Johanna Fernández - First Interview, class of 1993

Johanna Fernández - First Interview, class of 1993

Johanna Fernández is a native New Yorker. She received a PhD in History from Columbia University and an AB in Literature and American Civilization from Brown University. While at Brown, she led the April 1992 student occupation of University Hall in hopes of pressuring Brown to move more rapidly towards the admission of students regardless of their ability to pay to attend. During the takeover, 253 students, including Fernández, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for not vacating University Hall.

In this interview, Johanna Fernández highlights her undergraduate experience as an activist at Brown University. She spends the first fifty minutes discussing her parents’ backgrounds as immigrants from the Dominican Republic and the effect that had on her childhood growing up in the Bronx, New York. She explains how she was raised differently from her two brothers because she was the only girl, and elaborates on her early education, specifically discussing her attendance at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, Manhattan Center for Science and Math, the Double Discovery Program at Columbia University, and a program organized by the British American Educational Foundation.

Fernández moves on to explain why she wanted to attend Wesleyan University, and her disappointment when she was accepted only to Brown. In talking of her time at Brown, Fernandez recalls struggling with her identity and recognizing intense racial segregation among students. She asserts that her classes with professors Dorothy Denniston and Suzanne Oboler were the most influential and frequently claims that Brown provided the most intellectually rigorous environment she has ever encountered.

At the one hour and ten minute mark in the interview, Fernández begins to describe her junior year and her role as an activist on campus. She remembers holding teach-ins and rallies around the issue of need-blind admissions – the practice of accepting students to the university without consideration of their ability to pay. She describes becoming one of the leaders of Students for Admissions and Minority Aid and attempting to work directly with Brown University President Vartan Gregorian to institute need-blind admissions. Fernández recounts that after several meetings were cancelled by administrators, the Students for Admissions and Minority Aid held an occupation of University Hall that led to almost two hundred student arrests, including her own. She also discusses working at the Brown Reunion Weekend that same year and feeling deeply offended by the money invested in the one weekend and the overt hypocrisy she witnessed in the name of fundraising.

Fernández concludes her interview by reflecting on whether her activism affected policies on the Brown campus, remembering the hostility of administrators toward her actions, and insisting that today Brown remains a ruling class institution.

See also Fernández's second interview recorded on May 27, 2020

Part 1

Part 2
Recorded on Jan 10, 2017

New York

Interviewed by Judith Circus