After a makeshift shanty was erected on the stately Lower Quad of Johns Hopkins University to protest the school's investment in companies doing business in South Africa, a stocky, sandy-haired graduate student named Kevin Archer volunteered a few hours to put up posters and oversee a literature table for the group that built the plywood hut.
Archer, a 28-year-old Seattle native and recent winner of a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, also volunteered to spend Friday night in one of four shanties built on the campus since early April.
Today, after an attack by several persons who doused the shanty with gasoline and set it on fire that night, Archer's lower back is a mass of torn skin and blisters the size of half dollars. He is frightened, angry and bewildered -- and convinced more than ever that his and other protests against South Africa's racial policies are just.
"I haven't been too involved in this, but I felt that what they were doing was right," said Archer. "I sort of wanted to show this group had the support of ordinary students."
Although classes at Johns Hopkins ended for the summer two weeks ago, about 30 students, including Archer, who was treated at Union Memorial Hospital and released, spent today watching over the charred remains of the shanty. A group called the Coalition for a Free South Africa built the tiny compound of shacks to symbolize the impoverished black townships of South Africa and to goad the university into divesting itself of an estimated $70 million in holdings in companies doing business with that country's white regime.
The university tried twice on Saturday to remove the blackened timbers and plywood sheets that once stood near the main administration building of Johns Hopkins, but coalition members peacefully blocked the removal. The two sides met today for more than an hour to try to resolve the dispute, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, Russell H. Abrams, a 20-year-old Johns Hopkins student from New York, remained in police custody without bail on three charges of attempted murder and one charge of arson for his role in the incident, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department said. A bail hearing has been scheduled for Monday, and police were searching for several persons who may have been at the shanty at the time of the fire, the spokesman said.
Archer noted that the shanties have been targets of earlier attacks, including egg-throwing and the hurling of a cinder block against an unoccupied hut.
"Eggs and bricks are one thing, but this -- this is different," he said.
Steven Mitchell, a 21-year-old student from Brooklandville, Md., and a Delta Upsilon fraternity brother of Abrams, called the shanty burning "a prank gone bad, just a stupid thing," but he said he had no details about who set the blaze.
Members of the coalition said today they believe that Abrams was a lookout for those who started the fire.
Coalition members, rattled by Archer's first- and second-degree burns and thankful that his two companions were not injured, comforted one another on the sun-drenched quadrangle today and tried to understand why the fire had been set.
The students -- most white and well traveled, and many in advanced degree programs -- said they were appalled that their peaceful protest would be marred by such a violent act.
They said their fellow students and key administrators at Johns Hopkins did not fully understand the protest, and resented the eyesore of the shanties and their crudely lettered signs.
"People have a sense that, well, Africa is Africa, and you can leave it at that," said Patrick Bond, a graduate student from Northern Ireland who is one of the leaders of the coalition, which includes a white woman from Montreal, a black man from London and a white woman from Ireland.
"This is a nice white elite setting in a city that's 65 percent black," said Bond, 24. "This is an environment of hostility, an environment of intolerance."
Bond and other coalition members, most of whom are in their twenties, said they were not particularly political but felt deeply about the issue of apartheid, South Africa's policy of racial separation. Their frustration and anger at the university's investment policies, they said, convinced them to give up their time, a little bit of their money and, if need be, to be arrested to prevent the destruction of their mock shantytown.
"I'm very concerned that the university should divest," said Jane Gray, 22, a graduate student in sociology from Ireland who was in the shanty with Archer and Bond on Friday night.
"This has been a long protest, but I like it because it's peaceful. We're doing nobody any harm. The people who set the fire were very stupid. They didn't understand the seriousness of what we're doing."
Others took issue with the group's means of protest.
"People know why they're there but look on it as bleeding-heart liberalism," said Mitchell.
"This university is too big a place, and 25 students sitting in shacks are not going to influence much," said Mitchell, a humanities major and varsity lacrosse player. "I view it as martyrism. Their cause is noble, but it's making the campus ugly."
Jane Brezenoff, a New York resident who was at the campus for her daughter's graduation on Friday, appeared shaken when she viewed the burned shack.
"It's so sad," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "I really thought our universities were doing a magnificent job, that most kids were aware. But then you get a handful. Was this political? Were they drunk? Why did this happen?"