“I Had No Idea”: The Silencing of Food Insecurity and the Role of Undergraduate Civic Engagement in Unsilencing the Silent

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Primarily focused on undergraduate …

Primarily focused on undergraduate
education, this session seeks to elicit new
ways to help our students understand and redress public silence and quiescence
around the issue of food insecurity.
Garry Leonard Running IV
Department of Geography
and Anthropology
UW-Eau Claire
Ruth Cronje
English and Honors
UW-Eau Claire
Mike Huggins
Eau Claire Clear Vision
UW-Eau Claire Honors

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  • 1. Transforming the Service- Learning and Civic Engagement Curriculum with Gaventa’s Power Theory Garry Running, Ruth Cronje, Mike Huggins University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire
  • 2. Beyond a “volunteerism” model of service-learning •Challenge our students to include issues of equality and justice in their civic engagement experiences •Volunteering  mutual empowerment •Challenge students to a richer sense of what it means to live in a democracy
  • 3. Understanding Power Structures • We’ve been experimenting with introducing power studies into our curriculum • We’ve been helped by the work of John Gaventa • Our goals for this workshop: • Explain what we’ve been up to and why • Elicit additional insights and ideas from all of you about how to integrate understanding power structures in a civic engagement course
  • 4. Our Hero Says… • “If we want to change power relationships, e.g., to make them more inclusive, just, or pro-poor, we must understand more about where and how to engage” (Gaventa 2006) • Gaventa urges us to “put an understanding of power back in the centre of our understanding of the concept and practices of participation” (Gaventa 2006)
  • 5. Positions our curriculum as an element of “Democracy” •demos = the people •kratia = rule or leadership • The purpose of public education is to foster the development of students as self-actualized participants in a democratic society • Democracy both authorizes and requires “the people” – all of us! – to participate in conducting public work
  • 6. John Gaventa’s (1980) Three Dimensions of Power • First dimension • Observable decision-making • Easy-peasy
  • 7. John Gaventa’s second dimension • Hidden power • “controlling who gets to sit at the decision-making table and what gets on the agenda” • Encoded in laws and reinforced in the media
  • 8. “I Had No Idea”: The Silencing of Food Insecurity and the Role of Undergraduate Civic Engagement in Unsilencing the Silent Garry Running, Mike Huggins, Ruth Cronje
  • 9. Description of class (structure) • Readings to do with equitability and justice • Survey • Power plate assignment/ Gordy’s trip • Trip to the Community Table • Self-reflection • Final projects (backpack, community resources database)
  • 10. Results: Students reflect • The most memorable moment was quite honestly the power mapping exercise. I had no idea that half of the entities existed, and were somehow related to another! It was amazing to put on a board all of the different groups dedicated to fighting inequality and seeking justice. I loved the early days of sitting around, building rapport and engaging in discussions that were aimed at consciousness raising. It was definitely essential in providing the framework for the rest of the class.
  • 11. Reflection, cont’d • This course really opened my eyes to the number of low-income people in Eau Claire, the hardships they face, and how it affects their health. Actually doing a project to help the issue makes me feel empowered. • My expectations for this course were not only met, but exceeded. I feel much more confident as a civic agent in my community.
  • 12. Results: Students recognize their own ignorance I feel this class really opened my eyes to a real problem that I had never really thought about or had any previous experience with. Actually doing something to help the problem made me feel empowered. [and yet, the real story is that the astounding level of food insecurity in Eau Claire is not common knowledge]
  • 13. Data from course post-survey •Understanding of poverty in our community = 3.92 (of a possible 4) •Ability to reflect on my own biases and prejudices = 3.77
  • 14. Conclusion •Students in our civic engagement course recognize Gaventa’s 2nd dimension of power with regard to food insecurity in their community •They recognize that the prevalence of food insecurity in Eau Claire is not “on the agenda”
  • 15. Low-Income Civic Agency: What Does It Take to Take Civic Action? Kali Boldt, Ruth Cronje. Greg Neson, Gabrielle Schmidt
  • 16. John Gaventa’s third dimension • Invisible power • “shapes the psychological and ideological boundaries of participation” • “significant problems and issues are not only kept from the decision-making table but also from the minds and consciousness of the different players involved, even those directly affected by the problem. By influencing how individuals think about their place in the world, this level of power shapes peoples beliefs, sense of self, and acceptance of the status-quo-even their own superiority or inferiority.”
  • 17. Our study addressed “quiescence” Quiescence: Why, when people live in undesirable conditions, do they NOT “rise up” and exert their democratic power to replace their leaders?
  • 18. Why study low-income individuals? •Low-income people can have self- stigmatizing beliefs (Bullock 1999; Corazelli 2001) •Low-income people tend to be civically quiescent (Gaventa 1982; Croteau 1995;
  • 19. Site: Community Table of Eau Claire • Location in Eau Claire where anyone is able to go and receive a free hot meal • Chosen because we could assume guests are low income or food insecure
  • 20. Participant-Observation “arm” • Attended nine meals at Community Table; ate and sat with guests • Listened to and participated in conversations happening at the tables • Notes afterwards • Co-witnessed for reliability • Snow & Anderson themes to independently code • Kappa agreement of 0.85 on our coding decisions
  • 21. Associational distancing “These kids who are on the street, they keep coming here year after year; they’re on the street because they want to be.”
  • 22. Embellishment: [One male guest stated] that although he had dislocated his shoulder, broken his hand, and had bone-deep lacerations in his arm, he had not received medical attention due to lack of funds and sought to treat himself. He did so by re-setting his own shoulder and making a splint and super-gluing his wounds together to allow them to heal. [A fellow guest] inquired about infections; the younger man stated he had a strong immune system and has never been “truly infected.” He indicated he did not like taking drugs and could “handle pain.”
  • 23. Ideological embracement: •“I’m the Christian the devil warned you about” tee shirt •“Where do you have Jesus in your life? … I’ve lost Jesus for long times in my life. But, he’s always there for you if you look to him.”
  • 24. Ethnographic results gave evidence consistent with self-stigmatizing attitudes
  • 25. Methods: Survey “arm” 24-Item Survey
  • 26. Then, CTEC Guests Invited to Take Action • Sign a petition • Write a letter • Both We had petitions prepared for both supporting and opposing the proposed cuts to the SNAP food program – nonpartisan opportunity to participate
  • 27. The vast majority of people collecting food stamp benefits have which of the following attributes? 67% 58% 53% 33% 21% 45% 41% 18% 18% 59% 49% 53% 53% 16% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80%
  • 28. Knowledgeable versus Unknowledgeable Guests Only 21 guests were considered knowledgeable about the SNAP program 29% 71% Knowledgable Unknowledgable
  • 29. Civic Action A total of 48 respondents to the survey took action. 34% 37% 29% None Petition Petition and Letter
  • 30. Why,inyouropinion,aretherepeopleinthis countrywho liveinneed?Herearetwo opinions: Whichcomesclosestto yourview? People are poor because they are lazy. People are poor because society treats them unfairly. 35% 65% Action No Action 70% 30% Action No Action
  • 31. What can we conclude? • Ethnographic observations suggest Community Table guests share (self-) stigmatizing attitudes and their “identity work” discourse provides evidence that their ideologies have been “colonized” by elite values • Survey + Petition/Letters study provides evidence that respondents with self-stigmatizing values were less willing to take civic action • Some guests with self-stigmatizing beliefs were nonetheless willing to participate in the civic action we offered them
  • 32. What is our responsibility as educators in CE experiences involving low-income citizens? •Help our students understand the dimensions of power: teach Gaventa •Help our students realize that all three of these dimensions impinge on the ability of low-income citizens to deploy their power •????
  • 33. Discussion 1. What community issues do you address in your civic engagement courses? 2. To what extent does Gaventa’s third dimension of power impinge upon the civic agency of stakeholders for any of these issues? 3. What kinds of assignments or learning experiences highlighting the third dimension of power could we integrate into our civic engagement courses?
  • 34. Acknowledgements • Rachel Keniston and the Community Table of Eau Claire • The UWEC Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, who funded this research • The UWEC Honors Program