No matter where in the country—or the world, for that matter—you may live, chances are you heard about the unrest in Baltimore last April. Our city was portrayed in myriad ways—most of them negative. In the sensationalism of the moment, however, what went largely unnoticed is the everyday partnering and community building on the part of individuals and institutions—including Johns Hopkins—who call Baltimore our beloved home.
As an institution of higher learning located in a city with its fair share of social challenges, we take very seriously our role as neighbor and citizen. The university is active in giving back to the community, whether it’s by sponsoring tutoring programs, holding regular service days, participating in communitywide meetings, or supporting our Baltimore Scholars Program, where city high school students have opportunities to attend Hopkins.
The uprising in April, however, has prompted us to ask new questions. What is our role—as an academic research institution—in responding to the city’s problems? How do we, together with Baltimoreans, accurately define the most pressing needs that the Krieger School is uniquely situated to address? How do we best explore the role that race plays in all of this? How do we expose our students to real-life issues that perhaps they’ve only encountered in textbooks?
These are questions that our entire Hopkins community must be asking…and answering. It’s the only way we’ll be able to effect real, authentic, and sustained change. In the Krieger School, we’re beginning to scratch the surface of these challenging questions in the following ways:
- As part of the university’s 21st Century Cities Initiative, a group of faculty members and students started the Rapid Response research effort. They are gathering data on such issues as young people’s experiences with the criminal justice system, vacant housing, and families who are living in extreme poverty. The results could inform future efforts.
- Also part of that same initiative is the newly formed Center for Government Excellence, which will help and train city government on how to collect, measure, and analyze large amounts of open data in order to effect positive change.
- The Krieger School’s Center for Africana Studies is sponsoring a series of talks and activities with a focus on our country’s history of race. Knowing that many of today’s social issues are the result of earlier racial policies, procedures, and attitudes, this effort will bring diverse voices to campus to engage and teach our community.
- Odyssey—part of our Advanced Academic Programs—is offering a number of courses (open to the Baltimore community) this semester that address civil rights and race relations.
These efforts are just a start, of course. I suspect that as we tackle one question, more will arise. It won’t always be easy, but if there is one thing we at Johns Hopkins are great at, it’s asking the really big questions. The tough ones. And working together to uncover new knowledge that will make the world a better place. I welcome your thoughts on how we can make a difference.
James B. Knapp Dean