Two weeks ago, Delegate Mary Washington visited Hopkins for the Sociology Department’s annual fall luncheon. A graduate of the the University’s doctoral program in sociology, Washington represents the 43rd legislative district in Baltimore, which includes neighborhoods such as Waverly and Guilford as well as parts of the Homewood Campus. She is seeking reelection next year.
Washington serves on the Maryland House Appropriations Committee and the Education and Economic Development subcommittee. She is also a member of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and is the only openly gay black woman in Maryland’s state legislature.
“I have a name here in the city as an unabashed progressive Democrat,” Washington said, speaking to a room of about 30 sociology professors and students in Mergenthaler Hall.
A proponent of marriage equality and adult GED programs, Washington believes in developing stronger schools, creating more job opportunities and bettering living conditions for those living in the 43rd district of Baltimore. She is also known for passing a piece of legislation, which prohibited employers from asking potential employees for their Facebook passwords as a part of the interview process.
In November 2012, these achievements landed Washington in an Essence Magazine article profiling four politicians who had the potential to be the first female, African-American president.
Once an aspiring psychologist, Washington believes her background in sociology has had a significant impact upon her political career.
“My decision to have the intellectual training of a sociologist has really opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s allowing me to do some good in the world,” Washington said.
Washington’s dissertation focused on American population statistics of the 19th and 20th centuries with particular emphasis upon race, class and gender. After working and researching at both Lehigh University and the University of Pennsylvania, Washington realized she wanted to participate in more policy-based work.
“I became interested in the people making decisions about things I cared about. And I thought: ‘Why don’t I do that?’” Washington said.
Today, Washington is one of those decision-makers. When asked what she felt was the most pressing civil issue facing the City of Baltimore, she emphasized unemployment and income inequality.
“People need jobs. The median household income here is — on average — 10 to 15 thousand dollars lower than Baltimore county. It’s close to 70 thousand dollars less than Howard county,” Washington said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income between 2007 and 2011 in the City of Baltimore was $40,100. Howard County, on the other hand, had a median household income of $105,692. The distance between Baltimore and Howard County is less than 30 miles.
“To cut to the chase, historical racism is also a major issue. While we can’t outlaw that specifically, we can do job interventions. We need to do job interventions,” Washington said.
Senior Maria Adebayo was one of the many sociology majors who attended the event. She became interested in sociology the summer before her freshman year, after attending a seven-week program held at Princeton University called Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA).
“It really awakened my latent interest in sociology. I was always the person fighting for rights — for human rights and civil rights — but I was still unsure of what kind of career I should choose. It’s really about helping the people who can’t help themselves, and that’s what the program allowed me to realize,” Adebayo said.
Adebayo was inspired by Washington’s choice to pursue a career in politics, particularly the difficulties of compromise that come along with her job as a delegate.
“The red cage of bureaucracy is very real. She has to compromise, which is hard. It takes a certain kind of person to do that,” Adebayo said.
While many well-known politicians and activists — such as President Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr, Jesse Jackson and First Lady Michelle Obama — have degrees in sociology, it is rare for an elected official to have a doctoral degree in the subject.
Sociology Department Chair Karl Alexander spends his time researching what makes certain children more likely to stay in school. He has been at Hopkins for over 40 years.
“Mary Washington said there are lot of things you can do with sociology, but as a student I didn’t really understand that,” Alexander said.
Alexander received his doctoral degree in sociology at UNC Chapel Hill in 1972. He is a member of the American Sociological Association and the American Education Research Association.
“There’s a lot to be thinking about, even if you’re committed to sociology. You can use your skills in research, the non-profit sector, service delivery or the government,” he said.