The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Self-Care as Resistance

Black woman meditatingThe events of the past few months have left me overwhelmed and exhausted. From the COVID-19 pandemic, whose victims are disproportionately Black, to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the Black community has faced countless heartaches. As a Black woman, my emotions have ranged from sadness to rage to hopelessness.

In order to take care of myself, I’ve hunkered down and grounded myself in daily practices that center my mental health and wellness. I’ve limited my intake of social media and news, and increased my daily practices of meditation, exercise, and most importantly, rest. There are days when I lie down between work Zoom calls — just to have moments during the day that feel like respite.

I’ve also needed to be intentional about my energy reserves, and what I can afford to put my limited energy towards. For several weeks, I wasn’t able to sit down and write about how I felt, or even to explain it to folks who are not Black — it seemed like a misuse of the small amount of stamina I had. I just needed things to feel easy.

I’ve encouraged my kids to do what they need to take care of themselves, as well. They have listened, and limited their own social media and news intake. They’ve also made the conscious decision to prioritize things that bring them joy: listening to music, dancing, chatting with friends. Of course, they haven’t been through and seen as much as I have (and I pray they never do) so their level of exhaustion isn’t the same as mine. Still, it has made me proud to see them center joy for themselves and understand they are worth that effort.

I’ve always been a social justice activist — it has been the foundation of all of my work, including my role as director of Open Circle, a social and emotional learning program for grades K-5. But I haven’t spent the past few weeks going out and protesting in the streets, much as I want to. I haven’t been calling my government representatives and lobbying for change. Right now, for me, my activism looks like self-preservation and self-care.

When you’ve lived under the specter of racism your entire life, rest can be a form of resistance. Activist Tricia Hersey recently spoke to NPR about how “rest disrupts and pushes back and allows space for healing, for invention, for us to be more human. It'll allow us to imagine this new world that we want, this new world that's liberated, that's full of justice, that's a foundation for us to really, truly live our lives.” Amidst so much heartache, that imagining is critical for the Black community right now.

For many, this might be a time to march in the streets, or to start conversations, or to read and learn. For others, it might be a time to just lie down and rest. Wherever you fit, we all have a role to play in building a better world.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, is the director of Open Circle, an action program of the Wellesley Centers for Women that equips elementary schools with evidence-based curriculum and training to improve school climate and teach children essential social and emotional skills.

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Guest — Sammy
Hmmm we're all looking forward to seeing that time when the blacks will get justice for this racism. Thanks so much kamilah
Sunday, 20 September 2020 13:12
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Placards of Hope, Placards of Change: A Reflection in Response to the Killing of George Floyd

Heart icon in speech bubbleThe callous killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 by a uniformed police officer while on duty and while being filmed by bystanders was arguably the most brazen act of police brutality involving an unarmed Black civilian since the Black Lives Matter movement began. What this act demonstrated was that those who are hell-bent on asserting white supremacy and upholding its racist regime are now afraid of nothing and outside the moral community.

The mass demonstrations calling for justice and the widespread expressions of solidarity with Black people and racial equality that have erupted in recent days show clearly that the balance of public opinion and power is shifting towards a multiracial coalition of people who embrace the oneness of humanity as well as the end of racial prejudice and racial inequality. In the long run, racial equality will prevail because it is the truth about human beings, but, at this moment, we are collectively in agony about a shameless, heartless, evil act of race-based assassination.

The protests that are growing day by day are the collective expression of the frustration, pain, fury, and indignation of those who have waited so long and so patiently for the truth of Black people’s equality to be enshrined not only in the law and the practices and policies of those who enforce it, but also in the hearts and minds of their fellow human beings. The enforced, racialized power asymmetries in virtually every sphere of life — political, economic, educational, medical, environmental, and so on — recreate an uphill battle each and every day for every Black person, every other person of color, and every ally of Black people and other people of color, ensuring that the rhythm of social justice efforts is always two steps forward and one step back, if not one step forward and two steps back.

Only when those whose hearts and minds are thoroughly suffused with the reality of racial equality are both in the numerical majority and in positions of influence and power will things begin to shift towards closure on this spiritual disease of racism. Fortunately, what the recent uprisings have shown us is that we are getting there. That people like George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, not to mention the string of their predecessors, not to mention the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to COVID-19, not to mention everybody since 1619) should die to get us there, however, is unconscionable.

As a womanist social movement theorist and also a trained psychologist, my mind turns to the methodologies we are employing to move the needle on racism and an analysis of the kinds of actions we are taking to eradicate the white supremacy, structural racism, racial prejudice, and racist violence we all deplore. I am concerned that we need to be more creative, innovative, and — yes — evidence-based in our social change approaches. We now have the benefit of a century of social scientific research about intergroup relations, as well as decades of neuroscience research, for example, on implicit bias, that helps us understand what works and what doesn’t work, but I’m not sure we are carefully deploying it in our creation of strategies to end racism and its correlates.

Additionally, we have the benefit of dynamic systems theories of varying kinds (a favorite of mine is Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory) that allow us to map how everything from individuals to families, communities, and entire cultures generate, shape, embed, and sustain things like racism — and which enable us to locate effective points of intervention. We also now have such enormous troves of big data that we could answer questions about human behavior and attitudes in real time and at a scale previously impossible. We could and should take a much more research-informed approach to ending racism, and I am glad that this is something we stand for and work towards at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

I am also concerned that we have a social change means-ends problem that we need to scrutinize more closely. Understandably, many social movements begin with emotion-driven, fist-in-the-air protests that are good for mobilizing people and publicizing issues, yet we must remember that the fist is a bellicose symbol inconsistent with peace and harmony — aims that most protesters cherish. The pursuit of justice requires that protests be followed up by the long-form, in-the-trenches work that actually effects structural change, making sustainable peace and justice possible.

Furthermore, new emotional foundations are required to create and sustain a more peaceful and just society. There is already too much pain and trauma in this world because we keep justifying all of the ways that we hurt each other, and all this pain just becomes a factory for hate and violence, both interpersonal and structural.

As a womanist, I would argue that, when we meet epithets with epithets or rage with rage, we are energetically reproducing the conditions we wish to eliminate. We must instead devise new transformational methods that enable us to dig into the spiritual well of goodness that resides within all of us to generate higher-vibrating, more positive and elevating emotional states and belief patterns, and that bring people together socially and relationally in a common space of love, respect, encouragement, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps. This is a tall order, but it is, I believe, what is really needed now.

As I watch the demonstrations on TV, I often find myself thinking, “If I were to make a placard for all the world to see — a placard to catalyze change — what would mine say?” I realized that mine would say “Everyone is sacred.” In times like these, I believe we need a reminder that our fundamental essence is that of Light — our innate divinity and the star-stuff we are all made of — and that everything else, good or bad, is overlay (and changeable).

We cannot continue this regime of oppositionality, in which we perpetually create divides, pit the divided against each other, and struggle to vanquish those who are not us. This regime will never lead to unity, peace, or justice. In the deepest recesses of our souls, we know this, but our politics, practices, and habits of thought have not caught up. The small reminder that everyone is sacred potentially places us on a course towards transformation, and that transformation is my reason for being and the impetus behind all of my work.

What fuels you? And what would your placard say? We would love to hear from you, because now is not the time to be silent. Rather, it is the time to recreate the world.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Changing the Landscape of Hate After Pittsburgh

This article was originally posted by Dana Rudolph on the Mombian blog, on October 30, 2018. This weeks marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

This landscape is familiar, strewn with ash and blood. We’ve been here before, too often, seeking the living, counting our dead. I know the terrain, can pick my way stumbling over the bodies, the stench of fear and hatred lingering in the air; the thoughts and prayers; the headlines and statistics.

I walk here with other Jews after the massacre in Pittsburgh, seeking comfort and strength, as I did with other LGBTQ people after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, as I have done with other parents after school shootings, and as I know communities of color do every time they, too, are targeted by hate.

This time, though, the tragedy causes reverberation deep in my soul, touching the first act of hatred I ever knew about, one directed at people like me: the Holocaust. My Jewish parents were minimally observant, but conscious of their cultural heritage as the son and granddaughter, respectively, of Jewish immigrants—a heritage that stood out in our predominantly Christian New England community. I don’t remember exactly when I first learned of genocide, but it feels as if I’ve always known.

Later, on top of this, came the knowledge of homophobia. I am a lesbian born two years before Stonewall, and the milestones of my life have shared space with markers of the LGBTQ rights movement. I’ve seen progress–my son was born the same year the first U.S. state ruled that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. I’ve also seen how far we still need to go–less than three weeks after my son’s bar mitzvah came the shooting at Pulse.

In both my Jewish and queer identities, then, I’ve seen hatred and inequality directed at people like me and families like mine. At the same time, I recognize that people of color in the U.S., of all religions, face far more danger and far more inequities on a daily basis than I do. Being White and middle class gives me a tremendous amount of privilege, which I hope I can use to be an active ally to those who have less.

Still, the spectre of anti-Semitism gave me pause when it came time to enroll my son in Hebrew school. My spouse is Christian, and we could have placed our son in either a Christian or a Jewish religious school program. As the child of two moms, he already had one aspect of his life that could make him subject to harassment or worse. Why give him two?

I have never been particularly observant, but wanted our son to experience the part of his heritage that he would get little exposure to in our mostly Christian community and society. Additionally, my father had died about two years before, and I was feeling the need to connect our son with the half of his family that felt like it was fading away—mine is a small family. My wonderful spouse was simply happy that we would be part of a faith community.

I asked myself, though: Am I making our son more of a target? I had to answer that in our country, rife with school shootings, simply going to school could be equally dangerous. And as someone who commuted through the World Trade Center every morning to my job next door until two business days before 9/11, I know that hatred sometimes casts a wide net, regardless of the identities of its victims. The best we can do is not let fear of such hatred cause us to hide parts of ourselves. One lesson I have learned from the queer part of my identity is that doing so causes its own damage.

I’d like to think, too, that in giving our son a Jewish education, my spouse and I have also given him strength: the strength of a people that has survived thousands of years of oppression. The strength of a people that values welcoming the stranger and repairing our all-too-broken world. The strength of a people that wrestles with the tough questions of human existence and still finds joy in each other and the world around us.

That joy is dimmed this week, though. How can we regain it and find our way out of this bleak and too familiar landscape, tainted with fear?

In the aftermath of the shooting this past February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 students, some of the surviving students adopted the slogan “Never again” for their gun control campaign. The phrase has long been tied to the Holocaust, and a few people seemed perturbed at what felt like appropriation for a different cause, even if the students did not do so intentionally.

The students were prescient, however. Anti-Semitism met mass shooting in Pittsburgh and to both we must say “Never again.”

“Never again” means doing whatever we can to stop the violence and hate that only seems to be increasing. That includes reaching out in kindness to our neighbors of all identities, calling our elected officials, voting, supporting advocacy organizations if we are able, putting financial pressure on the supporters of hate groups, and marching in the streets if necessary. It means taking time from our lives when we would rather be doing other things. It means overcoming our small fears (of approaching that neighbor; of speaking in public) in order to hold off the big ones.

It won’t be easy. As the Talmud teaches us, though, “You are not obligated to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Let us resist and not desist, so that where once was a desolate landscape, a tree of life will grow again.

Dana Rudolph launched the Mombian blog, a lifestyle site for lesbian moms and other LGBTQ parents, offering a mix of parenting, politics, diversions, and resources, in 2005. A member of the National SEED Project team, she manages the project's website content and social media.

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Justice, Peace, and Wellbeing

 

Stand With Others Blog QuoteAt the Wellesley Centers for Women, we envision a world of justice, peace, and wellbeing for women and girls, children and youth, families and communities, in all their diversity around the world. Like so many, our will and spirits have been tested by recent events, but our resolve has been strengthened. The fatal shooting of two African Americans in a Jeffersontown, Kentucky, grocery store; the more than a dozen pipe bombs sent to CNN and prominent progressive political leaders and supporters across the country; and the mass shooting of eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are evidence that we need to stand strong and work together—to provide comfort, hope, knowledge, and power — to help shape a better world. We at WCW stand with those whose lives are forever changed. Only when social equity and equality, psychological wellbeing, peace, and freedom from violence and want evince for all people will our work have reached its true aim.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D.

Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director

Wellesley Centers for Women

 

 

 

 

 

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A College Student’s Perspective on Leadership

S Mahmood H K Bottomly and M Albright

Wellesley College has a legacy for producing storied female leadership. Our alumnae include two Secretaries of State and the most female Fortune 500 CEOs of any American college or university. This legacy was what drew me, along with many other students, to the College. We, too, wanted to be leaders, and the achievements of our high-profile alumnae confirmed that this was the place to be.

At the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs this past winter session, however, the other fellows and I began to wonder if our original conception of leadership had been too narrow. The Institute’s focus on developing women’s leadership for the international stage made us think critically about what being a leader means. Perhaps, we realized, being high-profile was not the only way to be high-impact.

We heard from former Wellesley College President Nannerl Keohane, now a Senior Scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, who discussed the 2011 findings of the Princeton Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership. At Princeton, female students have been less likely to seek prominent leadership positions than their male counterparts, in a pattern consistent with co-ed colleges across the country.

As students at a women’s college, we were accustomed to an environment where women hold all of the leadership positions. We knew that women were discouraged, and even prevented, from pursuing prominent leadership roles in the “real world,” but it was jarring to realize that this also took place at college campuses. After all, college is intended to develop, not hinder, your potential.

Yet just because women weren’t holding high-profile leadership positions on campus didn’t mean that they weren’t contributing to campus life. The committee also found that women were more likely to “hold behind-the-scenes positions or seek to make a difference outside of elected office in campus groups.” Women at Princeton, for example, were often engaged in cause-based issues, like spearheading campaigns to institute recycling across campus.

These findings made us consider whether our definition of leadership was so limiting that we were overlooking those who were providing it, just in alternative ways. In defining leadership as something that must inherently be prominent and visible, we had forgotten that leadership is about putting the issue, and not yourself, on the frontlines.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t keep working towards cracking the glass ceiling. Another speaker, Rangita de Silwa de Alwis, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, as well as a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, emphasized the importance of including women’s voices at the table. High-profile positions come with great power and influence, and excluding women from them is both unjust and unwise, as research suggests that closing the gender gap in fields like policymaking results in more inclusive legislation and economic empowerment. While we work towards making top leadership more inclusive, though, we must also recognize that sitting at the head of the table isn’t the only way to get work done, either.

In fact, most of the people driving social change are “ordinary” people, doing extraordinary things. Consider the women that created HarassMap, an SMS reporting system for sexual harassment in Egypt. Their work has directly made a difference in creating a safer world for women. They might not appear on the cover of Forbes, but their leadership has made a difference in the lives of Egyptian women.

Further, perhaps part of the problem in why women are less likely to be found in prominent positions is because we devalue the other forms of leadership that they have been providing in the first place. Organizing a recycling campaign requires the same degree of management and vision as being the president of a club--yet one is seen as more prestigious than the other. This not only limits the opportunities available to qualified women, but also makes them feel as though they’re not qualified in the first place.

One of the traditions at Wellesley is hoop-rolling, where seniors race down a lane, while rolling a hoop. Back in the day, it was said that the woman who finished first would be the first one to get married. That changed with the feminist movement, when the winner was the first one to become a CEO. Now we say that the winner will be the first one to have her dreams come true, whatever they might be. It is time we start applying the same open-mindedness to our view of leadership.

Sarah Mahmood is a senior at Wellesley College and a Communications Assistant at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has worked as an On-Call Writer at PolicyMic; a Press Intern at the Clinton Foundation; and an Intern for Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien at CNN. Mahmood is pictured above with H. Kim Bottomly, Wellesley College President, and Madeleine Korbel Albright, Secretary of State (1997-2001), during the 2014 Albright Institute in January.

 

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Reframing Leadership as a Democratic Practice

Social Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change

Too often, discussions about leadership confuse leadership with authority or management, and ignore the unique imperatives public leaders face. This trend is especially troubling in a socio-political context that characterizes “the public” as dependent and inefficient, and redistributes financial and political power from everyday people to a select few corporate actors. But Wellesley College faculty and other scholars on campus are holding a different conversation, reframing leadership as democratic practice and a call to empower social actors from all walks of life. Over the past year, roughly 25 professors and researchers from across the college have come together to forge the Project on Public Leadership and Action, a working group with three distinct principles.

First, we are dedicated to public facing scholarship and teaching. We are committed to dialogue about the civic and democratic practices needed to address public problems and help individuals be agents of social change. This requires thinking about how our research and teaching can reach and impact audiences beyond the campus and our own professional networks. As we teach and write about global citizenship, democratic practice, collective action, and civic engagement, we realize that the true value of the work is realized only when everyday actors take it and make it their own. This means thinking intentionally about constituencies for our work outside of academia, and finding ways to make our work accessible to practitioners.

Second, the PPLA explores ways to do teaching and research that is driven by our values. We focus on the kinds of leadership and collective capacity we need to meet the common challenges our society face in a just way. We insist upon rigor and methodological soundness in our work, but we cannot separate moral and ethical considerations from our research and writing. Many scholars believe that our values suffuse our classrooms, laboratories, articles, and books whether we recognize and foreground them or not. The Project on Public Leadership seeks ways to affirm and support explicitly values-driven work.

Finally, the working group is committed to creating a community where scholars and practitioners cross borders and break down traditional silos of research, teaching, and practice. PPLA gatherings boast professors from the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, and we benefit greatly from the wisdom and experiences of colleagues we might never interact with under ordinary circumstances. Further, we recognize that knowledge production is not the exclusive domain of those in the academy. Practitioners working at non-profits, advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, and other organizations have much to teach us, and when we fail to communicate and collaborate, we fail each other.

During our pilot year the PPLA is holding a series of seminars dedicated to each principle, and inviting guests with experience bridging the gap between the academy and the broader public to help us think through working models for Wellesley. For more information on current programming and plans for the future, please visit our webpage and join the conversation at our next event!

Michael P. Jeffries, Knafel Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, (@M_P_Jeffries) and Hahrie Han, Associate Professor of Political Science, (@hahriehan), are spearheading the Project on Public Leadership and Action with colleagues at Wellesley College.

 

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Poverty and the Rural African Girl

Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

When people have limited choices, have no secure directions to follow, and are held back by insurmountable barriers, they are bound to remain in a situation of stagnancy, including poverty. Poverty is experienced physically and spiritually. It is too often the plight of the rural African girl—generations of whom have lived with little food, no clean water in poor housing, the target of domestic violence and rape, forced into early marriage for the bride price, with little (if any) schooling, no sex education, and no basic supplies for daily care and health. Their dreams are limited by not knowing their potential--they have very few resources, mentors nor models to help them.

A typical day of a rural girl who does attend school starts with fetching water and going to the garden to work before walking miles to school. Most children will go hungry at school; there may be no chairs or even books. They walk home in the evening, after gathering wood and picking greens that they will cook over a fire for the family dinner. There is no light to study by, no beds on which to sleep. Older girls cannot afford sanitary supplies and they use rags and leaves instead, often skipping school when they menstruate. In rural Uganda, secondary and higher education for girls is impossible without outside assistance. There are numerous financial demands for families—food, soap, kerosene, clothing, and medication—education is not considered essential. Because of this, many adolescent girls are often married off as their parents cannot afford educating them beyond the free primary education in public schools. There is much illiteracy throughout the communities and the cycle of poverty continues generation after generation.

I was fortunate, however, that my parents were not desperate for the bride price when I was a growing up. I could have been sold for a cow or a goat. Instead, at age 14, when I was feeling hopeless and working as a barmaid, a wonderful family in Kentucky (who knew one of my cousins from when they had done missionary work years earlier) enabled my return to school by paying my school fees for five years. I went on to earn my college degree before working with organizations that were striving to improve the lives of poor families in Africa.

I then turned my attention to Africa’s rural girl. I founded the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation because I wanted to directly involve, empower, and benefit rural communities in Eastern Uganda through education, mentorship, trainings, and advocacy. I wanted to develop partnerships for social, cultural, and economic development. I knew that secondary, tertiary, and vocational education could break the unending cycle of poverty. Girls who are educated can become role models for their siblings and communities. They can learn new ways of growing crops. They can understand how to keep their families healthy. They may develop new skills to bring income to their families.

Working with individuals and partners from around the world, the Foundation helps rural girls in Africa and others in their communities, to break out of poverty. We are supporting girls’ education by connecting them with sponsors and mentors from across the globe. We facilitate a letter exchange program between students from the rural schools and students from other corners of the world. We teach the parents, grandparents, and communities about the importance of education. We train parents in crop production, micro-financing, and making hand crafts. We also encourage our partners and volunteers from across the globe to not just support our work but to visit. Two years since our founding, we have hosted in rural Ugandan communities 16 volunteers from the United States, Australia, and Europe—last week, five visited from England. The visits are meaningful and wonderful learning experiences for everyone.

More girls need such support. We have been able to send 67 girls to secondary school—these are 67 less girls who have been married off at young ages. More than 1,600 have expressed interest in our program. While there is still so much to do, we know that in collaboration with the international community, our grassroots communities can help break cycles of poverty and create cycles of opportunity through education. I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the opportunity, education and motivation, anyone can become someone inspiring. Nobody is a nobody, everybody is somebody.

Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a Community Solutions Program Fellow through the International Research & Exchanges Board, is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women for the fall 2013 semester. She worked previously with Build Africa Uganda before founding the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation.

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While social justice is being overcome by educating people, it is good to be aware of the fact that deliberately certain wealthy o... Read More
Monday, 19 May 2014 07:27
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More than the Gender Wage Gap

Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

More than the Gender Wage Gap…On Many Fronts the Economic News is Not Good for Women

In spite of attention-grabbing headlines like, “The Richer Sex: How the Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and the Family" (Liza Mundy, 2012), on many fronts the economic news is not good for women: and indeed for the poorest, the news is getting worst.

It is not good news when we examine:

  • The gender wage gap that continues at all educational levels. In 2012, the median annual earnings for womenworking full-time were 76.5 % of men’s earnings and had barely changed since 2001. This is evident in the gap between the median earnings for women and men with Associate’s degrees ($42,300 and $55, 600, respectively), and continues through earnings for those with Ph. D. degrees.

  • Racial/ethnic disparities among women. The gender wage gap is smaller between African-American and Hispanic men and women (89%), but it is much larger when compared to white men (64% and 53%, respectively). Although the median earnings of Black, Hispanic, and White women with less than a high school diploma are almost equal (around $380), the median weekly earnings of White women with Associate degrees is $678, compared to $595 for Black women and $611 for Hispanic women.

  • The incidence of family poverty, particularly among households headed by women of color. In 2012, 18.4% of all families with children under the age of 18 lived in poverty. However, almost 49% of Hispanic, 47% of Black, and 38% of White single-mother households with dependent children lived in poverty.

  • The inadequacy of full-time, year-round minimum wage earnings to support a family. In 2009, single mothers earning the hourly minimum wage of $7.25 earned just over $15,000--well below the poverty level of $17,285 for a family of three. These earnings are far below the median U.S. family income (almost $50,000) and the median earnings of dual earning households (over $78,000).

  • The erosion of public benefits for the poorest families. The greatest income gap emerges in the discrepancy between the amount of income received by families with federal cash benefits known as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and the federal poverty level. In 2012, not a single state’s TANF benefits for a family of three brought the family up to 50% of the poverty level, i.e., $8,641 per year. For example, the Massachusetts TANF benefit for a mother with two children under the age of 18 was $7,400 a year. Even when the value of food benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is added to TANF, only one state (Alaska) brings its families up to 80% of poverty level.

  • The erosion of opportunities for economic advancement through education for low-income mothers. The ‘welfare reform’ policy of the mid-1990’s diminished access to education for TANF recipients. Prior to TANF, forty-eight states had counted participation in postsecondary education for periods ranging from 24 to 72 months; post-1996, women have had difficulty participating in even 12-months of vocational training. Instead, welfare-to-work programs have shunted women back into the same low-paid jobs without benefits they had previously.

 

The earnings and wealth gap is not a recent phenomenon; it has been growing steadily for three decades. However, only recently has it become a topic of general interest, particularly as the gap between the very rich and the very poor accelerated during a time of deep economic recession. This inequality gap has seeped into the national consciousness as it became a rallying cry for the “99 percent” movement, and trickled into the 2012 presidential debates.

Clearly, at the Wellesley Centers for Women an account of economic inequality is incomplete without the concerns outlined here: the inequalities among women, including the deep poverty of vulnerable families headed by women. In addition, we must address the often overlooked and alarming educational divide that exacerbates these economic concerns by eroding the possibility of social mobility through education, particularly for the poorest women. While access to college has become a mantra of the current administration, we must become more aware of and concerned with the educational divide as it affect low-income mothers – both in and out of the workforce.

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, working in two major research areas: Gender and Justice with a focus on women, and low-income women’s access to education.

Sources:
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. March 2013. The Value of TANF Cash Benefits Continued to Erode in 2012. Washington D.C.: CBPP.
U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey. 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau Statistical Abstract of the U.S. 2012 (based on 2009 data) Tables 692, 703.
American Association of University Women. Fall 2013. The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap. Washington D.C. AAUW.

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Tackling Inter-generational Poverty through Education

Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

A frequent theme in the discussion on poverty is the degree to which poverty persists across generations. While the United States is touted as the land of opportunity where everyone can attain their American dream, poverty is still the most likely outcome for a child born into a poor family. A large body of research demonstrates that education is the best way out of poverty, especially when dealing with inter-generational transmission of poverty. The problem is, however, that children from economically disadvantaged families are much less likely to obtain college education than their wealthier peers. In this article, I review innovative recent studies demonstrating cost-effective ways to increase educational attainment among poor children.

 

Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner show that high-achieving students from poor families typically apply to selective colleges much less frequently than students from wealthier families, despite the fact that those selective colleges would have generous financial aid available. In their experimental study, Hoxby and Turner offer customized information on the application process and financial aid to students, and find that the college application, admission and enrollment rates of high-achieving low-income students increase dramatically. As their intervention only cost $6 per student, the authors argue that providing information in this manner would be a highly cost effective way to improve the educational attainment of low-income students. Their experiment was adopted by the College Board in an effort to attract poor, high-scoring students to elite colleges. Indeed, Wellesley College has just launched their own effort to advertise financial aid available to low-income families.

Eric Bettinger and his colleagues tackle the low take-up rate of college financial aid among low-income individuals by providing assistance for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms and handing out information on the expected student aid levels relative to college costs. High school seniors whose parents received the assistance were much more likely to enroll in college and complete at least 2 years of education during the 2-year follow-up period. The experiment cost a total of $88 per participant (including a $20 participation incentive and $20 incentive to the H&R Block tax professionals proving the assistance). Even so, the large positive effects of the experiment would far outweigh the modest cost per participant.

Several recent studies have provided information on the benefits of higher education to high school students, concentrating especially to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These studies cover students in a variety of countries such as Canada, Dominican Republic and Finland. In each case, these low-cost interventions find that students exposed to the information provided change their application behavior and/or post-secondary educational attendance. In most cases the effects are particularly large for students stemming from poorer or less educated families.

The studies reviewed here demonstrate that children from poorer families are lacking in their educational attainment at least in part due to insufficient information on the economic benefits of education and available financial aid. In addition, their college attendance may further be hampered due to the application procedures required to obtain financial aid. These disadvantages could be easily, and cheaply, overcome by providing targeted information and assistance to students and their families. As the research shows, the modest investment would be far outweighed by the positive benefits stemming from greater college attendance and higher future earnings of the participating students. And most importantly, these types of policies could begin to bring children out of chronic poverty by cutting down the inter-generational transmission of economic status.

Sari Pekkala Kerr, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Economist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research and teaching focus on the economics of labor markets, education, and families.

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The Gated Community of the Heart

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A gated community can be more than a real estate development. Last year, I visited an ailing friend who lives in a gated community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. I waited at a guardhouse while my white host, on the other side of the gate, was asked on the phone whether I should be let in. Waiting, I felt guilty until proven innocent, with a tinge of "Am I an imposter? Do I belong inside the gate?” But once allowed in, I could drive around without feeling wary as I looked for my friend's house. I didn't need to prove again that I "belonged." I am white, and elderly, and to the young white guards, I probably looked harmless. I was given a pass--temporary permission to belong.

Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman because he was a dark, unwelcome element from outside that Zimmerman felt did not belong within the gated community. Its neighborhood watch organization justified--at least in Zimmerman’s own mind--his intention to get rid of the outsider-within. George Zimmerman acted as an individual, and it was as an individual that he refused to do what the police asked him to do--stay in his car rather than engage on the street with Trayvon Martin.

But I see George Zimmerman as also acting out fears, projections and aggressions that form patterns in our civic life. I think George Zimmerman shared with tens of millions of people in the United States the assumption that people whose skins are darker than their own do not belong, people who look poorer do not belong, and black men on the streets do not belong. The deep and usually unacknowledged assumption of the more empowered is that these others are threats that should be rooted out.

My own education in this kind of exclusion started very early in my life. What I have in common with George Zimmerman is a head full of yes-and-no instructions about who should be in and who should be out of "our" communities. Beyond that, our circumstances were very different.

I was raised in an upper class suburban New Jersey family with what I call a "litany of 'good's"--unquestioned markers of superiority that put a gated community around my consciousness. I was told that we had a good family, lived in good neighborhoods, went to good schools, had good manners, read good books, and of course earned good grades. We females should go to good colleges and marry men with good prospects who would get good jobs and make good investments because they had good sense and good judgment. We would learn good music and recognize good art because we had good taste. When such a castle of invented "goods" is built around one, an obedient self, keeper of the moat and drawbridge, will recognize and try to keep out threatening elements.  

This frame of mind, instructed in keeping the “bad” at bay, made me as a child feel some fear when an un-good thought, an uncertified thought or person even, made its way into the precincts. The gated mind did what it could to hold off, stamp out, expunge, even kill the intruder. A man I was dating when I was 18 told me his parents had Jewish friends. I broke up with him immediately. Having grown up in anti-Semitic towns with few Jewish people, my gated mind stopped the intruding element. George Zimmerman and I were taught by large elements of American sensibility to do this.

We need liberal arts education and caring parents to teach children’s minds to see that what is unfamiliar is not necessarily threatening. We need teachers to encourage students to look critically at what they have been taught about who and what "belongs" in a democracy. Examining one's mind and widening one's scope are humanizing pursuits. By contrast, rage--especially racial, religious, gendered, sexuality and class-based rage--at what is seen as “other” can kill off those observant and potentially welcoming internal elements of the self that can see beyond whatever excluding “litany of goods” one was taught.

The posse sensibility is not open or welcoming. The inner watchdogs of the closed mind kill off democracy. They fear what is not in their precincts. They do not recognize themselves in others. They close off curiosity and empathy. What remains is the ruthless gated community of the heart.

Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D. is an associate director at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum and a leading scholar on privilege, she is the author of the groundbreaking essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

 

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Dear Dr. McIntosh After completing 4 yrs of undergraduate work, I am in my second semester of graduate courses here at Georgian Co... Read More
Thursday, 30 January 2014 13:25
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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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