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The Abridged History of Racism at Hopkins

By Staff Writer Will Kirsch ‘18

· Will Kirsch

Image from wikimedia.

On February 16, students, faculty, and administrators convened a panel to discuss the University's latest attempt to appear inclusive: the updated Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion. With its well-branded title and lofty goals, the Roadmap seemed to be a progressive step in the right direction for the often slow-to-act University administration. However, according to the News-Letter report on the February 16 discussion, panelists lambasted the plan for skirting around the question of racism, something which has long plagued the University. Indeed, at the event Interim Chief Diversity Officer James Page acknowledged this history, although he countered the accusations of racism with the argument that the University’s founder was an abolitionist. Even so, this hardly negates the University’s failings in regards to racial inequality, past and present.

Despite the abolitionist principles of its founder, it took sixty-nine years for a black undergraduate to walk across the graduation stage. That man, Frederick I. Scott, was unsure if the University would even admit a black person. His concerns were not unfounded, being that as a Baltimore resident he was no doubt familiar with the Roland Park, Guilford, and Homeland neighborhoods that border the Homewood Campus. All three neighborhoods were developed with the intention of excluding black and Jewish home-buyers. The University apparently shared the ideals of their real-estate developer neighbors, being that during the mid-twentieth century, it–as well as a number of other American universities–placed a quota on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

About seventy years after Mr. Scott’s acceptance, the campus is still largely made up of white faces. In 2014, forty-six percent of the 4,500 Krieger School students and thirty-six percent of the three thousand Whiting School students were listed as non-Hispanic white. Between 2009 and 2016, the University did see increases in the number of minority students in incoming classes, but the imbalance is still glaring. Obviously, numbers cannot tell the whole story, but one need not look back far into the University’s past to see what these numbers can mean.

In 2006, a Hopkins fraternity was accused of racism after holding a theme party with the unsubtle title “Halloween in the Hood.” The party featured a skeleton hanging from a noose. Current juniors and seniors will remember the slew of anonymous racism that infected the social media app “Yik Yak” during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising. Even this year, students were unfortunately reminded that racism still exists on this “diverse” campus. An economics professor found himself on paid leave after ongoing reports of racist comments in the classroom finally made their way to the ear of the department chair.

Off-campus, the University has conflicting relationships with Baltimore. It is the city’s largest employer, but underpays a number of its workers and uses contracted businesses to deny long-term employees benefits. As a result, contracted workers cannot benefit from the much-touted “Live Near Your Work” program, which provides housing grants to Hopkins employees looking to buy a home in select Baltimore neighborhoods. The school is also currently embroiled in a living wage fight with Unite Here’s Local 7 chapter, which represents the service workers employed by Bon Appetit, the food service subcontractor that staffs the University’s dining halls. The University has also done much to gentrify Baltimore, which has priced impoverished locals out of their homes.

Chief Diversity Officer Page argued that racism is not a part of Hopkins’s roots, but that is hardly the case. The actions of the administration and of the student body in the past show that racism was and still is part of Johns Hopkins. Both on campus and in Baltimore, Hopkins has expressed racist attitudes: discrimination against minority students and citizens, pushing sections of Baltimore’s largely black population out of their homes, and refusing to provide some of its numerous employees with a living wage or benefits are merely a sampling of the offenses.

The Roadmap does indeed acknowledge past failings but also argues that they are nothing more than an unsavory element of history. Student groups like the Black Student Union, Students For a Democratic Society, and the Hopkins Feminists, alongside faculty have attempted to bring the reality of the situation to light. However, their efforts have been met with a tepid response from the administration. The Roadmap plans out a seemingly well-intended path to diversity, but does so without much effort towards fostering acceptance of disenfranchised students and improving the lives of its many impoverished black employees. As long as the University continues to deny its past and present racist attitudes, tangible change cannot be possible.

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