Tag: diversity

Johns Hopkins: For Rich Kids Only?

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According to Johns Hopkins, the Class of 2015 will be “one of the most diverse in the university’s history.” Next year’s freshmen hail from all 50 states and a host of other countries; 23 percent of admits are underrepresented minorities. All encouraging facts. But as a recent New York Times article by David Leonhardt points out, economic diversity is still glaringly absent from top schools, and Hopkins is no exception.

One rough measure of economic diversity is the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants from the federal government — an approximate way to figure out how many students come from the bottom half of the income distribution. At Amherst, it’s 22 percent; nearly a third of UCLA and UC Berkeley students fall into this category. Hopkins’ figure? 11 percent.

Which is not to say that the university should be singled out for censure. Actually, it’s alarmingly in keeping with national trends. Leonhardt cites a study that examined the class of 2010 at the nation’s top 193 schools.  The economic distribution was way out of whack:  only 15 percent of students were from the bottom half of the nation’s income distribution, while 67 percent were from the top quarter. In 2003, there were more students from families that earned at least $200,000 than those in the entire bottom half of the income distribution. As Leonhardt points out, this doesn’t just mean that students from poor families aren’t attending top colleges — it means that the wealthy are increasingly pushing out the middle class.

As Anthony Marx, president of Amherst, told the Times, “We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent, yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

At Amherst, administrators are increasing grants for foreign students (who don’t qualify for Pell Grants) and seeking out transfer students from community colleges. At Hopkins, there’s the Baltimore Scholars program (a full-tuition scholarship for Baltimore City public high school students accepted to the university) and other need-based grant programs. But as Amherst demonstrates, it takes a lot more effort to correct the existing imbalance. 

Is this enough? Is increasing economic diversity something the university should prioritize?

Baltimore Onstage in Black and White

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“Baltimore in Black and White,” now playing at the cell theatre in New York, was inspired by playwright Jason Odell Williams’ experience of being a kid in Columbia, MD, having an extremely diverse group of friends and growing up making [good-natured] fun of one another. When he got to high school at McDonough, he says “everything was segregated – people were sitting at different tables. It was weird.”

The play was developed from a scene Jason wrote while working at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. At EST, he was given two actresses to work with for a night of vignettes, a white actress and a black actress. The scene he wrote takes place at a bus stop – while the women wait for the bus the black woman reads heady prose and the white woman raps to her headphones. The scene was performed at EST to a great response from the audience. After Jason completed his first play, “At a Loss,” his wife and frequent collaborator, Charlotte Cohn, a Broadway actress who has appeared in several productions at Center Stage, suggested for his next full-length he revisit the bus stop sketch. While a version of this scene remains in “Baltimore Black and White,” those characters are supporting the larger story in which we watch an interracial couple, a black man and a Jewish woman, move through life together from the playground, to an awkward reunion at an ATM and ultimately to their wedding night. When I asked Jason what he looked for in a good night of theatre he said, “I just want to be entertained – whatever that may be, I want to be excited.” When I asked him about his own plays, his response was that he wrote “what he would want to see.” Jason says, “I want people to laugh for a long time and then maybe be a bit moved and then think.” After seeing “Baltimore in Black and White,” I assumed race would be a major issue in Jason’s other work, but he told me that while all of his plays are comedies they are all very different in theme and tone. A question for you: Given Jason’s long-standing ties to our city, and the fact that he’s writing about this place, shouldn’t his play next come to Baltimore? –Fia Alvarez

“Baltimore in Black and White” plays thru May 21st at the cell theatre in New York.
Baltimore native Fia Alvarez studies playwriting in the graduate program at Juilliard.

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