When the unrest swelled again in Baltimore on Monday, April 27th, 2015, UMBC was in the midst of studying for final exams and preparing for the end of the semester. For many, the Uprising seemed well removed from our campus, as a perceived sense of distance from the city belies the significance of the ‘B’ in UMBC. Aside from periodically checking the local news updates or receiving a swell of calls and messages from concerned relatives on Facebook, studying and campus night life went on as usual. For some students, the reality of a Baltimore in chaos mere miles away didn’t sink in until they saw fires burning from the 7th floor of Albin O. Kuhn Library.
But for many others, those fires were burning our city—our home.
As members of the Critical Social Justice team unpacked the events that transpired in Baltimore, we struggled to find balance in the divide between the university and Baltimore. The divide, for example, between staying at home in the city to engage in a movement for Black lives or leaving the city for UMBC to create healing spaces, meet with students in need, and challenge those who had yet to understand the complexities and vast differences between riots and uprisings. The reality of an “us” and a “them” felt very real as we navigated back and forth on campus during those next few days. While on campus, it was easy to think through theory, strategize, and simply talk about Baltimore in the abstract; however, at night with the sounds of helicopters and sirens invading through our windows, we desperately needed our other UMBC community members to think beyond Hilltop Circle.
Baltimore City and the pervasive violence and injustice there can no longer be talked about in the abstract. Whether or not Baltimore is your home, Critical Social Justice calls each of us in this privileged community of higher education to think and engage critically about Baltimore. We cannot only think about the city when we see a fire from the library or when the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Much like Critical Social Justice is a year-long campaign, our critical thinking, action, and care for Baltimore must happen all 365 days a year.
This year’s Critical Social Justice initiative aims to create space and learning opportunities to consider the ways we can cultivate deep and lasting commitments to Baltimore City that are meaningful to us as individuals and as part of the UMBC community. By focusing on Baltimore, we aim to engage with local social justice issues and activism while framing our understanding within the context of larger national movements and ongoing struggles against systemic racism and injustice.
Our campus and our city are not as separate as they may seem at our quiet university—nor are they as readily connected as our proximity and names might lead people to believe. Critical Social Justice: Baltimore 365 knits the UMBC and Baltimore communities together in the hopes of growing into a better UMBC through a better Baltimore.
Critical Social Justice: Baltimore 365 will be held on October 19th through 23rd, 2015. Follow the CSJ blog, Facebook, and Twitter for updates on scheduled events and other news. For more information about the Critical Social Justice initiative, or if you’re organizing a related event that week that might be included on the CSJ calendar, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.