Diversity and Community Engagement
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Archive for the ‘Faculty Lunch and Learn’ Category

FL&L Recap: UM Law Fair Housing Clinic’s Eastmoor Estates Project

Posted on: December 8th, 2020 by elpayseu

This post is a recap of the 11/12/20 Faculty Lunch & Learn featuring the UM Law Fair Housing Clinic and the Eastmoor Estates Fair Housing Project.

For our final Faculty Lunch & Learn of the fall semester, UM Law professor and director of the UM Law Fair Housing Clinic, Desiree Hensley, along with partners and students, discussed their community engaged work with the Eastmoor Fair Housing Project, assisting low income tenants in improving their living conditions and securing affordable housing.

When she came to the University of Mississippi in 2009, Hensley was not expecting a project of such magnitude that was Eastmoor Estates. A subdivision of about 50 homes, Eastmoor Estates was in dire conditions. Raw sewage was in the streets and front yards; foundations were crumbling; faulty wiring was setting houses on fire. The conditions were harsh, and with the landlord unfairly evicting people, the tenants were powerless.

Hensley contacted the county supervisor Glen Donald about interviewing potential clients in the subdivision. She emphasized the importance of talking with the tenants. “We would never just load up in a car and show up to someone’s community,” Hensley said. In order to effectively help a community, it is important to do so cooperatively, according to Hensley. Within days, the clinic was receiving phone calls from Eastmoor tenants who wanted these problems solved, so Hensley and her students got to work.

The next year was filled with investigations, litigations, and settlements as Hensley and her students worked through the law to provide fair housing to the tenants of Eastmoor Estates. After suing the county, the city, and the landlord, the Eastmoor tenants were able to have their roads fixed, sewers repaired, and obtain deeds to their homes.

“That title to their homes is really important,” Hensley said, “because it gives them power, gives them ownership.” The homes that these tenants now owned, however, were still in very poor condition, a painful side effect of the litigation. However, since the project started in 2009, the Eastmoor Estates community had become very organized which made them a perfect site for a development project by Hope Enterprise Corporation, a local credit union and community development institution.

As part of a settlement from a separate institution, Hope Enterprise provided Eastmoor Estates with $3 million to rehabilitate the existing homes and replace the ones that were unsalvageable. With the help of Delta Design-Build, an equitable construction workshop based in Greenwood, Mississippi, 25 homes have been rehabilitated, nine have been replaced, and four modular homes have been installed.

This community engaged project has not only provided this community with fair housing but has also provided UM Law students with invaluable learning experiences. Dominique Douglas, who works closely with Hensley within the fair housing clinic, discussed the creativity it takes to interpret the law. “It’s not just cut and dry, black and white,” Douglas said, “You have to think about other solutions in order to help your client.” She also emphasizes the fulfillment she receives from doing community engaged work, a sentiment echoed by her classmates.

The students present also discussed the value of the experience they receive from the clinic. “It’s more personable than I was ever expecting.” Maggie Ogletree said, “When you’re picking up the phone and calling those clients and hearing the emotion in the their voices, it adds a whole new layer to the law school experience.”

The Office of Community Engagement is committed to elevating and celebrating community engaged projects like the Eastmoor Fair Housing Project that promote not only community engagement but also student learning and faculty research. As this session rounds out our fall semester, we are always looking for more opportunities to elevate community engagement and celebrate those working to make our communities great.

For more information on the law school’s Housing Clinic, you can visit their website, and be on the lookout for our next Faculty Lunch & Learn series in the spring. If you’d like to watch the recorded session, you can visit our YouTube page.

UM Faculty and Students Lead Voter Engagement Efforts

Posted on: October 19th, 2020 by elpayseu

This blog post is a recap of the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) Faculty Lunch & Learn session on 10/12/2020.

Dr. Na Youn Lee, Prof. Amy Fisher, and Ms. Patricia Digby along with panelists Tanya Rhodes Smith, Austin Conner, and Jaycee Brown, joined us for the second session in our Faculty Lunch & Learn series on October 12 to discuss the impact of the Voter Empowerment Project, a student-led research project to increase voter participation in rural communities while also giving social work students hands-on, educational experiences in the field.

Created in 2019, the Voter Empowerment Project (VEP) partners with local and nationwide organizations like MS Votes to assess voter needs and barriers to voting, a large part of the reason some people neglect their right to vote. “The practice of voting is very complex,” says Smith, co-founder of the National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign. “These systemic barriers create and reinforce engagement barriers.” These barriers create attitudes within communities that voting is practically useless. Projects like the Mobilization Campaign and the VEP are aimed at identifying and addressing these barriers.

In partnership with the Mobilization Campaign, the VEP trains social work students on the importance of voting and voter engagement, especially in the framework of the social work profession. Before, according to our panelists, voting engagement had not been a central focus in the social work profession, but the Voter Empowerment Project is just one of many rising efforts to bring attention to the importance of voter engagement in social work.

Fisher, associate professor of social work at the University of Mississippi, describes the three levels of social work focus: micro, mezzo, and macro. She explains that the VEP is simultaneously working at both the micro and macro levels of social work. While the project is intervening at the community level, there is also the central question of how to get the individual to the polls despite these barriers

To find engagement barriers, participants like Conner, a doctoral social work student, went into communities on election day in 2018 and evaluated polling locations in different areas. Students conducted a needs assessment within rural and nonrural communities to compare the barriers that Smith discussed and found a real need for accessible voting policies.

Dr. Lee, assistant professor of social work at the University of Mississippi, says that the VEP created an almost immediate increase in voter awareness, at least in the preliminary evaluation stage. Among social work students, this project had already begun to change attitudes toward voter engagement as social work and voter engagement as a whole. “They never thought about voting as part of the social work mission,” says Lee, “It was very overly positive.” Other analysis and evaluation is still ongoing, but this trend is an exciting one for both Lee and Fisher as political advocacy becomes a more prominent focus of social work across the country.

If you would like to watch the entire session, it is available on our YouTube channel, and be on the lookout for our next Lunch & Learn session coming soon.

Faculty Lunch and Learn Recap – Behind the Big House

Posted on: September 30th, 2020 by elpayseu

Dr. Jodi Skipper, associate professor of anthropology and southern studies, and Chelius Carter, director of Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc., joined us on Thursday for our inaugural Faculty Lunch & Learn series highlighting Behind the Big House, an initiative launched by Preserve Marshall County in 2011 to bring light to the unspoken truths of enslaved people and reframe local histories to move beyond the cities’ big mansions and focus on the slave dwellings so often ignored.

As a community engaged scholar, Dr. Skipper values the innate relationship between her research, teaching, and community engagement, so when the opportunity presented itself for her graduate students to collaborate with Carter, she saw it as a chance for her students to not only gain valuable research and hospitality experience but also to make a real impact in their local community.

This was also an opportunity to address some of the issues regarding white supremacist ideology that Dr. Skipper believes is not being addressed. “It’s important for [students] to see white people in north Mississippi doing this kind of work as examples,” Dr. Skipper said of Carter and Behind the Big House co-founder Jennifer Eggleston, “I felt like I was attempting to force people to do the right thing, and when I started to work with Chelius and Jennifer, there was no forcing it.” Anthropology faculty and students have been working with Behind the Big House to promote community-based education since 2013.

The vision for Behind the Big House came after Carter purchased the Hugh Craft House, an antebellum home in Holly Springs, and wanted to know the history of the estate’s slave quarters in which he was currently housing his studio. “This structure is more important and rare historically and culturally than the big house,” Carter said. His vision was brought to life by Eggleston who suggested creating a community-wide educational program that had never been done before. Behind the Big House serves as a template for other communities with similar ties to the legacy of slavery to reframe their history to be one that is more accurate, complete, and inclusive.

For more information on Behind the Big House, you can visit Preserve Marshall County’s website, and be on the lookout for our next Faculty Lunch & Learn series coming soon. If you’d like to watch the recorded session, you can visit our YouTube page.