Faculty, staff, and students assembled Wednesday, May 6, at the University of Maryland School of Nursing auditorium for a forum titled “A Discussion About Race in Baltimore.” The forum was held in response to the protests surrounding the killing of Freddie Gray.
Organized and moderated by Megan Meyer, PhD, MSW, associate dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, the forum’s panel consisted of Tanya Sharpe, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the School of Social Work; journalist Mark Puente of The Baltimore Sun; and Caylin Young, national chair of the National Black Law Students Association of Baltimore and a law student at the University of Baltimore.
“As painful as it was to have this light shone on the issues underpinning the city’s unrest — race, poverty, disinvestment … — I think it’s far more painful — far more damaging — to have no light shone on them at all,” said University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) President Jay A. Perman, MD, during his opening remarks.
Sharpe noted that structural disparities like the lack of funding for community-centered projects has contributed to mistrust of institutions in Baltimore. “Structural inequality limits access to resources,” she said. Sharpe voiced concern that too often institutions dictate rather than listen to what community members want. “UMB and similar institutions must establish true and reciprocal relationships with community organizations,” she said. “Let communities educate us.”
Law student Young questioned what he sees as an overzealous criminal justice system. He called on fellow students to network to form coalitions for social justice. “As students what are we going to do to positively impact society?” he asked. “Are we going to be advocates for social change? We need to have a tangible conversation about what to do going forward.”
Puente spoke about findings of his Sun investigation, "Undue Force," published Sept. 28, 2014. The article revealed that Baltimore City has paid about $5.7 million since 2011 in lawsuits claiming that police officers beat up alleged suspects, leading to the perception that officers are violent.
Following presentations by the panelists, audience members offered impassioned testimony about their experiences with racism both on and off campus and how poverty has impacted their lives.
“UMB has a history of systematic racial bias,” said Tonya Anderson, a building project coordinator at the Health Sciences and Human Services Library. “African-Americans do not have equal opportunities for advancement.”
Cheron Jones, a laboratory manager at the School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences at UMB, said that her education in the Baltimore City school system put her at a disadvantage when she attended college. “I was undereducated,” she said. Jones and others worry that continued lack of access to quality education in Baltimore will perpetuate the cycle of poverty and unemployment.
School of Social Work student Karina Mandell, president of her school’s student government association, challenged UMB to set an example as an anchor institution in Baltimore. “As the founding campus [of the University System of Maryland] we need to be a beacon of light,” she said. “People look up to us. They trust us to be a leader in the community.”