Students explore consequences and causes of poverty

MacKenzie Weadick ’20 (at left, with two friends) worked for the Austin YWCA to educate the community about gender and race-based inequities.

Daisy Byers ’19, worked with New American Pathways, helping refugees resettle in and around Atlanta.

MacKenzie Weadick’s summer internship to learn about poverty taught her lessons that weren’t in the plan. She arrived to an apartment that was “trashed” by previous occupants. She incurred a $200 doctor bill that insurance wouldn’t cover. And she was left to live on $70 for a month in Austin, Texas, when her debit card was hacked.

“I got a taste of what poverty is really like,” says MacKenzie, who graduated this spring.

That’s the idea behind two recent initiatives at Manchester, says Katy Gray Brown ’91, professor of philosophy and director of the Peace Studies Program.

One is Manchester’s membership in the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, a collaboration of 26 colleges and universities that integrates classroom study of poverty with summer internships and service learning. MacKenzie, who worked for the Austin YWCA to educate the community about gender and race-based inequities, is one of seven Shepherd interns from MU so far.

The other initiative is the peace studies course Concerning Poverty, which Gray Brown developed to teach students about the causes and consequences of poverty and the mechanisms to alleviate it.

“One of my objectives with this course is to encourage students to develop an intolerance for poverty, because this is something we can fix,” says Gray Brown. “This is something we can change.”

Concerning Poverty examines issues at the local, national and international levels. Gray Brown hopes that the gateway course can expand to a concentration or stand-alone minor “that would complement the work that Manchester students do to prepare for careers.”

A deeper understanding of poverty is valuable for students studying nearly any field – education, criminal justice, social work, law, community health, public policy, the health sciences and more. Concerning Poverty allows students to complete individual projects tailored for their specific interests, and the range of Shepherd internships allows any student to find an experience relevant to their field, says Gray Brown.

For MacKenzie, a peace studies and social work major, her work with victims of domestic violence reinforced her career goals to work on issues of domestic and sexual violence. “I want the world to be better for women,” she says.

Another Shepherd intern, Daisy Byers ’19, worked with New American Pathways, helping refugees resettle in and around Atlanta. “When I came into the U.S. from Liberia, I had a terrible experience as an immigrant,” says Daisy, whose high school classmates would say things like, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from.”

Her situation improved at Manchester, where she found a community, joined the track team and concentrated on her political science and criminal justice studies. “I made a promise to myself that I will work hard in school,” says Daisy. “I will do everything I can to make sure no other refugees or immigrants ever have that experience.”

She did just that in Atlanta, helping people mostly from east Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan reconstruct their lives in the United States. One of her most inspiring clients was a prominent African physician who has started over in the U.S. by working first as a janitor, then at a restaurant. “Yes, there are people who are completely different than you,” says Daisy. “But they have the same dream as you do. They want to work hard and they want to become something better.”

Today, Daisy is working on her master’s degree in international relations at the University of San Francisco. She hopes eventually to work for the African Union or the United Nations.

While the Shepherd internships involve a relatively small number of students, all of the students in Gray Brown’s Concerning Poverty course are required to perform service learning. They help low-income individuals file their taxes – a major obstacle for many people in poverty – and they help at community dinners, the local thrift store and food pantry, and other opportunities.

In addition to the Shepherd internships, Gray Brown says endowed peace studies funds established by alumni Rev. Roy White Sr. ’27 and Ernest ’50 and Cleona Barr ’49 will be used to support internships in poverty studies going forward.

Gladdys Muir designed peace studies to not only examine direct violence such as war, but indirect violence such as racism, sexism and economic injustice, says Gray Brown. This is part of Muir’s vision, and “very Manchester,” she says.

“I’m privileged to work in a field devoted to peacebuilding and creating just societies. I get to work with students who care about these issues, at an institution where this is considered serious and important work.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81