Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 22, 2024

There's a beautiful city out there waiting to be explored

By MEGAN DiTROLIO | November 6, 2014

When you think of the Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, located in the heart of Baltimore, you know it as a pretty and composed campus that has easy access to the affluent Inner Harbor. It’s the living embodiment of the pictures that all of the welcome brochures contain, and as a giddy, 17-year-old incoming freshman, you really think that you’ll experience all that Baltimore has to offer. After all, you wanted a city school for a reason — it’s full of off-campus activities. You yearned for an urban environment, but many don’t realize all of the facets that come with a city in its entirety.

Unfortunately, I, like many students, don’t fully understand Baltimore — the real city that has seemingly disappeared under the influence of Hopkins. It saddens me to identify with a city and community when I only really know my own small portion of it. We hardly know of, and some of us may even be afraid to discover, the community just a mile off of campus.

It’s a community that I hastily run through everyday to get to our school’s track. I am uncomfortable with the stark differences that compose the area a mere mile and a half from the place where I attend school, a campus encircled by the patrol routes of HopCops. Waverly is a community that I am uncomfortable with because it is so different from the Baltimore that I’ve come to know. It’s a neighborhood that, despite its negative connotations, has a lot to offer to the Homewood community if we can get out of our comfort zones and embrace it.

It’s a community that offers a farmer’s market every Saturday and a community whose streets occasionally become a stage for a Michael Jackson impersonator who gets the whole neighborhood to dance along with him. It also hosts the Marion House Race to Embrace Independence 5K to support the homeless women and children in the Marion House, a race that I was lucky to participate in with a small but lively team of Hopkins representatives.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, “1469 people were registered in [Center for Social Concern] groups, [totaling] 38,177 hours of service in a semester and had a total economic impact of $845 thousand,” according to Hudson Van Slooten, group management member of the Student Advocacy Board of the Center for Social Concern (CSC). That totals to about 28 percent of the undergrad population at Hopkins working closely with the Baltimore community through CSC programs. Though not incredibly low, this number reflects a Hopkins community that has little involvement in the greater Baltimore area, an area that has accepted a strong Hopkins presence in the city and is in constant need of reform. Only 28 percent of us have a real grasp on the city that we identify as our own. The only way to bridge this gap and to truly understand the city of Baltimore as a whole is to immerse ourselves completely in it.

I recently joined an organization on campus called Story Pals. Every week we go to Barclay Elementary School and work with children on reading and word comprehension. I walked there with a friend who is also in the program. We were nervous going over for the first time, fearing that the children wouldn’t accept us or be uninterested in what we were there to do. Upon entering the classroom, a storm of first graders bombarded us with hugs and affectionate words, begging us to hang out with them and read with them. They had no preconceived notion of us; we were welcomed into their community with open arms. I worked with a girl named Jaeda, who proved to be one of the sweetest first-graders I’ve ever met.

To be honest, I first went to Barclay to be able to log community service on my resume, but I am going back because Jaeda promised to bring me in a picture of her dog, Beebee. Though the school is in an area of Baltimore that I am not super comfortable with and is composed of people far outside of my own little Hopkins world, it is a place that I can identify withI only had to give it a chance.

I’m not saying to storm the streets of Baltimore for random “get to know me’s,” because like any city, there are areas that are unsafe and there are people that have bad intentions. What I am saying is to take a chance on Baltimore. Get to know the community in your backyard. If the people are anything like Jaeda and her classmates, they have a lot to teach us about the place and culture that we, for four short years, identify as home.

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