Refusing to be defeated by the intransigence of the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) administration, students and Baltimore community members held a teach-in and rally on November 15 to protest the university’s million-dollar contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The action was spurred after the administration received a petition with over 2,000 signatures calling for JHU to terminate the ICE contracts — and then rebuffed the demand.
At least 30 participated in the teach-in outside in freezing weather before entering the Brody Learning Commons (BLC) building to disrupt business as usual, where the action swelled to at least 80 participants.
Speakers at the teach-in rejected the administration’s cynical invocation of “academic freedom” as a defense of the ICE contracts, and denounced the university’s complicity in Trump’s war on immigrants. Inside the BLC, protesters chanted, “Money for education, not deportation!” and “End the contracts!” after several participants unfurled a banner over a balcony, which read “End the Contracts! #ICEoutJHU.”
This was the second major action against the contracts to have taken place at JHU since a coalition of student organizations came together in September to pressure the university to end its partnership with ICE.
Since 2008, the university has earned more than $7 million from 37 contracts with ICE, and currently, Hopkins has three contracts with the agency totaling more than $1.7 million. The contracts are for Hopkins to provide emergency medical training and leadership education to ICE personnel and are housed by the School of Medicine and the School of Education, respectively.
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THE #ICEoutJHU campaign was ignited after JHU Professor Drew Daniel authored a petition that called on JHU to immediately dissolve the currently existing partnership between the university and ICE.
“Given the extent and extremity of its cruel practices and the scale of ongoing human rights charters which ICE continues to violate, we do not see how in good conscience Johns Hopkins University can collaborate with this organization,” the petition stated.
As the fall semester approached, the Baltimore International Socialist Organization (ISO) planned its campus launch and initial tabling around a campaign against the contracts. Soon into the semester, it became apparent that other student organizations — including Students Against Private Police (SAPP) and Teachers and Researchers United (TRU) — were also organizing on the issue or interested in coming aboard.
These organizations — along with local branches of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Jews United for Justice — decided immediately to form a coalition and plan a major action at the end of September.
The coalition’s first action began as an early morning “play date” — a symbolic manifestation of the slogan that families belong together — outside the Eisenhower Library, where students, faculty and community members with their children chalked on the sidewalk and participated in a song circle.
First a relatively quiet action, the action soon shifted into a march to the JHU president’s office to deliver the petition, with participants chanting, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These ICE contracts have got to go!”
Among the speakers were the partner of Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel, a JHU librarian whom the university served a 10-day notice that she would have to return to Britain after the JHU administration failed to renew her visa. (Instead of fighting on her behalf, Hopkins reportedly did not submit Mahoney-Steel’s application based on the belief that the Trump administration would reject it.)
In the interim weeks, while awaiting a response from the administration to the petition, the coalition kept up the pressure by flyering and protesting outside the JHU president’s eponymous “Day of Service,” demanding that the president do a real “service” to the community by ending his support for Trump’s deportation regime.
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The University response dated October 17 flatly rejected the demands on the grounds that ending the university’s cooperation with ICE would “infringe on academic freedom” and that its “medical training is ultimately benefiting those who interact with ICE.” The administration also highlighted that the university does not abridge existing contracts on the basis of changes in federal policy.
The coalition shot back with a hard-hitting open letter, which rebuked the administration’s cynical version of “academic freedom”:
The Department of Homeland Security has contracted with Johns Hopkins University, not individual professors. Many of the courses, both in the School of Medicine and School of Education, are led by part-time instructors who are hired on a course-by-course basis, meaning that the instructors do not have a say in whether to maintain these courses.
Under the proposed definition of academic freedom advanced in the letter, JHU is obliged to accept any contract that has the support of a faculty member. This is not the purpose of academic freedom protections. These “courses” are not forums for controversial discussions, venues for critical examination of fraught topics, or tools for research and knowledge production. They are training programs which enable human rights abuses.
To the claim that JHU’s medical training “ultimately benefits” those who interact with ICE, the coalition retorted, “If JHU wishes to provide medical services to migrants, they need not to do so through ICE.” JHU could channel resources into one of the many research programs at the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health that are focused on improving public health in the immigrant community.
Support for the open letter (which is now available online as a petition) has been pouring in over recent days — including from several alumni who pledged they will divest their support from JHU and encourage others to do so until it terminates its cooperation with ICE. The Maryland ACLU also endorsed the coalition’s response one day before the rally, along with eight other organizations.
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The day before the rally and teach-in, the Baltimore ISO branch hosted a public forum titled “How Hopkins Abets the War on Immigrants” in order to pull in students who were either not yet engaged in organizing on campus or who had not yet found a politics that gave them the courage to act.
One of the speakers covered the way in which the capitalist class uses borders in order to control populations in the service of expanding profits. In the discussion, members emphasized that our allegiance is with the working classes of all nations, not the ruling elites of any one nation.
It is also important to recognize the ways the coalition has drawn together struggles against oppression on different fronts. This was clear at the rally, when a member from Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine linked the repression of Gazans by Israel with violence faced by migrants at the US border with Mexico.
Further, members of the graduate student unionization effort, TRU, connected their struggle for workplace rights to the way in which ICE acts as a tool to suppress workplace assertion by immigrants. SAAP saw their organizing against the militarization of the JHU campus as related to the intensification of the war against immigrants.
In the coming weeks, the coalition also plans to connect with progressive and radical student organizations at other universities that have current partnerships with ICE including Northeastern University, University of Maryland, Vermont State Colleges System, Virginia Tech, and University of Alabama Birmingham.
The success of our coalition against ICE at JHU, and the student movement against ICE more broadly, suggests there is great potential for organizing both students and community members on issues which have long faded from the corporate news cycle — whether it be #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter or #AbolishICE.