'Class Matters' Lecture Series to Focus on Common Ground of Economic Issues

August 24, 2010 — A public forum, "Five Years after the Storm: The Politics of 'Rebuilding' in a Post-Katrina World," to be held Wednesday at the University of Virginia, kicks off a new series intended to encourage greater dialogue and collaborative action around issues of race, class, poverty and public policy within and beyond the city of Charlottesville.

"Class Matters: Race, Labor and Public Policy in Contemporary America" will comprise four public forums and one workshop on public policy opportunities for underrepresented minorities.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Anne Bromley:

The series is a collaborative venture involving the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, the Corcoran Department of History and the American Studies Program in the College of Arts & Sciences; the Black Student Alliance; the Office of African-American Affairs; the Miller Center of Public Affairs; and the University and Community Action for Racial Equity group, or UCARE.

The first forum, also co-sponsored by the U.Va. Haiti Working Group, will take place at 5 p.m. on Wednesday in the auditorium of U.Va.'s Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Claudrena Harold, assistant professor of history, said the idea for the series came out of several conversations on Grounds and in the surrounding community.

"A confluence of forces led to its creation ... forces that range from discussions with students in my 'Introduction to African-American Studies' class to local community groups concerned about affordable housing issues," she said.

Local residents have become involved through UCARE, the city of Charlottesville's Dialogue on Race initiative, and through other informal channels.

"A series is a perfect way to bring people together who may not necessarily take a course together, but can have a formal structure in which they can talk about issues over a period of time – not just one event, but a lecture series where there's some type of continuity," Harold said. "It's the best of both worlds in many ways. It's formal, but at the same time, it's informal."

One ongoing purpose is to bring together undergraduate and graduate students interested in exploring the political consequences of U.S. labor market policies at local, national and international levels. It is also intended to provide a welcoming space for members of the Charlottesville and surrounding community to discuss issues of great contemporary importance, whether the participants study or work at U.Va. or live nearby.

"This is very much about interdisciplinary dialogue between ... students who are interested in different areas, but who never have the time or who sometimes struggle to make the connections or the efforts to interact with one another," Harold said.

Topics to be discussed at the forums include: the economic challenges facing low-wage, African-American workers in the local economy and throughout the nation; racial dynamics and democratic possibilities of the "living wage" movement; universities as a key battleground in the global struggle for economic justice; migrant workers' rights; and public policy opportunities for U.Va. students, particularly underrepresented minorities.

Harold hopes the lecture series will become an annual event at U.Va. Speakers will come from outside the University and from among the faculty.

The series' fall schedule:

• Aug. 25, 5-7 p.m., Auditorium, Harrison Institute/Small Collections Library: "Five Years after the Storm: The Politics of 'Rebuilding' in a Post-Katrina World"
Speakers: Lisa Bates, Portland State University, Urban Studies and Planning; Michael Ralph, New York University, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis

• Sept. 22, 5-7 p.m., Newcomb Hall South Meeting Room: "Living Wage 101: The University as a Key Battleground in the Global Struggle for Economic Justice"
Speakers: Susan Fraiman, U.Va., English professor; Grace Hale, U.Va., associate professor of history.

• Sept. 30, time and place TBA, "Career and Educational Opportunities in Public Policy for Underrepresented Minorities" (Workshop)
Speakers: Patrice Grimes, assistant professor, U.Va. Curry School of Education; attorney Marques Richeson, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates and author of an article in the Harvard Journal on Race and Ethnic Justice about the potential racial side effects of chemical castration.

• Oct. 14, 5-7 p.m., Auditorium, Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library: "Living Wages and Racial Justice"
Speakers:  Risa Gulaboff, U.Va. professor of law and of history; Paul Sonn, co-legal director, National Employment Law Project; Dorian Warren, Columbia University, Politics, Public and International Affairs, and Institute for Research in African-American Studies.

• Nov. 3, time and place TBA: "The Current State of the Black Middle-Class"
Speaker: Mildred Robinson, U.Va. professor of law