SDP 2021-2022 Week 14: Institutions

Our Week 14 meeting began with a brief recap of the past week’s events, with the focus mainly residing upon the urgency to maintain momentum that had been ignited by the publication of the Newsletter op-ed and was now growing through opportunities like the February 11 administrative meeting.
We then shifted to discussion about the readings of the week, which themselves tackled the topic of how university institutions like Johns Hopkins fit into the larger urban scheme. A point of contact with this issue was the budding idea of the “Communiversity”. The term describes a dynamic of equality and equity between an urban university and its surrounding community. In this context, we wondered how Hopkins offering free classes and services to the community might benefit the community, or if it would become an issue of misplaced priorities. The pedagogical flow of this relationship must flow both ways of course, as the last thing that should happen would be Hopkins shaping itself around a savior complex for the disadvantaged - especially those who have been historically disadvantaged because of the actions of Hopkins itself. The question of how to more fully realize a communiversity dynamic entails a multitude of factors: direction, intention, structure, authority, method, and responsibility. On that last topic, our readings mentioned the massive tax exemptions which universities enjoy because of their public service facilities, but we wonder where the equity lies in that. As our very own Ryan put it: “is it action or optics” when Hopkins does anything in the public face?
We later split into three groups in order to consider some of the overarching questions of action which our class has been juggling. After individual discussions, we reconvened as a class to share our thoughts and ideas. The first group asked the question of how we might mobilize Hopkins students around zero-waste. The main way to accomplish this has been outlined as follows: develop PLAN and center SBCLT in order to build a new sustainability coalition, which will be complemented by social media posts, potential “Zoom bombs” and rallies, and perhaps even a presentable petition. The second group asked how we might bring other universities into the fold of zero waste. On this front, we discussed reaching out to local schools and inquiring about their current waste infrastructure, on-campus organizations, and other logistics aspects that would define how far these other schools have progressed toward zero waste. Numerical and concrete data would be the center of our investigations. The third group asked how we might hold university authority accountable for keeping the conversation around a public-facing university pledge of zero waste. To this end, the task is simply to keep asking the direct question of “why won’t the university sign on to this pledge?”. Finding ways to exploit the university’s discomforts and desires in conjunction will be crucial to this.
To conclude class, the students discussed what to do with the PLAN entity on campus. We want to relaunch with a new first meeting, but this time be steadfast in the autonomy of the group from administrative power while also exploiting our legitimacy as a recognized group on campus to force the question on Hopkins: “We have a group on campus promoting zero waste, which was sponsored by our own Office of Sustainability, so why do we not take actions which follow their lead?”. Garnering new membership will also be important. We leave off here, primed to continue these discussions next week.