2018 Orientation: Government and Policy
After each day of orientation, and especially the opening panel, I thought a lot about the philosophy of the non-profit sector. Councilperson Dorsey (not a part of the first panel, but bear with me) had an anecdote about babies flowing down this river (again, bear with me), and each time a heroic Samaritan saved a baby and provided the wet, cold child with a blanket and some food that Samaritan never thought to ask why so many babies are river-rafting in the first place. In less ridiculous terms, one needs to address the consequences of a problem, but in solely and repeatedly doing so, doesn’t one inherently lose sight of the root causes of the problem? Non-profit and philanthropic work is almost always just scooping babies out of a river, and, again, that is necessary and noble work. But it is policy – legislated and executed – that keeps the children dry in the first place. That was my biggest takeaway from this week. In a perfect world, non-profit work is a means to its own end, while smart and purposeful people in government work to solve social ills for the collective good. We mustn’t resign ourselves to the cynicism that entrenched inequities are permanent and all the impact we can make is surface level because that is not true. We can and we must legislate away issues at the basest level or else we’ll live in an exhausting and monotonous world of saving babies with our hands, one by one.
My orientation experience was fulfilling and exciting, even though the days felt long. I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which the speakers looked unflinchingly at the tensions between Hopkins and Baltimore, and the power dynamics and privilege at work when Hopkins students do this kind of work in the community. I was also glad that we were encouraged to think critically about the content put forth by all the speakers, which made the orientation feel more free thinking and allowed me to comprehend more deeply the array of information with which we were presented. I loved getting to know the other participants in the program, especially within my cohort. I wasn’t expecting to get along so well with them and make other friends in the program so quickly, and just through orientation. Because of this, I had more fun during orientation than I expected to, even just in the ten minute breaks between panels. This makes me look forward more to the weekly bites and reflections I’ll have over the course of the summer with everyone else in the group that I have yet to meet. Also, the repeated emphasis on respecting others’ identities and humility in service made me motivated to make sure that the work I did this summer was as mindful and respectful as possible. I feel more equipped to serve in this way after the orientation, especially because there were so many speakers who could attest firsthand to what it is like to work in Baltimore, and what my place is in this work. I definitely have a lot to keep in mind from this orientation going into my first day at my placement, but I know that I’ll be supported both by the knowledge that I gained over the course of orientation and the peers that I met during this week.
I think one of the most prominent feelings I’ve had as a Hopkins student trying to learn about Baltimore is the underlying sense of unease that I couldn’t really give a name to. It was this really weird mixture of guilt and discomfort and embarrassment that usually came up if I was volunteering somewhere and someone asked me what school I went to; it’s interesting because none of my friends or professors ever talked about this complicated relationship Hopkins and Baltimore have, yet I still tangibly felt it. So for me personally, one of the most powerful themes of this week’s training was learning about why I feel this way, what role (historically speaking) Hopkins has played in the community at large, and how I can both acknowledge that history but also add onto it by the role I have through CIIP.
Adding onto that, I also appreciated how there was a large emphasis on how even though we should be cautious with the way we portray ourselves and how we speak to people at our placements, we shouldn’t be afraid to share the resources we’re lucky enough to have. Something I struggled a lot with this week was saying yes, I am an extremely privileged person who comes from a place of wealth, but how can I bring that to my placement in a way that isn’t condescending or demeaning? How can I tell if I am doing something because I feel the social and moral obligation to do it or doing it because this is something I genuinely love and care about? Listening to the wide variety of perspectives we had this week was so inspiring – I realized it’s not, and shouldn’t be, about any “obligation” except the one you feel for your community and your relationships because those are the things you wholeheartedly love. I’m really grateful for all the speakers we got to hear from in the Baltimore community who really pushed me to start thinking about the “why” of what I’m doing.
When I left the CIIP community partner event in Gilman on Friday afternoon after a couple of hours of networking and small talk and hors d’oeuvres, I was hit with the realization that even though orientation was long and busy and the Great Hall thermostat felt like it was set to -20 degrees everyday, I was still going to miss it a lot. At orientation, I spent everyday surrounded by some of the most passionate, intelligent, and caring people I have ever met. I got to listen and talk to some of the most involved and prolific activists and change makers in the city. There were countless moments throughout the week that made me uncomfortable, that made me sad, that made me angry, and that made me happy and hopeful. So much happened that it would probably take me 20 blog posts to unpack everything. But the bottom line is that I feel so much more prepared for the summer ahead of me now than I did a week ago. I learned a lot about Baltimore, non-profits, activism, and social justice, but above all, orientation forced me to be self-reflective, to confront my own biases and shortcomings, and to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. All of these things are going to be incredibly helpful going forward.
As expected, orientation was an amazing experience overall. Doing it for the second time around was really interesting– I just felt like I was able to put together much more complex and complete thoughts about everything we learned and talked about. Last year, I was taking in so much information that I would just accept things that were said without thinking as critically as I should’ve. I also could only retain so much. I think this was the easiest to see in learning about non-profits in Baltimore specifically. Last year, I had never even heard of most of the organizations that interns were working at or speakers came from. I learned about a ton of different organizations but wasn’t able to think on the level of how all of them are interacting, how they relate, what non-profits work together, etc. This year, I was able to start putting a lot of those thoughts together. It sounds kind of stupid, but I had never really even thought about the fact that some non-profits exist to finance other non-profits. When Keith from Fusion came in, I was really intrigued by what he had to say. After his panel, I spent a lot of time thinking about the way an organization like that exists, so I was really happy to be able to talk to him for a while at the meet and greet later in the week. The baseline of knowledge I got in CIIP last year helped to ask better questions to him as well. Overall, it made everything I did this week a lot more complete. That all being said, I definitely think the best part of orientation was the people– Eli and Kaetlyn are awesome and did an amazing job putting everything together, and I could not have asked for a better cohort, peer mentor group, or group of peer mentors. I’m excited for the rest of the summer!
I tend to call myself an inquisitive person. I enjoy asking questions, or at least, I like to acknowledge that there is an unknown and embrace it as best I can. And while I tend to agree that there are no stupid questions (in most contexts) I do believe there is such a thing as asking the right questions, questions that put you in the right mindset to be self-aware, to analyze the world around you, to listen, and to take action in the best way you can. I have to thank orientation for pushing me to ask these right questions. Firstly, this program allowed me to ask difficult questions to myself, about my biases, about a privilege that I was often reluctant to acknowledge and about the undeniable room for growth that I had to face. Secondly, this program allowed me to ask the right questions about my impact in Baltimore. It encouraged me to question systems and institutions (including Johns Hopkins itself) as well as my privilege as a person benefiting from this institution. It taught me to be less accepting and more questioning of blanket policies, of legal and societal systems that we uphold, and of our history and the way we engage with it. Perhaps the most important aspect of orientation was that it encouraged me to go out and seek these answers from none other than this city’s incredible residents. Something that seems so obvious now, but that I was oblivious to in the past, was that this orientation, and this internship, is an opportunity to listen to the members of this community with an open-heart. It is only after I do this genuinely that I can hope to make a long-lasting impact.Tags: 2018, Baltimore City Public Schools, CIIP, CIIP 2018, City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey, City Councilperson Zeke Cohen, Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance, Freestate Justice, Orientation, Youthworks