Published (2020/06/16)

Dear Members of the Hopkins ChemBE Community,

From the inception of our country, Black people have been subjected to racial inequities that persist today in discriminatory police practices and in the criminal justice system. The insidious effects of systemic racism against Black communities have manifested in pervasive educational and wealth inequality. The recent murders of Black Americans like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among many others, have only elevated the problem into the worldwide discourse. In particular, the murders of Freddie Gray and Tyrone West are poignant reminders of the brutality of police culture in Baltimore; they also starkly show how little has changed and how much work must be done.

We understand that Johns Hopkins University has never been a safe space for Black students, faculty, and staff. From the unethical behavior around the harvesting of Henrietta Lacks’ cells to the consistent displacement of Black communities, Johns Hopkins University has a history of profiteering and continues to profiteer from the abuse and oppression of Black people in Baltimore. If we are to move forward as a community, it is imperative that we confront our dark and painful history and take action so that Hopkins may become the inclusive environment it claims to be. We also must acknowledge that the establishment of an armed private police force would foster an environment of hostility and fear within the Black community at Hopkins. Black students, postdocs, faculty, and staff cannot work and learn effectively if they are in constant fear for their safety and lives, placing them at an immediate disadvantage. We must advocate for our Black ChemBE and Hopkins community members, as well as those in the greater Baltimore community, by using our voices and positions of power to speak out against the pursuance–now or in the future–of an armed private police force and against the inequalities and injustices Black people face.

Our department’s value statement says that “[ChemBE] is dedicated to fostering an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming environment for faculty, staff, and students.” We celebrate the department’s work to date including diversifying our graduate student body and marking the induction of two PhD students this year into the Bouchet Society. Last year, toward fostering a more inclusive culture, faculty and all staff participated in a workshop on “microtriggers.” And the department recently announced, in response to a request from the CDI, funds for students to attend affinity group conferences. Two faculty in ChemBE lead NSF-funded “Research Experiences for Undergraduates” programs, which train people from historically underrepresented groups.

Even with these initiatives, ChemBE has often fallen short of its vision for diversity, equity and inclusion. The department has not had any faculty of Hispanic ethnicity since 2012, and we have had no Black faculty since the 1980s. The fraction of graduate students in ChemBE from underrepresented groups is only about 10%. The lack of representation in our environment and faculty leads to feelings of isolation with fewer opportunities to connect with other students with whom they share similar backgrounds and experiences. Moreover, ChemBE students have experienced racial profiling on campus and have had their academic achievements unjustly called into question.

As the ChemBE Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), we acknowledge these shortcomings. But words and feelings are insufficient without action. Therefore, the CDI will create a subcommittee on Racial Equity and Justice to hold the department accountable through public quarterly “scorecard” reports this year (and annually thereafter) to measure progress on each item of interest. We call upon the department now to take the following actions:

  • Include Black people and people of color in all conversations and decisions regarding any relevant initiatives.
  • Voice disapproval of JHU’s expansive use of police by advocating for:
  • Reaffirm the commitment of the department to, and create urgency around, increased recruitment of underrepresented minority faculty, graduate students, and postdocs.
  • Schedule anti-racism training for the entire department, including faculty, staff, postdocs, graduate students, and interested undergraduates.
  • Emphasize the importance of sensitivity to those who have difficulty working at this time by hosting mentoring and sensitivity training for faculty. This training should especially ask faculty to focus on the wellbeing of their students.
  • Become more involved in outreach in the Baltimore community, for example, by integrating community outreach into our core curriculum and promoting participation in mentorship and after-school programs.
  • Add Black and Indigenous (BIPOC) and non-Black people of color (NBPOC) to our departmental advisory council.
  • Increase the representation of BIPOC and NBPOC in the departmental seminar series.
  • Advocate for the removal of standardized testing requirements, such as the GRE, ACT, and SAT, for application and admission into our academic programs.
  • Renew our departmental action plan to include immediate and 5-year goals with an accountability structure.
  • Commission research to document our department’s history with people of color, including notable firsts, achievements, and ongoing struggles. Share the history publicly.
  • Create an annual award to publicly recognize a student who contributes to diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, or justice. Consider naming it after the first African American BS graduate from Hopkins: Frederick I. Scott, Jr. ‘50, a chemical engineer.
  • Craft an environment with more social awareness, empathy, and emotional intelligence from all members.

We understand that members of our community need resources. For those in emotional distress, in addition to the mental health and wellness resources provided by the university, we recommend this list of resources that focus on self-care in response to racial trauma generated by the SoM Graduate Student Association. The following resources are good starting points for learning more about anti-racism: NY Times reading list, SURJ, the Smithsonian’s page on “Talking about Race”, a collection of Atlantic articles, and this classic article on the “White problem”. For those looking to take action against systemic racism in our community and our nation, we direct you towards the national Black Lives Matter resource page, the Baltimore Action Legal Team, and this Baltimore Sun article outlining ways to support Black lives in Baltimore. Resources specific to higher education can be found in this publication on mentoring minority graduate students, the American Council on Education’s resource center on race and ethnicity in higher education, and this National Academies report on the absence of Black men in science. The AIP also issued a report that has an excellent and applicable set of recommendations (pp. 64-71) for increasing representation of African Americans in higher education.

Now, more than ever, we want to make sure that everyone in our community is heard. In these times of distress, we want you to know that you are not alone and have the full support of the ChemBE Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI). The CDI will be holding office hours (contact us for Zoom link) weekly on Thursdays 1-2pm starting June 18. Students and postdocs are always welcome to attend the Department Head’s office hours every Wednesday at 12:30 – 1:30 pm.

The road to equality and justice is long. We would like to acknowledge those outside the CDI, especially our alumni, who have helped the department make steps towards a diverse and inclusive environment. And we look forward to working with each of you in the ChemBE community as we continue and sustain this work in the years to come.


Members of the JHU ChemBE Committee on Diversity and Inclusion including one undergraduate student, twelve graduate students, one postdoc, two staff members, and five faculty.


*Correction (2020/06/18): Our initial wording regarding Henrietta Lacks’ cells indicated they were illegally harvested, but it was pointed out to us that at that time cell harvesting was legal and accepted. Instead, the Lacks family was wronged by unethical treatment of her family by Hopkins faculty, lack for proper information about medical tests, and the irony of her descendants lacking decent healthcare despite the role their mother’s tumor cells have played in biomedical research. We thank our colleagues for correcting the record for us.