Last week, in the midst of controversy about their private police force proposal, Johns Hopkins University officials released a plan that seemed guaranteed to please:
The University will build a student center where the Mattin Center is currently located, on Charles Street just above Art Museum Drive.
President Ronald J. Daniels made the announcement before students assembled on the grassy “Beach” area facing Charles Street amid food trucks and giant seesaws.
It is the latest step in a years-long planning process, as The Brew explained in 2015. The Homewood campus does not have a traditional student union, as many campuses do, to house campus organizations and serve as a meeting place, stoking complaints that date back at least to 2001.
“This will be a new kind of space for us – one that is not academically focused, but entirely social by design,” Daniels wrote in a message to the campus community. “It will be a site to which everyone lays equal claim and from which everyone benefits.”
Lost Arts Space
The plan got an overall thumbs-up from the student editors of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, who said, “We’re grateful and happy that Hopkins will have a student center.”
But reporters from the paper found that some are concerned about the loss during construction of arts facilities at Mattin, including visual arts classrooms, music practice rooms, the Digital Media Center and the Swirnow Theater.
“It felt like they were saying, ‘We’re getting rid of the only arts space on campus, now play on these seesaws!’” one student told the paper. “We need a lot more answers than we have been given.”
Disability advocates, who had pushed the university to move Students Disability Services to more accessible space at Mattin, were also caught off-guard.
Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger told the News-Letter that JHU officials announced the plans for the student center “as soon as they had secured $150 million to fund it.”
Students will be part of the multi-year process of deciding what shape the student center will take and what it will contain, officials said.
Open to Community?
One consideration in that process will be the degree to which the new center is open to the community, even as the school beefs up its security force to police its campuses and perimeter.
As The Brew has reported, some community leaders have found the 18-year-old Mattin Center to be a bit of a fortress, with its three buildings oriented around an inner courtyard.
The News-Letter editorial addressed this issue, too. “So that a student center does not insulate students from Baltimore, we propose that the center be open to Baltimore residents.”