On The Hill, the most impactful voice in racism and Hopkins is the @blackathopkins_ Instagram account. Moderated by Kofi Adjepong ’15 and a Class of 2017 Hopkins alum (who wishes to stay anonymous), the platform shares stories of racism, microaggressions, and discomfort current and former Black students faced at Hopkins. This account is one of many accounts amplifying the voices of Black students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs); others include @blackatchoateofficial, @blackathamdenhall, and @blackatgfa, to name a few. Before creating this account, Adjepong was active on his personal Instagram account; he hosted livestreams and IGTVs featuring current students and alumni, which he hopes serves as “‘Black Therapy’ for the younger students,” as well as “a space for ... black students to share laughs, share stories, share pain, and just overall have a place to be together.” Adjepong believes, however, that “[h]aving a page dedicated to the Black Hopkins experience rather than [his] own personal [Instagram] page forced the school to acknowledge that these issues are real and unwavering.” The @blackathopkins_ account also provides resources on anti-racism, such as a Q&A series featuring past and current Hopkins students with questions from the community.
The response from Hopkins students and alumni to @blackathopkins_ is overwhelmingly positive. Savan Parikh ’23 believes “it is so important to have these spaces for discussion,” as they “give Black students a space where they can be vulnerable.” He continued, “The openness, the love, and the togetherness displayed in these forums at Hopkins have not only helped move the conversation forward efficiently but helped many students tell stories they otherwise felt too silenced to tell.” Adjepong agrees: “I receive messages almost everyday from current and former students expressing how much this page means to them and how they're grateful to have a space to express their trauma without fear of backlash from the school.”
Beyond the @blackathopkins_ Instagram account, two recent alumni created petitions outlining demands for reform. Kamsi Nwangwu ’15 created the Hopkins School: Be the Change appeal, which outlined five policies designed to “[improve] Black lives on campus and beyond” by diversifying the school’s curriculum and student body, as well as providing greater support towards the communities of color in New Haven and beyond. As of August 19, 2020, more than 10,000 individuals have signed the petition. Nate Stratton ’19 designed The Roots Initiative, which, according to its description on the @blackathopkins_ account, is based on the idea that “the key to solving economic and racial disparities at Hopkins School is the increased admittance of students from New Haven and its surrounding towns.” By admitting more students from these areas through adequate financial support (the plan outlines some ways in which the school could raise money), it would help create a class representative of the diverse New Haven community.
The groundswell of alumni speaking out about the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) experience at Hopkins and pushing for reform led to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives, published by the Board of Trustees. While the specific objectives are new, the core ideas they embody are not. Head of School Kai Bynum says these plans were “developed out of our 360 Plan, and that process has been going on for several years now.” After reading the stories brought to light by the @blackathopkins_ Instagram account, which Bynum described as “alarming and surprising,” the administration deemed it necessary to “[accelerate] those initiatives and [give] them a larger platform.” Medina Tyson Jett ’83 and Nicholas Dawidoff ’81 lead a trustee task force responsible for overseeing these initiatives. Critical in forming the Diversity and Equity Task Force and the initiatives it manages was a 15-minute meeting students and alumni held with the administrators to outline their frustrations. Additionally, Diversity Board co-head Ranease Brown ’21 and two parents, Miriam Gohara and Wendy Simmons, will provide their insights to the task force. Brown explains that her “job is to ...be that younger voice and to speak up for all of you guys.”
Modifications to the History and English curricula are a significant part of the DEI Initiatives. In a letter addressed to the entire Hopkins community, Bynum states, “We will re-examine our curriculum to incorporate a social justice lens, de-center Anglo-European voices, and elevate all voices.” Chair of the History Department Elizabeth Gleason elaborates, “Our number one goal is to align the work of the History department with the larger goals and direction of the school as a whole.” She continues, “We are always working to hone and diversify our existing 7 [through] 12 curriculum…and we are looking forward to continuing to work toward that end this coming school year.”
English Department Chair Joseph Addison took to Instagram to address the lack of diversity in the English curriculum and faculty. In a video posted on the @hopkinssoccer Instagram account, Addison focuses on the question, “How can Hopkins concretely address issues relating to the Black experience, for students and faculty?” Since then, a new @hop_english Instagram account was created to publicize the department’s work in instituting a diverse curriculum as well as to gain feedback. Students were able to fill a form sharing suggestions of books and authors for the Hopkins English curriculum. Concrete changes are already happening; the elimination of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird from eighth grade summer reading is one of many specific curricular updates for the upcoming school year. Along with a diversified set of required literature for both students and faculty, a curriculum audit will occur this fall to determine “what voices we have and don’t have in our English courses,” Addison explains.
Many students are hopeful that adjustments in the English and History curricula will aid in “breaking down” the “Eurocentric mindset,” as phrased by co-head of the Asian American Student Association (AASA) Ella Ip ’21. “Diversifying the narrative is key for breaking down systematic racism and promoting an anti-racist mindset.” These sentiments are shared by the Black-Latinx Student Union (BLSU) co-head Milan Yorke ’21, who states, “Black history should not be an elective when American history is Black history. These histories are eternally woven and while one is required, the other is almost impossible to take.” Yorke believes that depriving Hopkins students of the "huge amount of history and information that comes with Black history… including Black culture” is a “disservice to all students.” AASA co-head Jasmine Shah emphasizes the importance of representation in literature: “The first time I felt anything close to being represented was in my English  class, when we read ‘How I Got That Name’ by Marilyn Chin. It's stuck with me and every time I think about it I think about how I hope that everyone has the chance to feel seen and understood by a piece of literature.” Julia An ’21, also an AASA head, believes that in order “to be a well rounded person, you should see things from all perspectives.” She continued, “Representation and diversity are so important because without it, one can be oblivious to larger issues in our world.”
While co-head of Students United for Racial Equity (SURE), Jasmine Simmons ’21, believes the initiatives are “an adequate starting point,” she emphasized that “feedback from students and other members of the community will be crucial.” Parikh thinks “there should be more transparency moving forward.” He continued, “As of now, the Initiatives are simply hollow promises. Moving forward, members of the school community should be able to follow constant updates from the Board of Trustees on the progress being made,” Adjepong shares similar thoughts; while he thinks this is “a good first step,” the DEI page’s “in progress” status “alludes to the idea that the issue can be ‘completed’ and that is not the case, as it takes consistent and daily efforts to continually combat racism and system oppression.”
The DEI Initiatives also support collaborative action with student organizations in the Hopkins community: “We will encourage and support our Student Diversity Board, along with our affinity groups on campus … to create more spaces for association, affirmation and connection.” These groups have already been active in this fight for social justice; in response to the numerous stories of discriminatory treatment on campus brought forth through the @blackathopkins_ Instagram account and Adjepong’s livestreams, they worked together to organize a series of conversations on racial injustice. The discussions began with a forum in June that featured over 200 participants. Simmons states, “We felt ...this was a time for the Hopkins community to come together and have conversations about what was going on and provide an outlet for people to talk about their emotions and perspectives.” The student forum was divided into two conversations: affinity groups and action groups. The purpose of the affinity groups, Simmons explains, was “to try and provide comfortable spaces for students to share their feelings. The action groups, co-chair of Diversity Board, Hannah Szabo ’21, continues, allowed students to “hear from a more diverse subsection of the Hopkins community and consider ways to enact tangible change.”
A series of media-based conversations followed the student forum. These conversations featured articles, spoken word poetry, podcasts, and films, all centering around racial injustice. Parikh says he was “very excited” when he heard about the media-based conversations and believes that it is “crucial” for people “to make sure they are doing everything they can to understand the history of oppression that Black people have faced in America,” noting that the media conversations were “a perfect way to address this.”
While the media-based conversations have ended for the summer, plans for discussions during the school year are already in the works. Brown explains,“Our goal for this year is to unify the community in a way that may be uncomfortable but through conversations that are necessary to have at this stage.” Simmons agrees: “We are all planning to continue to have these kinds of events and conversations within our own organizations and also in collaboration with each other.” Simmons adds that “we want this to be an ongoing process of learning and listening.”
Outside of Hopkins, students have been active in the spheres of anti-racism and anti-oppression. Alexis Chang ’21 attended seven protests and is also a member of CT Against Brutality, “a student group supporting BLM [Black Lives Matter] and against brutality,” according to their Instagram (@ctagainstbrutality) description. “We have also been organizing forums where BIPOC can tell their stories in a safe space,” adds Chang, including a student forum that took place on June 13.
Recently, Doug Wardlaw ’17 created an ongoing Black Male Mentorship Group for students and alumni. Michael Imevbore ’21 attended the group’s first meeting; he said, “talk[ing] with other people who shared your experiences at Hopkins and knew where you were coming from” was “cool.” The members were able to discuss “the sad reality about being Black at Hopkins and how, no matter what you do, you always seem different,” as Imevbore puts it. Students interested in joining the group can contact Wardlaw or Adjepong. Kiarra Lavache ’18 and Adjepong are currently creating a similar program for Black women.
Despite official and unofficial initiatives, reforms have not come without controversy. Adjepong, “[a]fter the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, noticed how [his] former peers were still active on social media, but not speaking about these issues.” He then “went in [his] yearbook, took screenshots of everyone from class of 2015 and 2014 and tagged them in [his] story with a playful memory,” ending the reminiscence with a “[request for] them to write these automated emails I created to send to Minneapolis and Kentucky governor's demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, respectfully.” This tactic pushed many of his former peers to take action; as a result, he continued to use Instagram to encourage others to take action. Some have considered these actions “too aggressive.” Adjepong says, “I laugh at the idea of there being a ‘right’ way to go about these issues, and view it as a way to silence my thoughts and my voice, and that simply won't happen.”
Challenges to anti-racism are present on The Hill as well. At Commencement, during the benediction speech by School Archivist and History teacher Thom Peters and the salutatorian address by Burton Lyng-Olsen ’20, the two speakers spoke of the racial inequalities still prevalent in 2020. In response, a parent heckled “Get off the stage!” at both speakers. The school conducted an investigation and banned the parent; an additional DEI initiative regarding parent training was created as a result. Another parent addressed a letter to Bynum, faculty, and parents, calling the Commencement ceremony “very politicized with liberal socialist letters.” He added, “We select[ed] Hopkins School for the strong academic and college preparation for our children, no[t] because [of] their political point of view. I don’t want anyone [to] talk to my kids at Hopkins about politics.”
Aaron Gruen ’21 disagrees with this line of argument: “Although I cannot speak for any classmates, I have never heard a teacher push or endorse any specific policy proposal or explicit political view.” He continued, “Teachers at Hopkins often remind us that their job is not to teach us what to think, but rather how to think: how to logically and fairly assess both historical and current events, and construct opinions rooted in fact and logic.” Yorke emphasizes that, “These suggestions all come from a love for the school and the understanding that it can do better. We just want Hopkins to put a little bit of hope in their hopeful youths and continue to reeducate and fight for anti-racism.”
As the school year begins, students are full of ideas for creating a more equitable community in the years to come. Shreya Rao ’25 believes that “having more speakers to spread awareness is vital, as it would help to see their point of view and personal perspective.” Yorke believes that “Black History and culture can be inserted into Hopkins.” She explained, “the Friday poe[try] and Wellness facts [emails] can also be join[ed] by a fact of black history every Tuesday or Wednesday.” Adjepong would “like the school to put something in the handbook regarding the usage of the n word and the punishment for it.” He continued, “There needs to be a clear precedent set to show the Black students, parents, and faculty that our issues are being seriously considered and we are being valued as people on this campus.”
For now, Black students have a few resources at their disposal. Bynum is currently working on “a different avenue” where “some of these microaggressions and incidents can be brought to light,” at the moment, he recommends students contact him personally or the Office of Student Support (School Psychologist Joshua Brant and School Counselor Linda Romanchok). Director of Equity and Community Becky Harper added that “Students can utilize the Office of Equity and Community and the Student Diversity Board if they need support.”
For any student who wishes to get involved in social justice work, multiple opportunities already exist on The Hill. Szabo “encourage[s] you to apply for DivBo [Diversity Board] in the fall, and even if you aren't selected, all of our meetings are open.” Brown elaborates, “We’re going to send out an application [at] the beginning of the year. The first task of the former diversity board is to [enroll] new members.” Students can act beyond the Diversity Board as well. Brown noted the importance of “projects that have been added by people who weren’t even officially on the board.” Szabo agrees: “We are here to represent the diversity of the school and give whatever support we can to any diversity, equity, community, or identity based project.” Students can also join SURE, BLSU, AASA, and other less formal student-led organizations. Bynum notes that schools are able to “evolve and progress” when students are “empowered to work with adults and [...] with one another, to share experiences, share voices to inform systems, inform people.”