Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Not just a Hopkins student, but a Baltimore citizen

By SAMANTHA IGO | September 21, 2017

In response to “I witnessed a drive by shooting in Baltimore,” published on September 14:

There was a guest column in the News-Letter that I had a strong reaction to and found warranted a response. The article details the experience of a freshman during O-week who witnessed a drive-by shooting one night on his way back to campus. I will not dismiss how deeply chilling and terrifying that experience must have been, and how that would, understandably, color one’s perspective of the new city they are now calling home.

Nevertheless, I think there are some ways of thinking in this article that should be addressed–particularly because, after three years here, I want to squash the problematic belief among Hopkins students that Baltimore is a place to merely endure, not a place to love.

I balked at the idea that “the most important and the most unforgettable thing that students encounter is the crime, the shootings and the murder.” Living in Baltimore is not a monolith defined by violence and crime, particularly when our privilege as Hopkins students keep us so shielded from it. Of course, crime is an issue in Baltimore, but to say so definitively (and after such a short time here) that it’s the most important aspect of a Hopkins student’s four years is sensationalist.

The author also did not want “to denounce Hopkins students for not taking a more active role in this city,” but I will. “Being aware” is easy, and mindless. You come to Baltimore to receive a world class education from an institution that sops up the resources of a struggling city. Because of this, being a “good guest” does the exact opposite of help. Being a “guest” means you cannot be bothered to engage with the systemic oppression that you, in your brick and marble island of prestige, inherently perpetuate. This is also present when your friends make cracks about Baltimore only being full of “dirt and rust” and violence, and you do not shut them down. It is this blatant disregard, this assumption that we are better than those we share the city with, that is at the root of the problem.

Beyond that, referring to those involved in the shooting as “animals” quite frankly carries racist implications. There is a way to condemn violence that does not also drudge up centuries old imagery of people of color as aggressive, even savage. Violence is the symptom of a larger, systemic issue, so instead of so quickly judging, ask yourself why this is happening—and then get involved in the solution.

To freshmen, or any Hopkins student, wondering how to navigate the deeply intertwined, exploitative relationship between Hopkins and the city, educate yourself in a way that will not be necessarily outlined on a syllabus (unless you take Introduction to Social Policy, which you should). Read the Baltimore Sun, read books that delve into blockbusting, white flight, the school-to-prison-pipeline, discriminatory housing policies, the “white L and the black butterfly.” Attend city council meetings and learn about the politics affecting the people with whom you share a home. Familiarize yourself with the East Baltimore Development Initiative and the Hopkins research studies on lead paint hazards in the 1990s – and the devastating impact they had on community members. And if you really don’t know where to start, visit the Center for Social Concern. They are an exceptional resource that will teach you to lean into your discomfort, and most importantly, listen.

Hopkins students like to talk as though we know all there is to know, but we don’t. When you actively listen to someone’s story and engage with an experience other than yours, you’ll feel your perspective begin to shift towards something far more open – and one that won’t let you sit idly by on the sidelines.

And so I say bullshit to the idea that being “a good guest” is the least we can do. Be an active and engaged citizen. Be a human being that cares for the state of other human beings. That is the least you can do.

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