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Professorship Promotes Faculty Diversity

January 25, 2021 by Beth Morgen

Identifying outstanding African American scholars

This story first appeared in the Planning Matters Winter 2021 issue.

Ask Bob Clayton about his experience at Johns Hopkins University, and he reflects on it fondly. The 1984 Krieger School of Arts and Sciences graduate was a member of the Student Activities Council and Black Student Union and captain of the varsity basketball team. He met Janine Austin, his fellow classmate and future wife, at Johns Hopkins.

Portrait of Bob Clayton and Janine Austin
Former Society of Black of Alumni President Bob Clayton has long advocated for increasing Black faculty representation at Johns Hopkins. The 1984 Krieger School graduate met his classmate and future wife Janine Austin (right) at Johns Hopkins.

Not all of his classmates enjoyed their time at Hopkins, however, which is one reason why Clayton later became involved with the Society of Black Alumni (SOBA). “My motivation has always been for students who come behind me to have a similar Hopkins experience as I did.”

Formed in 1994, SOBA encourages diversity at Johns Hopkins and offers mentoring and networking opportunities to students and alumni. Clayton, an attorney, has been active since the beginning, especially advocating for increasing Black faculty representation at the university. In 2001, SOBA members began fundraising for a professorship at Hopkins in the organization’s name. Loren Douglass, SOBA’s president at the time, was an early donor.

“It was my way of giving back to a university that had given me so much,” says Douglass, global transformation leader at AIG and former university trustee, who graduated with degrees from the Whiting School of Engineering in 1986 and School of Advanced International Studies in 1995. “I come from a Hopkins family. My father and my older brother are both Hopkins graduates.”

In 2007, when Clayton was SOBA president, the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professorship was established in concert with a university effort to identify and hire outstanding African American scholars. The Society of Black Alumni Professorship currently resides in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of History Martha Jones is the second person to hold the title.

“Martha brings so much influence to the university and to the Society of Black Alumni,” says Clayton. “She’s well respected amongst her peers and has a highly regarded reputation for her scholarship.”

The professorship will rotate to a different scholar in 2022. Upon this rotation, former SOBA professors remain in permanent tenured positions, while the professorship moves among divisions demonstrating the greatest need for African American faculty.

Members of SOBA also raise support for the SOBA Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid to undergraduates. To contribute, contact the Johns Hopkins Alumni Relations Office at 410-516-0808 or alumni@jhu.edu.

Topics: Alumni, Faculty and Staff, Johns Hopkins, Support Scholars