This morning’s intern blog is authored by Christine McCurdy, a rising junior at Johns Hopkins University.
“Truth” and Freedom at Hopkins
Veritas vos liberabit.
Appearing on the official crest of Johns Hopkins University, “The Truth Shall Make You Free” suggests a university-wide ideal of open thought, expression, and research to foster discovery and ultimately reveal “the truth” to our students, faculty, and the rest of the scholarly world. After all, the Johns Hopkins Medical School, the Whiting School of Engineering and the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, along with other prestigious university programs, have brought our university recognition as one of the nation’s top research institutions and a focal point of fiery political debate. The Undergraduate Conduct Code welcomes this atmosphere of debate and discovery, defining Hopkins as a “forum for the free expression of ideas.” However, the October 2006 punishment meted out to Hopkins junior Justin Park for his infamous Facebook invitation to Sigma Chi’s “Halloween in the Hood” party, strongly suggests false advertising and the university’s drift from its own principles. For me and fellow Hopkins undergrads, it is unsettling to know that Hopkins values its reputation over our constitutional rights, those which are enjoyed at public, community, and many private schools nationwide. Such a harsh punishment for an admittedly off-color, offensive joke will surely turn away the leaders, debaters, experimenters, and strong-minded, driven prospective students that Hopkins once sought to continue its legacy of research and discovery.
The theme “Halloween in the Hood,” characterized by the use of stereotypical “hood” language such as “bling bling ice ice, grills, and hoochie hoops” and a reference to Baltimore as an “HIV Pit,” generated a heated uproar among members of the Black Student Union and the NAACP based on claims of racial discrimination. However, there is no reason why Sigma Chi’s party should be singled out by the administration from the wide variety of similarly off-colored and offensively-themed events. Popular themes, not only at Hopkins but on many campuses, include “Pimps ‘N Hoes,” “Golf Pros and Tennis Hoes,” “Corporate CEO’s and Secretary Hoes,” and White Trash Bash. Most are offensive and stereotypical to women, and “White Trash” is a racially and socially offensive term. However, all varieties of students—white/black, male/female, and of diverse ethnic backgrounds—attend these events, and concerns have never been voiced by administrators or blown out of proportion.
So why is “Halloween in the Hood” an exception to this trend? Yes, there is no doubt that the invitation was completely off-color and could be considered insulting. But if everything deemed “offensive” to any group on campus was banned and caused such a ruckus, many parties, guest speakers, and debates would be disallowed. Further, Hopkins opens its on-campus bar to fraternity-hosted parties throughout the year and allows music with lyrics using this “objectionable” language to be played. So should a student be punished for repeating these words in a party invitation? No. The bottom line is that based on Hopkins’ stated policies, we all enjoy the right to free expression. Moreover, the university administration can’t pick and choose which ethnically or racially offensive terms and events they’ll deem acceptable. Hopkins better start sticking to its own principles or it will only continue to dig itself a deeper grave.
Christine is a rising junior at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, but Mountainside, NJ, is where she calls home. At Hopkins, Christine is studying to fulfill a double-major in International Studies and Spanish, hoping to become a fluent Spanish-speaker. When she’s not in class, Christine is a Spanish tutor, Secretary of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, and a tri-captain of the JHU Women’s Soccer team. GO BLUEJAYS! Christine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.