The transition from summer to fall is a really pleasant time of year for me – I’m back in the swing of my schedule at school, the weather is mellowing out, and I get a break from living out of a suitcase (not to complain about my travels to Chicago, Greece, Portland, and Boulder, which were all lovely). The thing I miss most about summer is all the time I get to spend reading; it was even more packed with good books than usual this year: Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Mycophilia, The Pale King, My Year of Meats, The People of the Book, Negroland: A Memoir, The Bone Clocks, and The Better Angels of Our Nature, just to name a few from my list that would be worth checking out.
But one book that deserves special mention is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, which was easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Desmond sheds a penetrating light on the massive increases in American residential evictions during the past few decades, and, crucially, on the devastating, long-lasting impact evictions have on people across a broad spectrum of demographic differences. After embedding with families on both sides of the renter / landlord divide over a period of years, Desmond vividly recounts their personal narratives, carefully analyzes and clearly present massive amounts of relevant data, and even makes some recommendations for policy changes that seem our best bets for addressing the housing crisis we must all face together. I’m not alone in being blown out of the water by this book, and I can’t overstate how strongly I recommend it to, well, everyone.
I want to express my appreciation to the organizers of NUSTEP for inviting me to serve as commentator at this year’s conference; I had a really good time. The highlight for me was Nomy Arpaly’s talk about “good old-fashioned benevolence,” which was an excellent model of how to make precise and rigorous argument using well-crafted examples but without using any jargon, while expressing a great sense of humor, all at the same time!
Of course, some nice walks along Lake Michigan and good local food were also very welcome. Regarding food in Evanston, Found Kitchen deserves a special mention – the many dishes I tried were all delicious, the space had a great atmosphere, and the people involved enact a worthy social mission of hiring and training people coming out of homelessness.
Being able to vote is something I see as an amazing opportunity and a serious responsibility. But when you’ve moved around a fair bit in the last few years, as I have, that makes it harder to stay informed about state and local politics, since you kind of have to start over every time you move.
Thank goodness for Project Vote Smart! Their mission “is to provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” I’ve come to rely on their easy-to-use tools and the huge amount of non-partisan information they provide to insure that I vote for the candidates that best reflect my values.
So during this election season, I encourage everyone to spend some time on their website (and maybe to make a donation to support their work, if you can)!
A while back, I wrote about attending a poverty simulation on Ball State Campus that was organized by Teamwork for Quality Living. As I said then, it was a really worthwhile experience!
I just went through a similar poverty simulation online that is worth mentioning to those of you who don’t have access to one in person. It is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure website that you can click through to see what it is like to try to live for a month in poverty, and along the way it gives you lots of information about poverty in America and the choices faced by people living in poverty. (It is also very attractive in terms of design.)
If you don’t have first-hand experience with poverty (or maybe even if you do), I encourage you to check out the simulation at http://playspent.org.
A couple of days ago, I participated in a Poverty Simulation on the Ball State Campus that was hosted by TEAMwork for Quality Living. What an amazing experience! I cannot recommend it highly enough.
When you arrive at the poverty simulation, you’ll be assigned a new identity for about the next 2 hours, and you’ll work together with the members of your family to try to meet all the challenges that come your way throughout the (simulated) month. All the families have to figure out how to arrange for transportation, buy food, and pay bills; depending on your specifics, you may have to deal with issues at work, health problems, legal trouble, and people in the community who *ahem* are not very kind.
No matter what your situation is in real life, I think this is an excellent way to learn about what other people go through, and to foster empathy for a wide range of folks. The post-simulation reflective discussion can be a real eye-opener!
Poverty simulations are offered regularly (TQL has done 80+ over the years), so check out their website to sign up for the next one!
On Thursday, I went to my first meeting of Teamwork for Quality Living, a group of folks in Muncie who have been working together to empower people in poverty toward self-sufficiency since the late 1990s. Teamwork uses a collaborative model to bring about positive changes in the community, and the Circles Campaign has been shown to be quite effective by various empirical studies.
I met a wonderful, demographically diverse group of people, learned a lot about the Muncie community, and shared a tasty dinner with the group! Now I am looking forward to next week’s meeting and the upcoming poverty simulation that I’m going to participate in. My challenge, moving forward, is to start figuring out the best ways for me to contribute to Teamwork’s mission.
Although I’m a little late in posting this, I want to take a moment to recognize National Adjunct Walkout Day, which took place earlier this week.
Many people outside of academia, and many undergraduate students currently enrolled in college, are not aware of just how much the landscape of higher education has changed in recent decades regarding the proportion of faculty on the tenure track as compared to those in adjunct/contingent/part-time/visiting positions, and exactly what that trend means for educational quality and workplace justice. Nevertheless, this is an issue that affects us all: students, families, citizens, and workers.
To learn more about National Adjunct Walkout Day, you can start by looking here, here, here, here, and/or here.
This past Thursday, November 20th, was the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), a day on which we make an extra effort to raise awareness of, remember, and protest against past and ongoing violence and discrimination directed at transgender people.
In observation of this day, I went to Concord with a couple of friends to participate in the first annual TDoR event organized by the Concord Feminist Health Center. We walked from the center to the state house carrying candles, spoke a few words to honor the many transgender people who have been subjected to violence and other injustices, then walked back to the warmth, snacks, and good company to be found at the center. For more information about the event, see this article in the Concord Monitor.
I met some great people during the event, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening than by making a public stand in support of transgender people and the values of justice, equality, and non-violence.
November 4th is Election Day! I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as citizens to participate in the governance of our communities by voting for the representatives and policies that align most closely with our values.
To illustrate: as a kid, my mom frequently presented me with the following options: you can either wear a jacket OR complain about being cold (hint: she wanted me to choose the first one). But woe unto me if I refused to wear a jacket and still complained! That was a recipe for a very annoyed mom, and she had good reason to be annoyed. The person who wants the world to be different (that is, better) and yet is not willing to do their part to bring about that different, better world is either lazy, irrational, whiny, or some combination of equally unflattering traits (as my mom has been known to say on occasion, a brat).
So if you have ever complained about the government, about elected officials, about existing policies, or the like (and the huge majority of us have), that shows that you already believe that the world could be different and better when it comes to governance. So you ought to do something about that if you can. Voting, like putting on a jacket, is for many (but sadly, not all) of us, one of the easiest things that we can do about it.
If you are unsure about which candidates are most deserving of your vote, I recommend visiting https://votesmart.org/voteeasy/. If you answer a simple series of questions about where you live and what you value, it will calculate which candidates in your district are most closely aligned with your beliefs, and give you all sorts of information about the candidates, the issues, and American electoral politics more generally. Don’t worry! Project Vote Smart is not aligned with any political party, PAC, or other special interest group, so you can be confident that they are giving you “just the facts.”
I have been talking to students quite a bit lately about sexual assault: what it is, what makes is wrong, what the law says about it, how to prevent it, how to talk about it, and what to do if it happens to you or someone you care about.
There are lots of resources I could point out to help us not only think and talk about this serious issue in appropriate, productive ways, but also, most importantly, to prevent sexual assault. I want to take a moment to point out one in particular:
It’s On Us
This campaign, recently launched by the White House, is designed to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault on college and university campuses, and to encourage individuals to make a commitment to take action in ways that will help stop sexual assault.