2016 Week Two: Education

picture of Justin Lee CIIPJUSTIN LEE – MERIT

Is it possible for one person to do too much? Yeah, it most definitely is. Speaking from my experience: the life of an average Hopkins student can be a prime example of someone who does too much. When nearly all your classmates do such amazing things, it can feel overwhelming trying to keep up. Not only is this unhealthy because of the pressure placed upon you, but it also breeds an environment where students compete with one another and do activities they may not genuinely care about.
When I came to Hopkins, I can say that I definitely had a problem with comparing myself to others. I had friends who somehow found the time for various clubs and activities, while maintaining awesome grades and a robust social life. I wanted that, so I tried to go out there and do it myself. Over the course of freshman year, I realized I placed too much onto my plate between schoolwork and other activities; often times I found myself half-assing a lot of my commitments. Most of the clubs I joined, especially ones centered upon community service, wouldn’t accept such a poor commitment so I needed to find a way to cut back on activities I participated in.
It took a lot of lengthy discussions among friends and self-reflection to see that being a part of service clubs, like Thread, wasn’t about me at all. Instead, it was about doing what was best for my mentee (in the case of Thread) or whichever community that was being served. Additionally, I also needed to realize that I wouldn’t know what was best for anyone if I didn’t first get to know them. From my example of joining Thread, it was selfish of me to believe that I could show up in this Baltimore City high school student’s life and expect to make a difference. It was selfish to join Thread for the mere reason that I wanted to look good to my friends and family. And it was most definitely selfish of me to use Thread as a vehicle for my journey to the promise land of medical school. For that, I regret ever joining because I joined for all the wrong reasons.
It makes me uneasy to think that I ever thought of service in that light (as another checkbox for medical school), and I don’t believe the competitive atmosphere around Hopkins helped. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many Hopkins students still think of community service in this way: where they can step into a situation and “save” the community. I’ve acknowledged my past and believe I’ve grown far out of that perspective. That isn’t to say I’m a social justice savant by any means. Instead, I consider myself as someone who is still constantly learning. The more I learn about societal issues, the more interested I am and want to educate friends and family. I hope that by drawing from experience, I can relate to others and encourage them to think outside of themselves. But of course, like most change, I know I can only nudge people in the direction I want them to go and it won’t happen overnight.


Big picture: 26:78*. The ratio of women in the computing work force to the ratio of men. Little picture: 71% versus 29%. The ratio of women to men at the Code in the Schools headquarters on Thursday for staff training. At a time when the number of women in tech nationally is in decline, it’s impossible to say that my office is a microcosm for the computing workforce in America. It’s just the opposite.
Our office is a young women’s club. Connections and ideas are traded like currency in meetings where women make up the majority of those sitting at the table. I sit in on one meeting with a youthful tech coworking space and mentally take note of the demographics. The percentage here is simple to calculate. Of the 6 people in this meeting, 100% are female. 4 from our company, 2 from theirs. Two from our company are my two bosses.
“What it’s it like to work in a place with so many women?” I ask my friend Derek over Turkish food during a staff lunch. To our left, little 19 year old Sean looks like a deer caught in the headlights as our boss talks about ‘pumping’ at the office to someone next to him. “Not to be sexist,” Derek mumbles as he takes a quick glance around, “but sometimes it gives me a headache.”
Where Derek is discomfited, I am in my zone. Working for two awesome, powerful, boss ladies changes the game more than I thought it would. Not only are they inspiring, but they always make sure to make me feel included. I feel more comfortable asking questions when they arise. I begin to voice my thoughts at meetings we take with other companies. Just as I’m starting to wonder if it’s ok for me to speak up like this, I receive validation from one of my bosses in the form a Slack message that says: we just wanted to let you know you’re kicking ass.
I leave the office on Friday feeling tired but successful. I 3D printed a star from yellow filaments today with my initials cut out of it during some spare time. This has been my first time designing an object to 3D print on my own, and I feel empowered. I feel like I’ll never need help from anyone else again. I am a female engineer, hear me roar.
That defiance is knocked out of me abruptly at the bus stop. On this dreary afternoon, a lanky man stops in front of my bench and asks if the seat next to me is taken. I say it isn’t. My senses are heightened as they always are when a stranger talks to me when we’re alone on a street. “Boy, I wish you were waiting on me,” he says, and puts a hand on my bare arm. He asks if I’m married, and then starts to propose, with a hand still on mine. My heart is beating uncontrollably and I can feel fear building in my sternum as I call my friend Christine and tell the man, sorry, a friend is calling and I have to take this.
Ore from work finds me standing under the muted red awning of Pearson’s Florist as I’m attempting to peer around the corner of North Ave and Charles to look for my bus. I jump back when she asks “what are you doing”, my body already on high alert. I tell her I was just proposed to and she laughs. “You gotta tell those guys to fuck off,” she instructs. “Just let them know they can’t mess with you.”
“I can’t.” I think back to the discomfort I feel every time a North Ave character stops in front of me on my bench and tells me I’m pretty, how I flash a small grimace in thanks because I suppose they’re just being nice and I just want them to be on their way. To the man who called me “beautiful mami” and stared into my eyes and wouldn’t leave until I said he was handsome. To the whistle, the “hey baby,” and the smack of the lips, and the white truck that pulled over to the corner and the man who started to get out as I hightailed it down Charles St to meet the JHMI earlier than the stop
Another bus pulls up to the corner. Still not the JHMI. I see the latest source of my fear amble to get on and he gives me a tip of his straw fedora when he spots me hiding under the awning. I avoid his watery blue eyes and turn my back on him to face Ore. “I don’t know how to do that,” I tell her. Derek might experience some discomfort in a woman’s world, but I would trade discomfort from this occasional panic any day. I just don’t know how. “Men are scary,” I say feebly, and I hate how tiny I feel in this moment.
She kicks her skateboard up deftly from the ground to grab with one arm. “Yeah,” she nods, “they are.”

* http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/27/women-in-tech_n_6955940.html


Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, but what does that really mean? After completing two weeks at my internship placement and attending this week’s Bites session, the ways space has been delineated and constructed in a city like Baltimore have been on my mind. While it was certainly upsetting to learn about neglected and forgotten communities like East Baltimore Midway, the fact that neighborhoods right around the corner from campus, like Hampden and Guilford, are products of racist systems and covenants and remain, essentially, white-only spaces, was particularly disturbing. In relation to the Liberty Elementary, the school where I am working this summer, the legacy of prejudiced urban planning continues to apply. That the school’s student population is almost 100 percent African American and comes from low/impoverished socioeconomic backgrounds is no coincidence. Rather, this combination replicates itself in many of Baltimore’s schools, clearly indicating that redlining and other racist urban policies not only hinder a community’s economic opportunities, but education as well. Liberty Elementary is special because of the amazing principal and teachers there who ensure that the students, despite economic constraints, will still be able to go on field trips and have access to technology. The majority of public schools in the city simply do not have the same structure, resources, or grant money to function as Liberty does. With yearly budget cuts and rapid teacher turnover, these schools often struggle to adequately serve its students who, as mentioned above, are majority black and poor. Disadvantage becomes compounded. Although classrooms supposedly equalize opportunities no matter race or economic standing, they have come to represent another space that is highly segregated.

By staying in this city this summer, I find myself constantly traveling between two very disparate types of spaces. From going to Hampden’s Honfest or walking around the streets of Federal Hill after dinner, to taking the MTA to the neighborhood of Gwynn Oak, right off of Liberty Heights Avenue, it becomes very clear that Baltimore’s many neighborhoods are far from integrated. It grows more and more obvious when a space is predominantly white and, by extent, more privileged economically and politically. It is also interesting that, as an Asian person, the only space I often see people like myself is basically when I am on the Hopkins campus (not to say that Asians experience anywhere near the level of residential exclusion that black people have experienced). It I hope to continue reconciling and understanding how space and race intertwine as I navigate through Baltimore for the rest of the summer.

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