2016 Lecture and Conversation Series: Poverty, Equity, and Social Justice Off to a Great Start
by Bonnie Silvestri, OCEP Director of Strategic Communications
The USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships ("OCEP") recently hosted two public lectures as part of its ongoing Lecture and Conversation Series on Poverty, Equity, and Social Justice. These are free lectures designed to bring USF faculty into dialogue with the community about pressing issues of the day. The lively dialogues have been well-attended and sparked a desire for change through university–community collaborations, which is core to the mission of OCEP.
On January 22, 2016, founding OCEP director and retired Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Susan Greenbaum presented "The Misunderstanding of Poverty: Memes, Metaphors, and Big Data" and was joined by two community discussants, Marilyn Williams and Dr. Beverly Ward, who spoke about the impact of poverty on the local community, particularly in the school system and transportation, respectively.
The presentation, attended by close to 100 people, was held at the new Robert L. Saunders, Sr. Public Library, the site of the ongoing lecture Series, which continues into the summer and next fall.
Greenbaum said of the library named for Saunders, a Tampa native and civil rights leader who helped direct the local NAACP: "I knew Bob Saunders, and I miss Bob Saunders every single day. We need 50 of Bob Saunders, but alas we only had one."
Greenbaum, author of Blaming the Poor: The Long Shadow of the Moynihan Report on Cruel Images of Poverty talked about the importance of dispelling the notion that programs that help the poor are "giving to the lesser" among us, a notion stemming from a widely-held and false belief that the poor are to blame for making bad choices in their lives. She talked about how we need to flip the script on the narrative that allows society to place judgments on those who need help and to stop talking about poverty as a "pathology." She asked, "how can it be a pathology if it affects roughly half of the population?" Instead, she argues, poverty and the lack of livable wages are the result of neoliberal policies that have unfairly impacted individuals and communities over decades, such as displacing large urban populations in a move to "gentrify" neighborhoods.
"When you treat people like they don't count, then they don't count. They may take what you offer, because they need it. However, we need to treat people who need help with respect and without judgment," said Greenbaum, who also sits on the board of the League of Women Voters and emphasized the need to elect leaders who will fight for equal rights and equal opportunity for our communities and our country.
On February 22, Dr. Angela Stuesse, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, presented "Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South" in which she explored how black, white, and new Latino immigrants to Mississippi negotiated their relationships with one another against the backdrop of extremely poor and detrimental working conditions in a chicken plant. Stuesse, author of a new book with the same title, was joined by community discussants Jennie Figueroa, an organizer with SEIU Florida State Council, and Kofi Hunt, of Awake Pinellas who tied Stuesse's lecture about labor movements in Mississippi to local efforts to organize and unionize workers in a united front.
Her work is activist scholarship through which she both studied the highly racialized exploitation of the labor of factory workers in the deep south, where blacks who had been organizing to enhance their rights were pitted against Latino immigrants who came at the invitation of factory owners to work for a lower wage. Stuesse helped organize the workers to create a united front to achieve better rights for all. The aim of the owners was to decrease costs and maximize profits at the expense of the workers, and Stuesse and others gave the workers the tools to form a worker's center and to fight for better working conditions and wages.
Hunt said of the program, "Universities are centers of hope for the future of our societies. My aspiration is that by engaging them from a community perspective, my rhetoric can help them to become more empathic leaders for tomorrow."
The next lecture, "Between Death and Life: Why Communication Matters When We Talk about Social Justice" with Dr. Aisha Durham, USF Associate Professor in Communication, will take place at the Saunders Library on April 8th from 2-4pm. She will be joined by iconic community leader Lena Young-Green and Toni Green who is currently working on her doctorate at USF in Communication. RSVP here.