In the aftermath of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, that killed 17 people, University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Jay A. Perman, MD wrote a letter to the UMB Community expressing anger and sadness at yet another senseless school shooting. He wrote, “As a father, grandfather, and pediatrician, I am horrified by the ongoing slaughter of children — in schools nationwide and on the streets of Baltimore.”
In addition to inviting readers to use the “power of the purse” to influence state-level gun policy, Perman noted he was eager to hear ideas about how UMB might focus scholarship, research, and teaching on the fight against gun violence.
As a result of that rallying cry to action, the 2018-2019 President’s Symposium and White Paper Project will tackle the pervasive and controversial issue of gun violence. This interprofessional initiative engages students, faculty, and staff from all of UMB’s schools and academic programs in a year-long conversation on a topic of importance to the University community. This year, the Speakers Series and the White Paper will explore UMB’s role in addressing gun violence through education, research, clinical care, and service while using an interdisciplinary lens to examine the impact of trauma on communities.
At a kickoff event Sept. 6 at the SMC Campus Center, President Perman frankly admitted “we have little control over the gun violence that occurs routinely in our city, in our nation.” However, as he introduced this year’s group of President’s Fellows, he added, “If we absolve ourselves from studying it, then who can we expect to take up the issue?
“I know we have to find and an answer and I know we have to start somewhere,” Perman emphatically stated.
Keynote speaker Cassandra Crifasi, PhD, MPH, assistant professor and deputy director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agrees that scholarship is one way to push back against gun violence. In her work as an injury epidemiologist and gun policy researcher, she says she “strives to develop the strongest evidence base possible to promote policies that will reduce gun violence.” The goal is to improve public safety and “make everyone safer, regardless of where they live.”
Her talk, titled “Understanding Violence: Epidemiology and Evidence-based Policy,” outlined standards for legal gun ownership; regulation of gun purchasing and carrying; and public opinion on gun policy. As a public health researcher, Crifasi called gun violence a complex public health problem but explained, “It’s more than a public health problem. It’s law, it’s nursing, it’s social work. It’s all of these things together.”
This year’s fellows are an interdisciplinary team that will study the root causes of gun violence and use a team approach to examine its traumatic impact on communities. They will use this same team approach to develop recommendations and present a proposed Universitywide implementation strategy in spring 2019.
The 2018-2019 President’s Fellows are: Nicole Campion Dialo, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Zachary Lee, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; Vibha Rao, University of Maryland Graduate School; Basant Motawi, Graduate School; Jenny Afkinich, Graduate School; Lauren Highsmith, University of Maryland School of Social Work; and Jessica Egan, University of Maryland School of Nursing.
Campion Dialo is a third-year medical student interested in psychiatry and family medicine. She thinks these two medical specialties are uniquely suited to addressing communities affected by the trauma of gun violence, and she wants to deepen her knowledge about possible solutions. “I want to learn more about what has worked in other places to get at the problem and what we can do better right here in Baltimore,” she said.
Lee, the law student, also wants to help alleviate the issue of gun violence in Baltimore, “Given our geography, I think it’s important we focus on Baltimore and also more broadly in Maryland,” he noted.
But like his colleague Campion Dialo, Lee is looking at the issue through a wide lens. “This is an issue of national importance, so I’m looking at it from many angles and examining how it sits on our national conscience,” he said.
This is the eighth year of the President’s Symposium and White Paper Project, which is a joint initiative with the Office Interprofessional Student Learning and Service Initiatives. The most recent topic of study was global literacy. The topics before that were entrepreneurial exploration, cultural competence, community engagement, interprofessional education, civility, and urban renewal.
— Laura Lee