THB, Banditos, Wayward and more confirmed for Cosmic Cocktail!

Hopkins blacks frustrated by slow change Yearlong protest stirred debate, but many problems remain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There were times when Henry Boateng didn't feel welcome at the Johns Hopkins University.

On several occasions, campus security officers interrupted his basketball games to see if he and the other players belonged in the gym.

Mr. Boateng sometimes felt that he was being followed by officers as he walked at night. Sometimes, people just stared, apparently wondering what this young black man was doing on campus.

Things like that happen to black students at Hopkins, where African-Americans account for only 4.5 percent of the undergraduate enrollment.

And such experiences are what drove Mr. Boateng, as head of the school's Black Student Union, to lead an unprecedented yearlong protest to improve the racial atmosphere at the prestigious North Baltimore university.

The protest began last fall when Mr. Boateng helped draft a list of 16 demands for campus change -- including more black faculty, greater sensitivity from campus police and a black studies program.

Later, there were confrontations with university officials, a sit-in at the library, and heated exchanges with white students over a controversial speaker sponsored by the black student group.

In response, the university has made some changes.

But two of the students' key concerns -- that there be more black faculty members and a black studies program -- will take more time, the administration says.

Mr. Boateng, who graduates tomorrow, says he believes the protests helped to raise consciousness on campus.

He is frustrated, however, by the slow pace of change.

"The best thing is that there was a lot of debate," said Mr. Boateng.

"Race issues have always been here, but the debate was always hidden."

On a campus known for academic intensity rather than political activism, the protests have been a yearlong anomaly.

And the fallout, some say, has been damaging.

"As the school year draws to a close . . . [Hopkins] is more than a campus divided," the student newspaper said in a farewell editorial this month.

"It's a campus fragmented and decimated, a campus that has lost hope in solutions to problems of racial integration and coexistence."

President William C. Richardson, who has been the target of much of the black students' anger, said he agrees with many of their goals.

"I think it's been a very productive year in terms of race relations," Dr. Richardson said.

"It's been a productive year for addressing issues that have been talked about and worked on for years."

As recently as 1965, Hopkins had no blacks in its freshman class.

The university didn't hire a full-time employee to assist minority students until 1988, well after many schools.

Today, the 330-member undergraduate faculty includes only two blacks.

The 4.5 percent black enrollment figure (149 blacks among the 3,297 full-time undergraduates) has held fairly steady the last decade.

That is smaller than the percentage at some other top-ranked urban universities.

Brown University in Providence, R.I., has a black enrollment of roughly 7 percent, for example. At the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the figure is about 6 percent.

With their numbers so small, black Hopkins students say, the university's black community has trouble maintaining a "critical mass."

"When one of us leaves school, it's a big deal," said Nicole London, who will head the Black Student Union next year.

Problems for years

Black student leaders say this year's protests grew out of problems black students have faced for years.

Kobi Little, a junior from Baltimore who was active in the protests, said he has been stopped many times by security officers or other university employees asking, "Can I help you?" as if he didn't belong on campus.

Craig F. Warren, a graduating senior who edited the black student magazine, says he has sensed people wondering about how he managed to get admitted to Hopkins. One student asked him directly if he had been admitted because of his race, Mr. Warren said.

"It's not like they want to kill you, but there's an underlying hostility and ignorance," Mr. Warren said.

Dr. Richardson said Hopkins has been trying to bring more black students to campus. At the graduate level, the university used better recruiting and other programs to dramatically increase the number of black applicants this year.

At the undergraduate level, the school expects to have some 60 black freshmen next fall -- about 6.2 percent of the class and the largest number in Hopkins history.

Some swift responses

The university has responded quickly to some of the students' demands. An outdoor basketball court, for example, will be built on campus this summer. Black students wanted the basketball court -- as well as a children's playground and an exercise trail -- as a way to make the campus more inviting to people from the neighboring community, particularly blacks.

University security officers have met with black students to discuss their harassment complaints and recently went through racial sensitivity training. One result, the students say, is that security officers have stopped interrupting basketball games at the gym.

Likewise, after the students pushed, the university gave gym and library privileges to the school's housekeeping and food service employees, most of whom are black.

Hopkins also came up with more money for events sponsored by the Black Student Union. The most controversial was a March speech by City University of New York Professor Leonard Jeffries, who was assailed by some white students as an

anti-Semite.

Some stumbles

The university has stumbled over some issues.

For example, the university did nothing when black students objected to a Black History Month display in the Eisenhower Library -- inappropriate, the students said, because it focused on a white abolitionist family.

When the display went unchanged for all of February, about 50 black students conducted an overnight sit-in at the library. The display was quickly removed and a new one on the Harlem Renaissance was put up.

President Richardson acknowledged the university's slow response, later saying: "The library should have taken a quicker and less bureaucratic approach."

In another case, the university went out and found a black woman professor from the University of Maryland at College Park to teach a course in the spring semester but neglected to tell the students who had been protesting.

Kobi Little remembers introducing himself to the professor at the beginning of the semester.

"That was the first any of us had heard she was here," Mr. Little said.

A look to Morgan

Hopkins officials agree with the students that the university needs more black faculty, but say time will be needed to find qualified professors.

The situation is discouraging enough that the university is trying to find a way to borrow a couple of black engineering professors from Morgan State University on a part-time basis. The Morgan professors would counsel students or teach in the Hopkins engineering school, which has no blacks among its 90-member faculty.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Mr. Warren. "But we're more interested in having tenure-track, full-time black professors coming here."

Meanwhile, Hopkins postponed hiring two new professors in arts and sciences this year, hoping that a new search will yield more black candidates.

Still to be resolved is the students' No. 1 issue -- the creation of a black studies program.

hTC A committee made up mostly of faculty is studying what form such a program should take and is expected to report to university officials next year.

After watching the Black Student Union's approach this year, some of the campus' growing number of Asian students have begun asking for more more courses on Asian issues and more Asian professors.

In the last decade, the number of Asian-American students has tripled -- to 21 percent from 7.2 percent.

"The lack of diversification in the courses that are offered is upsetting," said Natasha Yamaoka, a junior who heads the Inter-Asian Council and predicts renewed Asian activism on various fronts next year.

Though Mr. Boateng will have moved on, Ms. London says, the Black Student Union will carry on the campaign he helped to launch.

"I plan to see what happens over the summer," Ms. London said. "I want to make sure they do what they said they'll do."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
43°