I know is doing this," she said. "Many students wait until their spring or summer terms or second year or later to start research anyway. It is never too late to start."

<![CDATA[Hopkins dance groups make it work digitally]]> Despite the fully online mode of the fall semester, many talented dance and performing arts groups at Hopkins participated in the Dance O-Show on Monday, Sept. 7. Each group gave a quick introduction about their group members, style of dance, past performances and their plans for continuing to dance despite the virtual format.

Nicoleen Willson, director of Homewood Arts Programs, spoke about the frustrations many of the performing arts groups have felt due to their inability to rehearse in person and the difficulties the groups will face in welcoming new members. Every group, however, has plans to continue dancing, bonding and welcoming new members this semester.

"I know several of the groups already have online rehearsals and workshops planned," Willson said. "We definitely miss all being together and are trying to make the best out of not being able to."

Many groups, including the Ladybirds Dance Team, Modern Dance Company, Zinda, SLAM, Blue Jay Bhangra, Eclectics and many more, have committed to online rehearsals through Zoom. Jess Intile from Modern Dance Company commented on her group's success transitioning to online formats.

"We did pretty well transitioning to Zoom rehearsals and classes this summer. It is a little different, of course, but we learned some new fun improv games and methods for adapting," Intile said. "Modern is offering free and open classes starting this week, so definitely come try it out!"

Furthermore, these performing arts groups are hosting more than just rehearsals and auditions through Zoom. Many groups are even participating in bonding activities and mentorship programs to help new members feel as though they are a part of a community despite the distance.

Avi Kirpekar, one of the captains of Zinda, spoke about their attempts to include new members in their group.

"We're planning on having a few zoom practices a week in addition to some bonding events (movie nights, game nights, etc.). We're also hoping to include more members in the choreography process, including new members, so it will definitely be more interactive for our team," he said.

Shubhi Verma from Blue Jay Bhangra echoed Kirpekar's sentiments, hoping to host bonding activities and a mentorship program within the group to help guide new members.

"With the online format, we're now doing everything virtually from workshops to tryouts to practices. We're also putting a really large emphasis on bonding events like game nights this year to make sure we stay close," Verma sad. "We'll also be doing some pairing with old members so new members have mentorship right away!"

For the students that aren't sure they want to join a performing arts group or are nervous about the auditions, Willson noted that Homewood Arts Programs are putting on free virtual dance classes.

While the likelihood of a large group performance is slim, these dance groups are still hoping to create their own creative performances. Rasa Forati from SLAM spoke about the group's hope to create a video featuring team members performing their own choreography.

"Our end goal is to make a dance video that includes videos of us all performing our set. It's not quite the same as when we were in person, but we're making extra time for team bonding to make up for it," Forati said.

Michael Lin from Eclectics shared similar hopes for his group's performance:

"We plan on compiling videos from our members to create an online performance video, but we are also planning social events so we can hopefully provide an inclusive, welcoming family (even if it is in this online format)," he said.

Despite current obstacles, performing arts groups are continuing to show their resilience through online rehearsals and auditions and adapted bonding activities to make sure new members still feel welcome and part of something exciting. The challenges are certainly there, but every group is determined to do whatever it can to overcome them and make the most of this year.


The Ladybirds Dance Team, one of the groups who participated during the event, during a performance earlier this year.

<![CDATA[Chess deserves more recognition as a sport]]>

Here is a thought exercise: What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you read the word "sport?"

Got it? Good. Because I would be willing to bet all the money on my J-Card ($13.10) that chess was not the sport you had in mind.

For those unaware with the rules of the game, here is a quick rundown.

There are 16 pieces on a 64 square board for each player: eight pawns, two knights, two bishops, two rooks, one queen and one king. Of those six different classifications, each moves uniquely. For example, the queen can move any direction for any number of squares, while a pawn can only move forward one square at a time (unless the pawn has not moved yet; then it can move forward two squares).

The object of the game is simple: Use your pieces to trap your opponent's king, which is called checkmate.

Some may have a problem with the premise of chess as a sport. Chess.com itself - a website where people around the world can play and discuss the game with each other - admits in a blog post that chess is technically not a sport under the Dictionary.com definition.

But that same post lists the sportlike aspects of the centuries-old game.

Despite remaining seated, grandmasters (the highest title a player can receive) can burn upwards of 6,000 calories a day playing in tournaments. Some games can last up to nine hours, requiring the utmost concentration.

In its nature, the game demands two players to outthink each other for tactical advantages on the board. Players study for hours different lines of outcomes to best prepare for their opponents, much like a basketball team would study film before a big game.

And while Dictionary.com might object, the International Olympic Committee recognizes chess as a sport, though it is not included in the Games yet.

Chess may not be as closely associated with sports like basketball, hockey or football, but it has a quality that those sports do not have: accessibility during a pandemic.

While the International Chess Federation did stop its major Candidates Tournament halfway through, top players continued to stay engaged with the game on platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

Number-one classical player in the world Magnus Carlsen held his chess tour invitational online with much success, as he took on Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura in a best of seven set final last month. That event raked in nearly 200,000 viewers.

International masters (a title that is a touch bit lower than a grandmaster but still very high) Levy Rozman and Eric Rosen have posted their own commentaries and analysis of games that have been a wealth of chess knowledge for amateurs like me.

And speaking of amateurs, the game seems to be thriving among that group around this time. This New York Times article details how more players around the globe have taken to joining online chess clubs. In June, Chess.com hosted the PogChamps tournament, where popular Twitch streamers left their respective comfort zones to face off against each other.

Of course, chess is a game that has been popular for far longer than its recent spurt of growth. According to this article, there are over 600 million active players around the globe.

And the game is making its way outside its niche and through the realm of esports, as shown by the PogChamps tournament.

In addition, Nakamura, who has over half a million followers on Twitch, made headlines at the end of last month when he joined Team SoloMid, an organization that has brought in over $6 million over 576 gaming tournaments.

So popularity is less of an issue here. The problem is that people both within and outside of the chess circle fail to view it as a sport.

I get it; the definition of a sport can be vague, and under some, the game of chess may not perfectly align. But physically and mentally demanding, as well as accessible during a pandemic and to players of all skill levels, chess deserves more respect.

While I don't expect to see it on primetime ESPN any time soon, my hope is that more people will recognize chess for what it is: a bona fide sport.


Hikaru Nakamura is a five-time U.S. chess champion.

<![CDATA[The NFL is back: Week One's best and worst performances]]>

The National Football League (NFL) is back in full force and Week One was as exciting as it always is. While we all want to watch some good football, many fans are watching Week One to predict how the rest of the season will go.

One of the biggest moves made this offseason was Tom Brady's departure. Brady left his longtime team, the New England Patriots, to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many were unsure how he would look without Bill Belichick's system.

It suffices to say that he didn't look like his usual self. Many have already been comparing him to his Tampa Bay predecessor, quarterback Jameis Winston. Like Winston, Brady had as many interceptions as he had touchdowns. One of his interceptions was a pick-six, facilitating the New Orleans Saints' victory. It's normal for a quarterback to struggle with a new system, but with the six-time champion hitting 43 years old, many fans are sensing that this is the beginning of the end.

Cam Newton has taken Brady's place as the Patriots' new quarterback. Newton has been receiving lots of criticism since he suffered a major injury in the 2017 season. But this Sunday, Newton looked incredible. He got two rushing touchdowns and had no turnovers. The team easily beat the Miami Dolphins to start off the season. While Belichick's system certainly helps, Newton still looked like a top-tier quarterback on the individual level.

Another team that received a lot of attention was the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. The team still looks incredible and are probably favorites to win again this year. Patrick Mahomes and company looked as good as they did last year, but the exciting news to come from Week One was rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Edwards-Helaire was the only running back taken in the first round of the 2020 draft and it's clear that he was a worthwhile pick. He got 25 carries for a total of 138 yards and one touchdown. After winning a Super Bowl and continuing to improve tactics, the Kansas City Chiefs will be a fun team to watch this year.

The Baltimore Ravens faced off against the lowly Cleveland Browns in Week One. It's hard to draw many conclusions from such a one-sided game, but it was good to see the team playing well. MVP Lamar Jackson had over 300 total yards with three passing touchdowns to lead the Ravens to a 38-6 victory.

While the receivers looked good, the rushing game was weaker. Mark Ingram only had 29 rushing yards while rookie running back J.K. Dobbins had 22. But, Dobbins did get two rushing touchdowns, so I wouldn't say this is really an area for concern. Look for the Ravens to once again be contending for a Super Bowl victory.

As for my hometown team, the New York Jets, Week One looked predictably awful. They allowed Josh Allen to throw for 312 yards and get two touchdowns, losing 27-17. Every year, the Jets promise their fans something new and exciting, and every year they quickly let us down. Some of us had hoped that the Patriots would finally lose their grip on the division, but it seems even that hope is gone too.

Another team that usually disappoints its fans is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gardner Minshew received a lot of hype last year after a few breakout performances, and the Jaguars decided to stick with him as their main quarterback. In his Week One matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, Minshew completed 19/20 passes for three touchdowns. While a win against the Colts isn't much to celebrate, things are looking good for Jaguars fans.

The last team I want to highlight is the Washington Football Team. I was unsure how players would perform playing for a team with such a name, but it turns out that it may have actually motivated them. Washington beat the highly anticipated Philadelphia Eagles 27-17 by outscoring them 20-0 in the second half. Washington's defense secured eight sacks and two interceptions in the game, making up for the offense's rather average performance.

Overall, this season looks like it will be a good one. The top teams look fun and there are already some dark horses in the making. The NFL is back, and let's all hope that it's here to stay.

AlexanderJonesi / CC BY-SA

Bill Belichick didn't need Tom Brady to coach the Patriots to a dominant week one victory.

<![CDATA[We may be number nine, but our priorities are wrong]]> Hopkins was named the nation's ninth best university by U.S. News & World Report on Monday, moving up a spot from last year.

The announcement of this arbitrary ranking was met with quite the fanfare in the Hopkins community. The University's social media pages celebrated the news. Students and alumni flooded our feeds, delighted about the University's new status.

It's perfectly understandable for students, staff, faculty and administrators to be proud of our new position. That number translates to a quantifiable measure of the University's standing as an academic institution.

However, our big, shiny ranking does not totally encapsulate the University's quality. Instead, it presents a rosy picture of Hopkins that is not entirely accurate.

U.S. News determines rankings based on factors such as graduation and retention rates, graduation performance rates, graduate indebtedness, perceived social mobility of attendees and student excellence. The ranking system also takes into account a school's financial resources, faculty resources, alumni giving and expert opinion - how the administrators of other peer universities rate the school.

Yet, it is impossible for one number to take into account all of the aspects of the student experience at Hopkins. Focusing on our ranking superiority has the adverse effect of allowing the University to ignore its failings in other respects. It provides an accidental distraction from the many problems that exist for Hopkins students, as well as the University's negative impact on the surrounding Baltimore community.

The University's treatment of its staff and faculty falls short of its ranking.

Throughout the summer, professors were continually left in the dark about plans for our current fall semester. We worry that this lack of transparency will persist as the spring approaches.

This summer, Black staff and faculty fought for better representation on campus and improved treatment of the furloughed dining staff that allow the campus to run smoothly. But U.S. News does not consider how a university treats its employees or whether its commitment to racial equity extends beyond the surface.

Hopkins students at all levels have been undersupported by the University as well. Graduate students, whose teaching and research promotes the strength of our institution, were met with inadequate support and security during a pandemic. Meanwhile, students residing off-campus in Charles Village still lack sufficient access to University-provided testing for the coronavirus (COVID-19). The University's status lies with its students, yet it fails to ensure our health.

Even in a world without COVID-19, Hopkins focuses on its prestige rather than its students. According to the University's Second Commission of Undergraduate Experience (CUE2), student well-being and mental health doesn't exactly fall in line with our number nine ranking. In fact, according to the February report, "our students report greater stress than those at other schools." Our ranking suggests that Hopkins students are bright and well-accomplished; it masks the toxic environment that fuels our impossible pursuit of perfection.

Many students prioritize papers and problem sets over self-care and happiness. We lack school spirit, we have few traditions (before COVID-19, they were already getting shut down) and instead of fighting for tickets for on-campus events, we fight for an empty seat in the library.

Even within the classroom, the "student experience" doesn't take priority. One component used to determine which school is "best" is its percentage of small classes. This is why certain courses are capped at 19 students, and the unlucky twentieth student is placed on an eternal waitlist.

Rather than arbitrarily limiting class sizes, the University should be evaluated according to a meaningful measure of professor engagement and accessibility. Student course evaluations would be a good metric to measure professor effectiveness. This metric could even benefit Hopkins - we are happy to praise many of our professors, who are dedicated to their fields and our education.

Unfortunately, the University's focus on ranking does not surprise us. Hopkins has a history of prioritizing its image over the interests of its community. The past few months offer a prime example. Despite a nationwide reckoning with structural racism and police violence, Hopkins has yet to take meaningful action to address its history of exploiting Black residents of the city or its ongoing contributions to racial injustice.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the improvements Hopkins made to get us to our coveted U.S. News ranking. These include securing research funds and expanding support and resources available to First-Generation, Low-Income students. These accomplishments are something to be proud of.

Still, we have to ask how well this ranking reflects the Hopkins experience. Universities should be assessed based on more meaningful, personal factors, like how they treat their students, staff and community members. If these factors don't impact rankings, will institutions work to improve them?

Some of these issues are not unique to Hopkins, but appear universally in higher education. That does not mean we should ignore the problems; we must reckon with them before we celebrate our status. Hopkins should set an example, and perhaps our peer institutions will follow.

<![CDATA[The emptiness of the NFL's activism]]>

When the National Football League (NFL) and its commissioner Roger Goodell made a clear progression in its promises to support its players and their efforts regarding the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, it was met with appreciation and surprise from pundits.

In the middle of a national reckoning on racial justice and inequality, with many of the NFL's Black players imploring more support from the league, Goodell went in front of a video camera and repented for the sins of the NFL.

Goodell went farther than any commissioner of the League had gone before, admitting that the NFL misstepped and mishandled the situations where the players raised concerns about racism. He pledged the full support of the NFL towards the social justice initiatives that are important to the Black NFL players and even went as far as to say the words "Black Lives Matter," which is a semi-radical position from its previous stance of "blackball anyone who dares to protest for issues of racial injustice."

That was back in June. The NFL, much like other professional sports leagues, like the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, was pushed and prodded into a spot where it had to vocalize support for Black Lives Matter or face the wrath of players and Black fans. It's incredibly stupid to anger your workers by ignoring their very humanity; therefore, the choice was clear. They made the appropriate promises to appease players and give off the facade that they were prepared to support them in any way possible.

Now, it is September and football is back - the arena that so many Americans run to as their alleged safe haven from the "politics" of daily life. Football provides a fantasy realm where the playing field is equal and each of the 11 guys is seen as equally important, allowing them to ignore the realities of a racist society in which Black people are disproportionately affected by negative systemic practices. For most, the gridiron is meant to be a utopia where the violent history of race relations in America can be left outside the gates of the stadium, allowing its fans to consume the sport they love in peace.

But that isn't completely true of the NFL anymore. The theme of racial justice has moved into the sphere of football due to the pressure from the players The first week of NFL games had little dashes of social justice awareness sprinkled throughout, like little garnishes on the side of an engorged meal. The NFL stenciled the two messages "It Takes All of Us" and "End Racism" on the end zones of every field in the league for the first slate of games as a part of its commitment to social justice initiatives.

The NFL also played a recording of the Black national anthem "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" as a part of the pregame ceremonies. On top of that, the League allowed its players to honor victims of police brutality and systemic racism by putting their names in tiny writing on the back of their helmet.

There were also gestures of unity on opening night. They had singer Keedron Bryant sing his viral hit "I Just Wanna Live," a track clamoring for equal treatment of Black Americans. Then, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans met at midfield and locked arms for a moment of silence. They were subsequently booed by Chiefs fans during this moment meant to show support for the fight against racial injustice.

In all honesty, everything that the NFL tried to do during Week One meant nothing to me. Each attempt of activism and progressiveness can only be categorized as doing the bare minimum. It felt like the same tired, symbolic gestures that corporations across the country have been doling out for months now. In fact, each performative instance of support only served to remind me of the historic failures of the League and its team owners in the past four years.

It's impossible for me to look at the NFL's newfound support for racial justice initiatives without thinking of its treatment of Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback began his kneeling protest for an end to police brutality with a suggestion from the U.S. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer. Boyer helped Kaepernick determine that kneeling during the anthem would be the most respectful form of protest. Even when clamoring for more respect for Black people as a whole, merely asking for police to stop killing us, Kaepernick was willing to listen to the perspectives of others.

But, the outside world immediately misconstrued Kaepernick's protest as disrespecting both the troops and disrespecting the country as a whole, which is a big no-no. Even when that was clearly conveyed as the opposite reason for the protest, the average American jumped down his throat, drowning out his cause with claims of anti-American values.

Then, U.S. President Donald J. Trump decided to get involved. He embarked on a personal mission to frame Kaepernick and any other players who kneeled during the anthem as enemies of the people. In 2016 he told Kaepernick that he should find another country. At a rally in Alabama in 2017, he called the players who kneeled "sons of bitches," claiming that they should all be fired. A month after that, he congratulated Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones when he said that his players that decided to kneel during the anthem would "need consequences" for their actions.

The NFL and its owners watched as the president and the country attacked Kaepernick for simply asking that Black people get treated the same as other Americans. A request for human decency and appeals to the humanity of society were met with vitriol and hatred. The NFL allowed the storyline to get twisted and mangled to the point where Kaepernick was painted as the villain. He and his fellow kneelers were thrown to the ideological wolves for years, blackballed as agitators. Kaepernick was cast aside by his team and the League, left on the outside as the NFL allowed the president to treat the protests as a propaganda tool. The owners allowed themselves to become puppets, refusing to stand on the original side of racial justice.

But now, we're here, with the owners singing a new(ish) tune. The NFL has achieved the organizational progress of utilizing pre-approved, sanitized statements that are vague and inoffensive enough to not rattle their base while also appearing to be on the side of racial equality. They now deal in harmless symbols that sound good on paper but then ring hollow when said aloud.

Some teams do more than others, like the Baltimore Ravens putting out a clear and concise list for racial justice demands which include arresting the officers responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake. It's important to note, however, that this was also the team that was afraid of the blowback of signing Kaepernick as a backup after he was released by the 49ers.

Even as the NFL attempts to rebrand itself with a more progressive slant, it's impossible for me and others to forget how they've failed in the past. Yes, players can now kneel during the anthem as a form of protest without fear of retribution from the NFL. But that's not enough.

The cowardice and spineless nature of the owners as they allowed the president and media to slam their players for protesting cannot be forgotten. No amount of symbolic and holistically useless gestures can undo their previous failures. They cannot just wave their arms and announce that their work is done. We know where the NFL stood when their players first fought for racial equality.

That can never be ignored.

CC by - 2.0

The NFL is now doing the bare minimum by allowing its players to protest without fear of consequence.