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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 6, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 10
Steps Taken to Address Recent Racial Concerns

Next forum on campus climate issues will be held tonight

Tensions ran high at Homewood last week in the wake of Halloween festivities gone awry.

Following a Sigma Chi fraternity party whose invitation invoked offensive racial stereotyping, the university suspended all activities of the fraternity, pending investigation; the organization's national headquarters expelled a student responsible for the invitation and imposed a 45-day suspension of chapter activities while it initiated its own investigation; the Black Student Union led protests, accusing the university of being racially insensitive; university administration held a meeting with concerned members of the Johns Hopkins community; and President William R. Brody sent broadcast e-mails to the Hopkins community outlining the university's response to concerns and its plans going forward.

"Events of last weekend, triggered by an offensive and repugnant invitation to a fraternity party, have underscored that racism is still an issue," Brody said in the e-mail he sent Thursday night. "It's still an issue in our society. As much as we wish it were otherwise, it is still an issue in our university community."

Pointing out that issues of diversity, tolerance and inclusion at Johns Hopkins have been a high priority since he became president 10 years ago, Brody said that one of his first major actions had been to create a universitywide Diversity Leadership Council and that he supported its work as well as that of the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the University Committee on the Status of Women.

"We have made progress," he said, "but no one ever believed, even before last weekend, 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."

Even before the weekend's events, he said, the university had been within weeks of announcing new initiatives based on months of work by the Diversity Leadership Council and the University Committee on the Status of Women.

Brody said he was "taking advantage of this important moment — when our attention is riveted on the question of how we can build a stronger community — to accelerate the announcement of some of these initiatives and introduce others." Among them:

The deans, directors and Brody have unanimously adopted a proposal by the University Committee on the Status of Women for a set of Principles for Ensuring Equity, Civility and Respect for All, laying out expectations for treatment of students, faculty and staff by all other members of the university community. That set of principles can be found at

In addition, he said, he has directed the establishment of a universitywide commission, comprising faculty, staff and students, to make specific recommendations for the implementation of those principles and to help everyone remain focused on their centrality to the university's success.

He directed that Johns Hopkins undertake, as the Diversity Leadership Council has proposed, greatly enhanced training and education on diversity issues for students, faculty and staff. While details on this initiative will be forthcoming, he said, "it is worth noting now that we believe — for instance — that diversity activity for Homewood undergraduates should extend beyond Orientation at least throughout the freshman year. It is also worth noting that several of our divisions have been leaders in this area, with programs that may provide models for the university as a whole."

The deans have been directed to work with the faculty to implement an important recommendation on curriculum that Brody received last week from a distinguished group of African-American professors from across the university. Pointing out that, in recent years, college and university students have become increasingly unfamiliar with the history of racism in the United States and around the world, these faculty members proposed that Johns Hopkins develop courses, workshops and seminars to increase students' exposure to the history and current reality of racism.

Brody has directed that better and more regular communication be established between the administration and the leadership of the university's multicultural student groups. "I also am determined," he said, "that we better establish the atmosphere of trust necessary for students to feel they can bring forward concerns without fear of negative repercussions."

"As much as last weekend alarmed and disappointed me, this week has given me reason for renewed admiration of and faith in our student body," Brody said. "The Black Student Union and other minority student groups have made their concerns known to all of us with eloquence, passion and civility. Leaders of other student groups have responded with support for the BSU and a determination to reach out across divides of race, ethnicity and culture. The great majority of students with whom I and other senior leaders have spoken are determined to take advantage of the opportunity presented by this unfortunate moment to build increased understanding and unity at Johns Hopkins."

Brody said that the administration would continue the dialogue that had begun in order to address issues that face underrepresented minorities, students of diverse sexual orientation, women and others at Johns Hopkins.

One venue for that continuing dialogue will be a forum on campus climate issues, open to the entire Homewood campus community. The forum will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. today, Nov. 6, in the Hodson Hall auditorium.

"I commit to you that attention to those issues will not fade when that forum has passed or when this unfortunate episode recedes from the front pages," Brody said. "The construction of a campus community — one that is open to all, tolerant of all, welcoming for all and comfortable for all — is not a job that is completed in a day or a week. We will not finish the job in a year or even a decade," he pledged. "It must have our constant attention, and it will."


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