Rachel Monroe

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Johns Hopkins: For Rich Kids Only?

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According to Johns Hopkins, the Class of 2015 will be “one of the most diverse in the university’s history.” Next year’s freshmen hail from all 50 states and a host of other countries; 23 percent of admits are underrepresented minorities. All encouraging facts. But as a recent New York Times article by David Leonhardt points out, economic diversity is still glaringly absent from top schools, and Hopkins is no exception.

One rough measure of economic diversity is the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants from the federal government — an approximate way to figure out how many students come from the bottom half of the income distribution. At Amherst, it’s 22 percent; nearly a third of UCLA and UC Berkeley students fall into this category. Hopkins’ figure? 11 percent.

Which is not to say that the university should be singled out for censure. Actually, it’s alarmingly in keeping with national trends. Leonhardt cites a study that examined the class of 2010 at the nation’s top 193 schools.  The economic distribution was way out of whack:  only 15 percent of students were from the bottom half of the nation’s income distribution, while 67 percent were from the top quarter. In 2003, there were more students from families that earned at least $200,000 than those in the entire bottom half of the income distribution. As Leonhardt points out, this doesn’t just mean that students from poor families aren’t attending top colleges — it means that the wealthy are increasingly pushing out the middle class.

As Anthony Marx, president of Amherst, told the Times, “We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent, yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

At Amherst, administrators are increasing grants for foreign students (who don’t qualify for Pell Grants) and seeking out transfer students from community colleges. At Hopkins, there’s the Baltimore Scholars program (a full-tuition scholarship for Baltimore City public high school students accepted to the university) and other need-based grant programs. But as Amherst demonstrates, it takes a lot more effort to correct the existing imbalance. 

Is this enough? Is increasing economic diversity something the university should prioritize?

Internships: Experience or Exploitation?

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When Johns Hopkins launched a new program offering paid internships with Baltimore-area non-profits, they found the response — more than 200 applications for 25 spots — “overwhelming.”

Which, if you think about it, is a little naive.  An internship is basically a necessity for today’s undergraduates, a way to make connections and build a resume. The feeling was present when I was an undergrad in the early 2000s — the sense that you’d never get a job unless you had a host of enviable institutions on your reference list; the idea that a summer spent lifeguarding or just lounging at your parents’ house, reading meant that you’d be left behind.

Which isn’t to say that all internships are worthy of these students’ time and enthusiasm. Many are unpaid, putting students in the unenviable position of having to beg to be allowed to work for free, sometimes at their fifteenth-choice organization. And of course there’s no guarantee that the work itself will be rewarding:  I got college credit for my “editorial internship” at a prestigious-sounding publication where my tasks included changing the boss’ license plate, filling out her daughter’s summer camp application (complete with forged signatures), bringing lunch to her daughter’s school when she forgot it, etc.

It’s partly in order to combat exploitative situations like this that the U.S. Labor Department recently revised its guidelines for unpaid internships with for-profit companies. Basically, if a student is getting credit for an internship, the work has to be structured like an educational experience. “The internship is for the benefit of the intern,” the Labor Department feels the need to proclaim — well, duh. But the fact that such an obvious guideline needs to be codified into law indicates how exploitative some situations have become.

So kudos to JHU for creating a program that seeks to place students in positions where they can contribute meaningfully to their community, where they’re overseen and protected by a university that takes their work seriously — and one that pays them well ($5000!). No wonder hundreds of students were interested — there’s not enough of this in the world.

Until It’s Zero: Underreported Rapes at Hopkins?

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From 2007 to 2009, JHU reported ZERO incidents of sexual assault or rape. While we would love for this to be the case, we know it’s not.

So proclaims the recently-launched Until It’s Zero project, a blog that declares itself “a space devoted to giving survivors of sexual violence an outlet until such a time as the incidence of sexual assault and rape truly is zero.” The blog features stories of assault, rape, gray-area situations, and harassment, written by anonymous Hopkins students — mostly women, but a few men as well.

As the blog’s moderators note, it’s notoriously tricky to get accurate statistics about rape/sexual assault, but some experts estimate that 1 in 4 college women has experienced some form of sexual assault in her lifetime. But a host of factors — from guilt to fear of social stigma to dismissive authority figures — means that many survivors decline to file official reports. A positive-seeming statistic — like Hopkins’ claim of no rapes or sexual assaults reported since 2007 — can actually mask a culture of shame. Over half the rapes committed on college campuses are never reported to police, the blog points out.

So far, the blog features a couple dozen stories from survivors, some set in Hopkins dorms and frat houses, others of which pre-date the writer’s time at the school. And all are heartbreaking to read: “I was 11 years old.  I was in CTY.” “The detective assigned to the case told me he only had time for ‘real rapes.'” It’s a harrowing collection of stories, many of which start out innocently — with a date, a party, a night out with friends.

Kudos to the Hopkins Feminist Alliance and Sexual Assault Response Unit for opening up the discussion. Let’s hope that someday soon that “zero” statistic does reflect campus reality.

A Perfect Match All Along

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Even if Avery Knox and Drew Hill took a while to admit that they were perfect for each other, everyone else around them seemed to know it–even before they’d met. Knox’s grandfather, the owner and founder of the Buffalo Sabres for over 30 years, had always told his granddaughter that she’d marry a hockey player; until last year, she’d never even dated one. Then one of Knox’s friends met a fun, outgoing hockey enthusiast — Hill–whose zest for life reminded her of Knox. 

The friend’s hunch was right:  Hill and Knox immediately hit it off when they were introduced at Padonia Station in January, 2010. “I was laughing the whole night. I’d never met someone who made me laugh so much,” Knox recalls. But even if their connection was immediate and easy, nothing else was. At the time of their meeting, Hill was in his fourth year of recovery from extensive injuries sustained as a member of the Special Forces serving in Afghanistan in 2006. After his helicopter came under fire, Hill fell out of the aircraft and ended up with a shattered ankle, fractured back and neck, and a shoulder torn out of its socket. When they met, Hill had just moved out of the hospital and was focussing on recovering from shoulder surgery. 

But that’s not the only way that their timing was–as Knox puts it– “inconvenient.”  Hill had recently made the decision to put his considerable energy toward things that had nothing to do with being in a relationship. A hockey player in high school, he had been introduced to sled hockey–a version of ice hockey designed for players with physical disabilities–while undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. Reacquainting himself with the ice–first through sled hockey and later, as his recovery progressed, through standing hockey–had galvanized his recovery; now, along with a group of friends, he was hoping to give that same sense of purpose to other wounded or disabled vets. In 2009, Hill founded the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, a non-profit aimed at getting injured soldiers onto the ice. The sport empowers vets on an emotional level, as well as a physical one.  “Most of us have been gaining the ability to do something again or to do it with a different part of our body,” Hill told USAHockey.com. “It’s a return to what you once were and what you thought you’d never be able to do it again.”

By the time he met Knox, the Warriors were Hill’s main focus. Not to mention the fact that the program’s success in the Baltimore area led him to consider a move to Minnesota, where much of his family lives, in order to start another chapter. 

Knox, too, was wary. Nevertheless, as the two spent more time together, she became more and more sure of the intuition she’d had on the night they met–that Hill would be someone important in her life. She began volunteering with the Warriors, and the pair “did the friend thing,” as Knox puts it. But their strong connection persisted. “I think we both felt, Okay, you’re a little too perfect,” Knox admits. In the meantime, their work with the Warriors made it clear that they functioned well as a team. Even though Knox was touched by Hill’s compassion, she was still hesitant: “We both kind of knew once we said, ‘Yeah, okay, we’re dating,’ that would be it. So we put that off, [telling people] ‘We’re not dating yet.’ “

By June, though, Knox and Hill had realized, as Knox puts it, that “it [was] possible to have the relationship you want,”–and knew that  that relationship was with each other. The two balance each other out, says Knox: “He’s very intense and strong. He has a lot of Type A qualities, and I’m pretty laid back and quiet. He’s taught me to stick up for myself and I’ve taught him how to mellow out and see that everybody has a story.”

These days, Knox works at a salon, but spends much of her time helping out with the Warriors. If Hill takes care of everything on the ice, Knox jokes, then she’s responsible for everything off it–from taking photographs to ordering new warmup suits to babysitting players’ kids during practices. Their teamwork–and the players’ hours of practice–has paid off. This year, the Warriors won their division at the USA Disabled Festival; last year, they lost all of their games

Photo by Maria Vicencio Photography

The pair’s wedding plans matched their courtship: seemingly inconvenient yet ultimately ideal.  Although Knox’s mother and sister had gotten married at the family’s farm in Monkton, she had always imagined herself doing something different–a barefoot beach wedding. But after she met Hill, her idea of the perfect ceremony “totally changed,” she laughs. Suddenly, a winter wedding seemed like the perfect fit. “So much of our relationship was solidified in the cold,” Knox notes — not only chilly hockey rinks, but also trips skiing and snowboarding.  

But when family health issues made the pair decide to move the wedding earlier, hosting the ceremony at the farm started to make more sense. “We wanted everyone to be able to be there… There are so many people in our lives that are significant,” Knox said. Plus, the location is “absolutely gorgeous,” she added. The May 14 ceremony proved gorgeous, despite light rain. The springtime ceremony hinted at wintry wonder with a January-inspired color palette (Tiffany blue, white, and silver), and trees festooned with tiny Christmas lights. A stunning tent kept the 330 guests dry while allowing ample pristine country views.

Some of the credit for the flawless afternoon might go to one of Knox’s family’s unusual traditions. After her mother’s racehorse No Triskadeckaphobia (Greek for fear of the number 13) started doing better when he raced under the number 13, the family adopted the figure as a token of luck. Fittingly, the ceremony featured 13 bridesmaids and groomsmen, including Knox’s sister, who was born on Friday the 13th. And though the wedding itself was held on a Saturday, the date of the rehearsal dinner–Friday, May 13 –promised an auspicious start to a relationship that, as Knox puts it, “came out of nowhere”–but seemed fated to happen all along.

Hopkins Hit-and-Runs: Walk Safe, Baltimore

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Parents of prospective Hopkins students often fret about Baltimore’s reputation as a crime-plagued city — hence the school’s ubiquitous flashing blue light phones and omnipresent security officers. But with four Hopkins students seriously injured in pedestrian-car accidents over the past year and a half, it’s starting to seem like the most dangerous thing a Hopkins student can do is to try and cross the street.

This weekend, two Hopkins students were injured by a hit-and-run driver at the corner of St. Paul and 33rd streets. Both freshman Rachel Cohen and sophomore Benjamin Zucker are expected to survive the accident, which took place at 2:15 AM on Saturday night; Zucker is in critical condition. In 2009, a Hopkins student died after a hit-and-run accident at the same intersection.

In February of this year, Hopkins sophomore Nathan Krasnopoler was biking down West University Parkway when he was hit by an 83 year-old driver, who has since been changed with negligent driving and failure to yield right-of-way to a cyclist in a designated bike lane. Krasnopoler is in a coma and is not expected to recover.

In October 2009, junior Miriam Frankl died after a hit-and-run collision in St. Paul Street’s service drive, at the intersection of 33rd Street. In February of this year, Thomas Meighan, who was drunk at the time of the accident, pled guilty to multiple felony charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

With its grassy expanses and smiling security staff, the Hopkins campus — and its Charles Village environs — can sometimes feel like a protected enclave. These accidents are a harsh reminder that that’s far from true. Remember to drive safe, walk safe, and bike safe, Baltimore.

Commencement Speakers: The Highlights

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No Oprah- or Obama-caliber superstars will descend on Baltimore this graduation season, but the speakers’ docket is still full of intriguing talent and fascinating lives. This years’ speakers include a soprano, an NFL players advocate, and a bevy of journalists and non-profit executives. A few notable speakers include:

Johns Hopkins‘ university-wide commencement on Thursday, May 26 will feature Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s flagship foreign affairs show, Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, columnist at the Washington Post, and New York Times bestselling author.

The SAIS ceremony — also May 26 — will include a speech by Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

Slated to speak at Peabody  (May 26 as well) is soprano Marni Nixon, “the voice of Hollywood,” who overdubbed the singing voices in movies including My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The King and I, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

For its May 26 commencement, the Johns Hopkins School of Education snagged Gary Knell, president of the Sesame Workshop, who helped bring Sesame Street to far-flung places including Egypt, South Africa, Russia, and China.

Goucher‘s got Dr. Ian G. Rawson, the managing director of Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti speaking on Friday, May 20.

On Friday, May 13 Stevenson will feature journalist Kimberly Dozier, formerly of CBS News and now with the Associated Press. Dozier recently penned an account of her time as a correspondent in Iraq and Afghanistan — and her recovery after being wounded in a car bombing that killed a colleague.

Morgan State‘s speaker is Ruth Simmons, the first female president of Brown University and the first African American to serve as president of any Ivy League institution. The ceremony takes place on Saturday, May 21.

Towson’s commencement on Wednesday, May 25 will include a speech by Scott Pelley, who is slated to replace Katie Couric as CBS Evening News anchor.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, lends some wisdom at the University of Maryland’s graduation ceremony in College Park on Thursday, May 19.

Re-Branding Notre Dame: Name Changes and More

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Big changes are brewing at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

Mary Pat Suerkamp, long-time president of the school, announced her plans to step down after the 2011-12 academic year. Suerkamp oversaw the school for fifteen years — eons in the lifespan of college presidents. Over the course of that decade and a half, she oversaw a record fundraising campaign, and expanded the school’s offerings to include a handful of doctoral programs.

Suerkamp’s departure will come on the heels of another big change for Notre Dame:  as of September 9, the school will officially be known as Notre Dame of Maryland University. This re-naming is part of a larger re-branding campaign that’s aimed at getting the school’s “complex” character in front of the public eye.

As P.J. Mitchell, chair of the board of trustees, told the Baltimore Sun,  “One of the things we wanted to do was bring clarity to the brand,” she said. “People weren’t sure who we were because all they heard about was the women’s college.”

Notre Dame has always faced a bit of an uphill battle in terms of branding. For one, it shares a name with a better-known institution famous for its sports teams; our ND, in contrast, is a liberal arts college with an overwhelmingly female student body. But it’s just that reputation — for smallness, for being women-only — that the re-naming is supposed to shake up. The switch from “College of…” to “University” status is meant to highlight the school’s growing graduate programs, including newly minted — and co-ed — doctoral programs in education and pharmacy.  (There’s also the added benefit of getting rid of the current nomenclature’s awkward acronym, but no one’s putting that in any press releases.)

If all this rings a bell, that’s probably because several other educational institutions have similarly redefined themselves in recent years — Loyola College became Loyola University Maryland in 2009, and Villa Julie College switched to Stevenson University the previous year.

The Washington Post points out that market researchers have found that students think “university” sounds more prestigious than “college.” Can a name change and brand overhaul alter the way a school is perceived? We’ll keep an eye on Notre Dame to find out.

 

Photo courtesy Flickr user psalakanthos

Film Fest Standouts

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Our past visits to the Maryland Film Festival have left us surprised, shocked, entertained, engaged — but never bored. The cinematic celebration returns this weekend, and features films both foreign and domestic, short and long, classic and cutting-edge, odd and odder. Our picks for some must-see screenings are below; check out the full schedule here.

 

Meek’s Cutoff
Saturday, May 7 (8:30 PM)
Charles Theater
Kelly Reichardt, a rising star in American independent film, explored the subtle tensions of daily life in the Pacific Northwest in her films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy to a low-key, memorable effect. Now, she turns her attention to that classically American genre, the Western, and we can’t wait to see the results. This film follows a wagon train of hopeful settlers (most notably Michelle Williams) searching for safe passage through the Cascade Mountains in 1845.  Low supplies, an untrustworthy guide, the sudden appearance of an Indian — Reichardt’s quiet subversion of Western conventions makes for a fresh and startling story.

My Joy
Saturday, May 7 (11:00 AM)
Charles Theater
Looking to recapture that feeling of dread and exhilaration that last year’s film fest hit Dogtooth left you with? Our pick for bleakest story on the screens this year is Ukranian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa’s ironically titled My Joy. At once a day-in-the-life depiction of Georgi, a truck driver, and a dark commentary on the madness of post-Soviet society, My Joy is provocative, brutal, and thrilling.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Friday, May 6 (1:30 PM) & Sunday, May 8 (2:00 PM)
Charles Theater
Or maybe you’re over bleakness.  Earlier this year, A. O. Scott noted that Uncle Boonmee’s “contemplative mood and genial, curious spirit….encountered in an appropriately exploratory frame of mind [could] produce something close to bliss.” Exploratory is the key word here; this lush Thai film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010, features surreal touches, including ghosts, spirits emerging from the jungle, and other shadowy beasts.

Alloy Orchestra Presents Masters of Slapstick
Sunday, May 8 (11:00 AM)
Charles Theater
A film festival tradition, the Alloy Orchestra writes and performs original scores to accompany silent films. This year is your chance to watch their embellishments of a series of short films featuring everyone’s favorite wordless masters of physical comedy: Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

Photo by Rich Riggins, courtesy Maryland Film Festival

Johns Hopkins Woos Prospective Students

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After months of  weighing the merits of anxious applicants, April is the month for colleges to feel what it’s like to nervously hope for a “yes.”

In April, Johns Hopkins sent out acceptance letters to 3,032 applicants, or 20.5 percent of all those who applied — its lowest-ever acceptance rate. But come fall 2011, most of those students won’t end up strolling across Decker Quad.

Hopkins’ yield — the number of accepted students who end up enrolling — has traditionally been solidly, well, average. In 2009, it was 31 percent, putting it in the neighborhood of Northwestern, Tufts, and other schools that are often considered to be second-choice options for those who’d really like to end up in the Ivy League. (Harvard’s yield that year was 77 percent.)

This year, Hopkins seems to be sparing no expense when it comes to wooing accepted students (and their parents). And no wonder. In order to end up with an incoming freshman class of 1245 — the University’s goal, according to the admissions office — Hopkins will have to convince 41 percent of its acceptees that they really, really want to be Blue Jays. (The 518 early decision acceptances, who have already agreed to enroll, make this a little less daunting.) That means making the University look brighter, shinier, and generally more desirable to prospective students than ever before.

To aid in the wooing, the university launched the Spring Open House and Overnight Program (SOHOP), an elaborately choreographed series of events that seems intended to convince prospective students that life at Hopkins is chock full of a capella concerts, outdoor movies, and “video game jams.” And for the first time, the first big overnight program for admitted students was held at the same time as Hopkins’ Spring Fair, possibly the only time the student body can be counted on to cut loose en masse.

Presumably any student Hopkins admitted should be smart enough to realize that not every weekend will feature fried food and free concerts on the quad; still, by aggressively presenting the school as a hub of spontaneous social activity instead of the library-centric stress fest it more honestly resembles, the school might be setting itself up to have higher yields, but more dissatisfied freshmen.

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