Sumathi Reddy, Baltimore Sun, November 3, 2006
Johns Hopkins University students and faculty members will have more diversity training, and the history of racism will be incorporated into the campus curriculum and workshops, Hopkins President William R. Brody announced yesterday, responding to an outcry over a racially offensive fraternity party.
In a letter to students and members of the faculty and staff, Brody outlined several other steps, including the creation of a university-wide commission to make recommendations to ensure that new equality guidelines are followed. Also, he said, the administration will work for better communication with multicultural groups.
In the letter, Brody said that racism “is still an issue in our university community.”
“We have made progress,” he wrote, pointing to the formation 10 years ago of the Diversity Leadership Council. “But no one ever believed, even before last weekend’s events, that we had done all we should. We all knew that we still had lots of work to do toward making Johns Hopkins the diverse, tolerant, respectful and welcoming community we want it to be.”
The announcement followed a Sigma Chi fraternity party Saturday night that was advertised as “Halloween in the Hood.” The party included a skeleton pirate dangling from a noose, which students called a symbol of a lynching.
The party’s invitation, which was posted on the Facebook Web site, described Baltimore as “the HIV pit” and encouraged attendees to wear “regional clothing from our locale” such as “bling bling ice ice, grills” and “hoochie hoops.”
The party ignited a debate on campus about racial tension and discrimination, and the Black Student Union led a protest Monday demanding steps, some of which were addressed in the announcement yesterday. Other demands include a cultural center, more faculty members of color and a department of African-American studies.
The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will support the Black Student Union’s efforts at a rally scheduled for today at noon at 33rd and Charles streets.
“From the statement that we heard from a variety of students on campus, there … has been for a while a climate and atmosphere of racial insensitivity, prejudice and tension,” said Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the NAACP’s Baltimore chapter.
“We will, of course, allow the students to take whatever action they deem appropriate to address their concerns, but there is a larger picture and a systemic problem that we must address as an organization representative of the entire Baltimore City community.”
Senior Christina Chapman, president of the Black Student Union, said the organization will deliver a formal list of demands today.
“I’m happy that these things are being mentioned,” she said of Brody’s letter. “But I won’t be truly satisfied until I really see a change, until I see a lot more faculty of color, until I see a department that grants Ph.D.s in Africana studies, until we see some sort of multicultural space.”
Black Student Union members have charged that the invitations to the fraternity party reflected students’ condescension toward Baltimore and its residents.
The university’s coordinator of Greek life had warned the fraternity to withdraw the “racist and offensive” invitation, but it remained in an altered, yet offensive form.
When Black Student Union members sent 10 members to the party at the fraternity’s house in the 200 block of E. 33rd St., they took pictures of the skeleton pirate and students in costumes they called offensive. They showed the pictures to campus security, which shut down the party early Sunday morning.
On Monday, Black Student Union members held a protest, after which university officials announced that Sigma Chi had been suspended pending an investigation.
A day later fraternity’s international headquarters announced that the student author of the party invitation had been expelled from the fraternity and that it also is conducting an investigation.
Paula Berger, Hopkins’ dean of undergraduate education, said the university’s investigation will take at least several more days before a decision is made on whether to convene a hearing panel.
She said members of the fraternity and the Black Student Union have met and reported constructive meetings.
“I think there’s a much better understanding, and clearly the students want to work to address issues which extend far beyond any one frat and, frankly, any one multicultural group,” Berger said.
She said the university will continue to make recruiting faculty members of color a top priority. Administrators say that progress on that front has been inadequate.
The university’s undergraduate faculty includes six tenured black members and two on the tenure track.
“One of the difficulties is everybody is after the same set of people,” Berger said, referring to peer institutions. “But we’re not content with where we are on that.
“We’ve not been blind to these issues. I think we have to grow … but I don’t think we’re fundamentally flawed in some fatal way. We’ve got work to do, and we intend to do it.”