Diversity and Community Engagement

The University of Mississippi

Archive for November, 2020

Community Chats – David Stone

Posted on: November 20th, 2020 by elpayseu

“We’re providing not just help, but hope.” -David Stone

In this episode of Community Chats, Anthony sits down with David Stone, volunteer recruitment specialist with the North Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross, to talk about the mission and work of the Red Cross as well as the power of volunteerism. Tune in to hear about how you can get involved with the Red Cross and help those in our community affected by disaster.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region, David Stone found himself in the midst of a wave of evacuees escaping the ravaged coastline. He got involved with the Red Cross connecting displaced people to local resources to help them get back on their feet. This work exemplified the mission of the Red Cross: to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

The North Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross, like others, offers an array of services to victims of disasters and relies heavily on volunteer service. “Our volunteers are critical to the mission of the Red Cross,” Stone says. In fact, Stone says the Red Cross is aiming to be 100% volunteer-led in the near future, and you can visit their website to sign up to volunteer today.

One of the most rewarding experiences through the Red Cross for Stone occurred shortly after he began working with them after Hurricane Katrina. A father of a family receiving assistance approached him and said that it was not just the material assistance the Red Cross provided but the personal connection and secure presence of the Red Cross they received. “They didn’t have to walk alone through that situation,” Stone recalled, “Red Cross volunteers touch lives every day.”

To find opportunities with the American Red Cross, you can visit the website above or get in touch with David Stone at david.stone@redcross.org or give him a call at (662) 701-7133. You can watch this episode and more on our Facebook (@UMengaged), YouTube, or your favorite podcast provider.


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Community Chat with JR Riojas and John Hydrisko, Warren Debate Union

Posted on: November 13th, 2020 by elpayseu

“No matter who you are, you have a voice, you have a platform. Use that platform to be empathetic and to not be willfully ignorant.” -JR Riojas

In this episode of Community Chats, our team chats with JR Riojas and John Hydrisko from the Warren Debate Union. Recently, the duo won awards in the Intercollegiate Advocacy and Dialogue competition hosted by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Their project discussing Confederate memorialization in the southern United States won Best Letter, Best Creative Argument, and Honorable Mention in Best Use of History. Tune in to hear about that as well as how speech and debate can foster conversation and understanding within communities.

When writing their award-winning letter, Riojas and Hydrisko were given simple but vague instructions. Given it was the first year of this competition, they were initially at a loss for what to write.

“We knew that they had invited schools from different states across the American South, so we wanted to really focus on Mississippi in particular,” Hydrisko said. Their letter addressed the controversial past of Mississippi’s involvement in the Confederacy, the memorialization of that past, and the evolution of the Lost Cause narrative used to justify that past.

They wanted to highlight the parts of Mississippi’s history that painted the state in a lighter tone. “As we pull down the worst of our state, we also really want to elevate the best and elevate the things that ore often ignored in history that can unite us,” Riojas said. Mississippi, for example, boasts a history of native artists, musicians, and authors.

In writing this letter, the two had to undergo a lot of local history analysis. “You engage with not just the present community but also the past community and how we got there,” Riojas said. They want people to recognize that when you do not engage with your community, either past or present, that that is when the harms in society progress, so be engaged and do so with empathy and understanding.

The Warren Debate Union also hosts public debates in a normal year like their Sunflower Charity Invitational in which they invite debate teams from colleges across the country to compete to raise money for the Sunflower County Freedom Project. Open to and judged by the public, these events are great ways to learn how to have open and productive conversation and engage with different viewpoints. The invitational raised over $3,000 for the Sunflower County Freedom Project last August.

To learn more about the Warren Debate Union and upcoming events, you can visit their Facebook page or their page on the Trent Lott Leadership Institute’s website.

You can also watch or listen to this episode and many more on our Facebook page, YouTube channel, or your favorite podcast provider.


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UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture Addresses Voter Suppression

Posted on: November 11th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Team Leader Jenna Santacroce recaps recent events offered this fall through the Center for the Study of Southern Culture addressing voter suppression and voting rights.

The 2020 Presidential election is one of the most monumental in history. The country, so clearly divided and polarized, is experiencing extreme pushback on both ends of the political spectrum. The University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture (CSSC) hosted three virtual events which discussed the ways in which some American citizens cast their ballots without issue, while others are severely affected by “voter suppression.” Voter suppression is any effort to influence the outcome of an election by preventing eligible voters from registering to vote or casting their ballot. Voter suppression, which looks much different now than it does in history, is disguised as an attempt to mitigate “voter fraud,” or illegal interference with the election process by voter impersonation, duplicate voting, ineligible and false registrations, and more. Studies have proven voter fraud to be a rare occurrence, however, by claiming to prevent voter fraud, political leaders are able to establish standards and implement policies that prevent certain individuals from voting. The most affected group of individuals who face voter suppression are people of color. The elderly, students, and people with disabilities are also affected by voter suppression. 

Historian Carol Anderson, alongside other historian colleagues, discussed the history of voter suppression during the Speaker Sessions and Roundtable Discussions hosted by CSSC. They shared that while some groups are affected more than others, voter suppression at large does not follow one specific mode and does not have one specific target. Historically, voter suppression has included outright violence and aggression as well as systematic suppression through government policies. Often, these policies target the most vulnerable (such as the elderly and people with disabilities), or groups that have faced long standing social and political suppression, notably communities of color. Starting after the Reconstruction, southern states began to implicate policies to repress votes, justifying these policies were reasonable for protecting the election. Poll taxes and literacy tests were deemed necessary to fund elections and to provide for an educated electorate, however these laws intentionally overlooked the long standing effects of slavey and poverty, charging disproportionate amounts and ignoring the underfunding of African American schools throughout the south. 

Discriminatory policies escape scrutiny by appearing “universal,” ignoring how one policy will affect groups differently. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped to alleviate barriers to voting, especially in the south, by outlawing poll taxes and literacy tests and by monitoring areas known for voter suppression. However, voter suppression continues due to government loopholes and denial of responsibility. Voter suppression today takes on a familiar but different form.

The historians in these CSSC events explained how to identify voter suppression today as it is less blatant and much more covert. Limited access to polling locations is one of the most prominent modern tactics of voter suppression. In Georgia specifically, where CSSC speaker Carol Anderson is from, there are exceptionally long lines at voting stations. This year, the state of Georgia purchased new voting machines despite being advised not to by election officials. The machines were inefficient and created a lengthy voting process by requiring the voter to insert a piece of paper, taking the time to process the paper, then processing the citizens’ votes. Also, these new voting machines were large and only a limited amount were able to fit in voting locations, therefore, only a limited number of people were able to vote at once. The state of Georgia knowingly established a voting system that required voters to wait for hours in lines. People may leave these long lines and tell their friends, family, and communities, inadvertently discouraging them to vote. Carol Ansderson explains these long lines are not accidents and have happened repeatedly in history. These long lines are designed tactics of voter suppression.

New voter identification laws are a heavily debated form of voter suppression. Following the Supreme Court case of Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013, areas with a history of voter suppression are no longer required to receive federal approval for policy changes related to voter eligibility. Similar to using the justification of “universal application” from past policies, voter ID laws are subjective because they can often prioritize access to one type of ID over another, and do not take into account how difficult it may be to receive an identification card due to cost, time, or geographical location. Texas, for example, has allowed the use of firearm registration cards as acceptable voter ID, but has not allowed student ID. This is especially perilous in large states, where citizens may not have easy access to locations to receive adequate identification. The repeal of sections of the Voting Rights Act also led to voter roll purges across the country. Voter roll purges disproportionately target new voters and people of color, by targeting those without a history of repeated voting or by matching voter registration across states by name only, not incorporating any other identifying information. These voter roll purges also removed names if the information did not exactly match information in a state record book, so registrations with minor misspellings or different uses of hyphens were removed.

There is no clear path to remove discriminatory voting laws or practices. There have been calls to create an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees universal suffrage, however one has not been passed yet. The best thing we can do to eliminate voter fraud is to learn about voting rights, and to report states and voting sites that violate these rights. Grassroots organizations and civil rights groups continue to advocate for increased access to voting. The speakers at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture discussions are hopeful that with enough public pressure, we can work towards ensuring everyone has equal access to voting.


For your reference:

Community Chat – Jon Winet

Posted on: November 9th, 2020 by elpayseu

“…to encourage thoughtful civic and civil conversation about the issues that are driving people’s interest in voting, the issues that keep them up at night, the issues that give them hope.”  – Jon Winet

As the country reflects on the election, Jon Winet sits down to discuss some of the efforts he and others in the LOU community have put forth to understand people’s “why.” Why do they vote? Why do they care about these issues? Tune in to learn about Oxford to the Ballot Box and all the people that helped bring this project together, including the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Oxford Film Festival, Mississippi Votes, and the University of Mississippi.

A professor at the University of Iowa and native to California, Winet found himself far from home in Oxford, Mississippi but was instantly hooked by the welcoming sense of community he found here. “[Both Oxford and Mississippi] are powerful; they’re evocative. The history is rich and deep,” Winet said on his interest in southern culture.

The history to which he refers is not only cultural but political. “We have learned that voting has been hard earned by many Mississippians,” Winet said. The history of voter suppression and voting complexities in Mississippi, Winet said, are large drivers of civic engagement in the state.

For many young Mississippians, this election was their first time voting, and to Winet, this is indicative of future engagement. “When people vote early in their lives, they vote the rest of their lives,” Winet said. While this engagement is encouraging, Winet says that there is still work to do.

In a year full of contention, it is important to Jon and other partners of Oxford to the Ballot Box that this work continues. As an initiative, they are “projecting ahead” to gauge the reactions of Mississippians, whatever the outcome. “We hope that we’ll have a chance to continue our conversations with people after the 3rd,” Winet said.

As they look to the future for further conversation, Oxford to the Ballot Box has also worked with the UM Digital Library to archive these sentiments for what Winet refers to as a “postcard to the future.” The videos highlighting LOU community members’ thoughts on civic engagement will be available to future generations to reflect on the progress of the LOU community.

If you would like to watch the Voices of Mississippi videos, please go to their website or their YouTube channel. You can also watch or listen to this episode and many other Community Chats on OCE’s Facebook (@UMengaged), YouTube, or your favorite podcast provider.


 

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Strategies for Disrupting Bias

Posted on: November 9th, 2020 by hwgrisso

Bias Busters