Inequality - in any form, against any person - is a threat to justice, says Matt Hipps.
Mr. Hipps, an assistant professor of political science and director of First-Year Experience at Dalton State, hopes within the next year people begin to see that as the College presents several public programs geared toward getting people to discuss inequality in multiple forms.
“I want to make people realize that just because inequality is happening over there and has a different face doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you,” Mr. Hipps said. “Even if we can’t fix the world, maybe we can get people to talk about how. Maybe it leaves people a little less judgy. Maybe it makes someone more willing to help a neighbor. Having more perspective is good.”
Inequality is no longer only a discussion about race and/or gender. Now it includes other areas, such as economic and educational, which will be the focus of inequality discussions fall semester.
“We, as an education institution, can have conversations about inequality you can’t have in other places, such as in government,” Mr. Hipps said. “In an educational environment, it won’t come off as loaded questions. There is not a political connection here.”
The focus on these types of inequality mirrors a national trend.
“There is a growing concern nationally about increasing income inequality and the ripple effect that has across our society,” said Dr. Sandra Stone, vice president of academic affairs at the College. “According to the democratic principles upon which our country was founded, we are supposed to be the land of equal opportunity, and while there have always been more opportunities for those with greater incomes, education was supposed to offer a way to help level the playing field and sustain a viable middle class. However, over the past several years the economic changes have pushed more families down on the economic ladder.”
Data from the Wall Street Journal from 2002 to 2012 shows the average family income decreased 10.7 percent for the bottom 90 percent of families in the country, Stone said. Changes in the availability of financial aid and increasing education costs are making it more difficult for students to receive higher education, she said.
Students who go to college often graduate with a large student loan debt and are unable to earn a salary to support themselves and repay the loans, Dr. Stone said.
“Individuals and families who are unable to be financially self-sufficient frequently find themselves in lower quality housing, eating lower quality food, having access to lower quality education for themselves and/or their children, getting lower quality health care, and having little, if any, discretionary money for recreation and other activities that reduce stress and bring more pleasure to life,” she said. “Many of these individuals and families ultimately end up receiving publicly funded subsidized housing, publicly funded food assistance, publicly funded health care, and other tax-supported services. Thus, increasing income inequality is not only a quality of life issue but a social and economic concern for all of us.”
Programs are being planned by the College’s Diversity Committee and are a joint effort between academic affairs and student affairs.
Programs on economic inequality include the screening of the movie “Elysium,” which is a dystopian science fiction movie. The free public showing will be Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. in the Goodroe Auditorium in Memorial Hall. There will also be screenings on campus for students.
“We’re taking something people know and we’ll look at the underlying tenets,” Mr. Hipps said. “Students are so intimidated by politics. I hope by pairing it with something they’re comfortable with will help them with the discussion. We need to know what inequality looks like in our backyard. I want to get people talking about it so they recognize it.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 16, a public program geared toward Constitution Day will focus on the idea from the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal.”
“But they’re not,” Mr. Hipps said. “We’re going to look at the broad issues. We’ll move from the micro to the macro. We’ll have a broader conversation. I want it to be an eye-opening thing.”
The time and place for the Constitution Day program has not yet been set.
The economic inequality discussions will end with a panel discussion on a local level by members of the community and educators. The day has not been finalized.
Later this fall will be events geared toward educational inequality, including the showing of the documentary “Waiting for Superman” on Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in Goodroe Auditorium and a discussion on Common Core on Oct. 21, also at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium.
The fall discussions will end on Nov. 13 with a program where New York Times columnist Charles Blow will speak on his new book “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” about growing up as a black man in Louisiana.
Other events will be planned for the spring semester, which will focus on other areas of inequality.
“We have an obligation to raise awareness of issues such as income inequality with our students,” Dr. Stone said. “To prepare them to become responsible, contributing citizens in their communities, it is important that they understand the social, economic and political realities of their world as well as how they might contribute to finding ways to address them. The issue of income inequality is particularly relevant to the Dalton area, as has been pointed out in the recent study sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and in recent articles in the local newspapers.”
“It is our goal to raise awareness and educate students and the public about the complexity of the issues involved, engage those in attendance in meaningful dialogue and learn from each other’s perspectives, and discuss possible things that each of us can do to improve the situation in our community,” she said. “We invite the larger community to join with our campus and explore what we might do together.”