This is a joint effort between UNC and Duke University to focus on issues of poverty and inequality in Durham and Orange counties. The initiative emphasizes the importance of historical understanding and working with local communities to find policy solutions. This past semester, students from both universities worked with grassroots organizations, political groups, research institutes and local governments to gain a better understanding of the complex nature of poverty in our area. As both counties engage in poverty reduction work, it is important for the universities to play an active role, dedicating resources and student involvement to these efforts. The initiative combines traditional coursework, service learning, independent studies, community-based workshops, summer research and internships, and graduate student and faculty research.
This fall semester, 20 students from Duke, 20 students from UNC and several Masters of Public Policy students from Duke will be part of an effort to connect history to policy as the city of Durham addresses poverty in our community. Students have partnered with the Mayor on his Poverty Reduction Initiative in addition to working with several community groups focused on combating poverty from all different angles. Students are focused on community engagement, health-care advocacy, food security, rural poverty, employment, living wages and different tactics for achieving a more equitable community.
The undergraduate course taught by UNC professor Jim Leloudis and Duke professor Robert Korstad, is meant to foster a dynamic conversation between past and present by addressing two pressing questions: How can study of the past expand our imaginative capacity to alleviate poverty in our own time? And how do contemporary poverty issues force us to examine the past differently and ask new historical questions?
This comes at an opportune time when the city government, ecumenical groups, academics, political activists, and non-profit organizations in Durham have all begun to mobilize themselves around combatting poverty and promoting social equity. Students at UNC and Duke have the opportunity to tap into this energy and contribute their historical analysis, research skills and manpower to connect themselves to these community initiatives.
The work of each of these students will culminate in advisory tools for the mayor’s office, and several community events that showcase the work of different organizations in the community and inform the public on the rich, complicated history of the multitude of factors that contribute to the state of poverty in Durham.