McCormack Speaks

July 9, 2020
by jackli001
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Black Lives Matter – A Juneteenth Post by Center for Social Policy

On this Juneteenth, we celebrate the end of slavery. But the horrific and painful lynching of George Floyd proves that Black people are not afforded the same inalienable rights as white people. I have taken the time to learn about the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and many others who were senselessly killed by those we entrust to enforce the law. I send my condolences to their families and communities for the senseless and tragic loss of their lives.

While the Center for Social Policy has always focused on uncovering the root causes of inequities – racial, gender, and class – recent events prompted me to deepen my understanding of systemic racism. After losing myself in many book lists focused on racial injustice, I realized I could start with books already on my shelf, waiting to be read. I began with Stacey Abrams Lead from the Outside, which is both a memoir and a how-to on how Abrams created and achieved her many successes in law, politics, publishing, and non-profits. I recommend Lead from the Outside for anyone seeking to understand the barriers Black women face, the extraordinary hurdles they are forced to overcome, and strategies they can apply to create pathways to leadership.

To learn more about racial injustices and law enforcement, I watched 13th, a documentary which centers around the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlaws slavery except as a punishment for a crime. It graphically depicts, from the Civil War to the present day, how the law has been grossly and unfairly applied to Black Americans. It reveals how the law has been used to justify ongoing murder, mass criminalization, prison labor, and the growing prison industry. Next up, also already on my bookshelf, I plan to finish The New Jim Crow, which focuses on how the criminal justice system operates as a means of racial control, stripping prisoners and returning citizens not only of their basic right to vote, but also of their access to housing, employment, and public benefits.

Of course, it is understanding this intersection – the need for public benefits due especially to high housing costs combined with low paying jobs – that is the focal point of the Center for Social Policy. Workers in these low-pay jobs such as frontline healthcare employees or grocery cashiers have been rebranded as “essential workers” or “heroes.” No matter how essential their labor is to our basic needs of health and food, these jobs rarely pay a living wage, offer health benefits, paid leave, flexible schedules, or other benefits that those of us non-essential workers who are privileged to work from home take for granted. It is important to remember that these essential workers are disproportionately people of color.

As a result of these low quality jobs, many essential workers are at greater risk for food insecurity and homelessness. Consequently, they need to rely on public benefits to meet basic financial needs. The challenge of balancing public benefits with income is nearly impossible, due to the benefits cliff, where a small increase in income leads to a loss of critical supports, such as housing assistance.

Our research at CSP intends to end this “incarceration by social policy” that disproportionately traps Black Americans, especially Black mothers. Transformational change is needed, starting at the federal level, and it must go hand-in-hand with reforms in criminal justice. Without it, the freedom of Blacks from slavery and death will not go far enough, as families of color will still be unable to climb the economic ladder as they watch their white peers gain a hand up each step of the way.

What does Black Lives Matter mean for the Center for Social Policy, an applied research center? Our work includes research, evaluation, technical assistance, tools, and guides. Many of our projects already focus on racial equity, but now we commit to going deeper and being more intentional with each and every project. Specifically, every project CSP undertakes will follow these guidelines:

  • Continue to center the voices of Black people and other people of color, who are impacted by economic hardship, so that our work is grounded in their lived experience. In this way, our analysis will ensure that policies and practices will not create unintended consequences for Black people.
  • Increase the use of racial equity frameworks, employing tools and assessments such as those created by Race Forward. In that way, we will be better equipped to identify and develop solutions to better address systemic racism.
  • Specifically request that partners and key stakeholders include persons of color during the research process. Our work frequently involves interviewing community and business leaders. For these projects, we will request our interview targets include at least one interviewee of color as part of the process.
  • Continue attempts to disaggregate data by race, but now share more technical details when race data are not available. Sometimes race and ethnic data are not available because it is not provided by respondents or because doing so could cause concerns about identifying specific individuals, thereby destroying anonymity. But often it is not provided by public government agencies who are either not tracking it, or may have the data but refuse to share it. In those cases, we will provide more information about the ways the data were requested and why it was not provided.

The work is not easy. As an example, since we know that people of color are disproportionately poor, and that systemic racism is deeply embedded in our institutions and systems, we have designed a research study that explores the relationship between employment and public benefits from a racial lens. The planned study is both quantitative and qualitative, centering the voice of impacted Black families. The goal is to develop policy changes that will alleviate identified cliff effects to encourage family stability and economic mobility.

But over the past few years, the study was rejected by three funders, and it did not fit the criteria for two other funders we were targeting.

We will keep trying. Black families deserve more than merely a right to live and freedom from slavery. Black families deserve the right to live without violence, without health disparities, without economic hardship, and so much more.

In Justice,

Susan Crandall

Director, Center for Social Policy

June 8, 2020
by jackli001
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Ubuntu – Poem by James Whitacre

James Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security & Research Associate, Center for Governance and Sustainability

Ubuntu 2020 Event

For me, the poem “Ubuntu” marks a moment of solidarity in our Pan-African Graduate Scholars Association. While we have different research areas as Africanists, Africans, and African American Africans, “Ubuntu” explores a place some call home. Through a geophysical-psychology blend (Kano’s granite, etc), the poem grounds itself in Nigeria’s regional socio-cultural realities. Paying tribute to difference (because unity is not uniformity), the poem highlights a shared human orientation to the current Covid-19 scourge. A mirror peck of the ocean which is Ubuntu’s traditional meaning, this contemporary poem invites readers to transcend our “selves”, use our hearts, and contemplate our interconnection to our communities and the human whole.

One Professor,

With roots to one place,

Where 500 languages live,

In the hearts of 200 million people,

Whose feet walk, where soil speaks,

Loose sand Norths,

Granite in Kano,

Red Savannas,

Forest Souths,

Many people, sharing an orientation,

To the coming and going,

of droughts and floods.

 

Nigeria…

Now a land of who lives and who dies,

Because of a disease named after a crown,

One Professor,

With roots to one place,

Taught me one word,

Which our whole world needs now more than ever,

while we wait out this common drought:

Ubuntu. Ubuntu. Ubuntu.

“I am because you are.”

April 30, 2020
by jackli001
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Art Creates Community and Comfort – and We Must Defend It

By Hsin-Ching Wu, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Hsin-Ching Wu, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

From late February to early March, as the world watched the outbreak of COVID-19 spreading like a wildfire from country to country, things seemed to be rather unruffled here in Massachusetts.  At UMass Boston, the spring semester had been in full swing.  I had then just defended my dissertation focusing on a case study of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is the state’s designated public agency providing funding and services to nonprofit cultural institutions, schools, communities and individual artists.

Before long, by mid-March, everything changed.  The COVID-19 pandemic turned into more than just a public health crisis, and social distancing became the new normal.

Personally, even though the PhD training has given me plenty of experiences of working in solitude, the adjustment has not been easy.  As I read about the developing situations here in the U.S. as well as back home in Taiwan, I found myself, maybe like many others, going through various emotions.  In the midst of uncertainties, I discovered an unexpected outlet through creativity when I started participating in weekly virtual drawing sessions with friends.  Once a hobby of my childhood and adolescent years, I have not drawn for a very long time.  Surprisingly, the simple action of producing images with lines and shadows has brought me calmness.

Elsewhere, stories have emerged that during the periods of social/physical distancing, forms of cultural, creative, and artistic expressions inspire and comfort many individuals across the globe. For instance, in Italy, residents have been seen singing and playing instruments on their balconies.  Here in the U.S., the students of Boston Conservatory at Berklee and Berklee College of Music presented stay-at-home “Love Sweet Love” in a video to send a positive message.  A variety of nonprofit cultural institutions have been offering some forms of virtual exhibits, performance, and tours.  Some artists and musicians are providing free online courses.  Amid social/physical distancing, culture (an umbrella term that encompasses the arts, humanities, and heritage) gives people much needed solace.

However, in spite of these transcendental benefits, as compared to other industries, little attention is given to the nonprofit cultural sector, which is facing devastating difficulties.  From an economic standpoint, in the U.S. alone, by mid-March, nonprofit arts organizations had already lost at least $3.2 billons of revenues.

As pointed out by the UNESCO, this is a shared plight across the board.  Nevertheless, I would argue that it is time for public policy to move past the efficiency argument as measured solely by monetary value.  As this pandemic demonstrates, societies require more than a good economy to function.  There are other essential elements, including but not limited to equitable social benefits, universal access to healthcare, a clean and safe environment, communal support and connection, and the arts, heritage, and humanities, all of which are not quantifiable by market price alone.

While societies continue to weather the crisis, I remain hopeful that this shared experience will lead to an increased recognition and appreciation of the value of culture, and the significance of continuing public support for the sector.

March 30, 2020
by jackli001
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UMass Boston Africa Day 2020 – Challenging Pan Africanism through Migrations

By Ojemire Benjamin Daniel, PhD Student, Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance

Photo of the Organizers in Africa Day 2020

Africa Day 2020 focused on migration within Africa and the challenge of Afrophobia — a form of xenophobia directed by Africans toward other Africans.  Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the African Union ambassador to the United Nations, spoke passionately about the continent’s successes in transcending the issue. Mohammed, the luncheon keynote speaker, said Africans should celebrate their differences and “transform this thinking into positive action.”

This year’s event theme was titled, Challenges to Pan Africanism: Afrophobia and Migration Across Borders” to reflect the African continent’s attempts to achieve integration and unity across its deeply pluralistic and diverse borders in spite of the challenges that mitigate its success. It was hosted by the McCormack Graduate School’s Africa Scholar Forum (ASF) – a campus-wide academic platform for faculty who are teachers or scholars of the study of Africa- and that is chaired by McCormack’s Associate Dean and Professor of international relations, Rita Kiki Edozie. Held on March 6th, with welcoming addresses from Professor Edozie, Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman, Interim Provost Emily McDermott, Vice Chancellor Gail DiSabatino, and Dean David Cash, this year the all-day event was delivered through four components – a keynote plenary African-menu luncheon speaker, a keynote plenary panel of Greater Boston scholars of African Studies, an UMass Boston doctoral student panel, an evening keynote speaker, and a gala evening cultural extravaganza that included an African-inspired fashion show and an Afrobeat DJ.

UMass Boston ASF faculty, Dr. Nada Ali, a senior lecturer in the department of womens, gender, and sexuality studies, and Professor Quito Swan, also William Trotter Institute Director, and other scholars from Harvard, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, and SUNY Geneseo Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, and SUNY Geneseo  debated the relevance of race and neocolonialism as a factor of Africa’s global migration trends and a spearheading of South African challenges in receiving African migrants. Organized as the Pan African Graduate Student Association(PAGSA), several doctoral students from McCormack Graduate School, the College of Liberal Arts, and the School of Global and Social Inclusion, whose dissertations engage critical topics in African affairs, spoke to these policy issues in relation to the problem of African xenophobia. Evening keynote speaker, Rahman Oladigbolu, a Boston-based, Nigerian filmmaker showed scenes from his film on African immigrants’ experiences in the United States, Soul Sisters.

With luncheon and evening reception food prepared by local Boston Nigerian, Somalian, and Cape Verdes restaurants, and an evening African cultural show; the all-day event marked another successful affair at the UMass Boston campus which hosts a sizeable number of African immigrant, international, and heritage students.

February 27, 2020
by jackli001
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Celebrating and Reflections on Black History Month

By Esther Rogers, MPA student in Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Photo of Esther Rogers and KrystalGayle ONeillPhoto of UrbanIntellectuals.com flashcards

McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies hosted its first informal discussion on Celebrating Black History Month on February 26th.

The discussion included personal reflections on what Celebrating Black History means and was enhanced by informational flashcards of known and unknown African Americans and individuals from the African Diaspora and the Caribbean and how they all contributed to our robust history in America and abroad.

The discussions were thoughtful and offered differing perspectives that included: individuals who immigrated to the US and their challenges in facing racism and discrimination, becoming aware of the lack of diversity in their workplaces and on college campuses, ambiguity regarding Black History Month being only one month and the lack of unsung individuals, environmental justice and older adult students’ challenge in accessing their pensions, as well as many other topics.

The consensus among those in attendance was that it was a great opportunity to share their experiences and it was much needed. One key point that came out from the discussion was, as a nation and globally, although we collectively haven’t reached a post racial society, we have made strides, and will continue to make them, toward achieving this goal.

David and Kiki and others will be working on holding these exciting informal discussions on a monthly basis and will be featuring other heritage celebrations throughout the semester.

I want to thank everyone in attendance and look forward to inviting even more voices to the conversation. For those who are interested, the flashcards can be found on UrbanIntellectuals.com.

Until next time, please take care of yourself and each other.

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