As I ride the bus from Brookline to the Boston University medical campus, I can see the landscape change dramatically. My route takes me from my apartment through Nubian Station and into South End, which is where the BU School of Public Health resides. I have had plenty of conversations with community members while waiting for my buses at Nubian. Most of these individuals come from low income households and are people of color. Many of these individuals struggle with substance use or are disabled. They mention their unsafe living conditions and the language barriers that they face, but other than fellow students, I only see multiple police officers and rundown buildings around us. If I decide to walk from the station to my campus instead of taking the second bus, I see many used needles on the ground and pass an overcrowded food pantry. Some have asked me if I will forget about them, like everyone else does, when I receive my Master’s degree and a nice job.
The issues that persist in Boston are not unique to the city, but as a public health student at a private institution, I choose to be critical of my environment.
I know that I have expressed some of my qualms regarding Boston in previous posts, but the inequities, which are exacerbated by city planning and where investments are allotted, are what concern me most. I can clearly see how little the city invests in certain areas of Boston and I do not think that these areas containing the most people of color, low income individuals, and their subsequent “crime rates” are coincidences. The first step in enacting change is recognizing when certain actions are intentional, racist, classist, and more. The obvious solution would be to provide the unhoused with homes, the hungry with food, and the sick with adequate healthcare, but the city decided to arrest those suffering instead with claims to providing treatment. What happens after these folks are “treated?” They still do not have the resources to survive.
On any given day, I sit in a classroom and discuss social determinants of health with my peers. We analyze heart disease, COVID, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive rights with vigor, but we rarely acknowledge the community suffering right outside our doors. I appreciate the national and global perspectives that we are encouraged to use, but we should not associate large scale approaches with an inability to tackle what lies directly in front of us. We talk about the unhoused on Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard as though these folks encompass a distant issue rather than a community by whom my bus rolls past every day as I commute to my classes. I have to wonder why we are not doing more to eradicate this. I pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend this university, and while I know that the outcomes of BUSPH Master’s degree graduates are bright, I would like to see more of this money invested into the community. I would like us to think about how our lives and BU as an institution are impacting those around us. As important as my program is to me, I do not think that I, or anyone else, need a degree to practice mutual aid and work toward a society in which every member is living comfortably. I worry that some of my peers will be conditioned into “othering” their marginalized neighbors if they depend on the “A”s in their classes to turn them into public health heroes.
I am sure that many Boston residents choose to traipse down Newbury Street or dine in North End and rarely venture into the Roxbury area or parts of South End if they can help it. When I am strolling through those places or make the one hour trek to Seaport, I too feel as though I am in a different world. I see the appeal and opportunity. I see the wealth. As many know, Boston is home to a plethora of academic institutions and the average Bostonian is likely highly educated. We should remember that education does not equate to compassion or lack of ignorance, and an amount of ease in avoiding the uncomfortable exists alongside it.
I do hope that with Boston’s new Mayor, Michelle Wu, at the helm, we see the landscapes shift. I know that much of the work done on a governmental level could not happen without the organizers on the ground, and I plan on getting more involved with these amazing individuals in the coming semester. I look forward to the day when public transportation is free for all and when the infrastructure from Roxbury to South End to Dorchester is beneficial to the communities who reside there, among other things. Boston has so much history and people are too comfortable in using it as a scapegoat or a mask for all of the issues that persist. As a young person and new (approximately four month old) resident to Boston, I will continue to expect more from the city.
resources for Boston here:
– find free at-home COVID testing kits at these locations
– COVID Mutual Aid Resources
– New Democracy Coalition: organizing to rename Faneuil Hall
– MAAP: mutual aid group helping the unhoused