Examining Poverty

(This article appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of SSA Magazine.)

The University’s Poverty, Promise and Possibility initiative looks at the issues with a wide lens

Poverty is more than just another word for “low-income.” The complex realities of living in poverty and the many issues that impact whether and how someone can rise out of poverty are much too complicated to be fit into a single frame. “There are very different ways to study poverty, and it’s important not to be too reductive,” argues Bart Schultz, a senior lecturer in Humanities at the University of Chicago and the director of the University of Chicago Civic Knowledge Project. “There are spiritual aspects; people can turn to art; a sense of community can be present. At the same time, any examination has to balance that with the realities of people who live in poverty.”

Schultz has served as the main organizer of the University’s Poverty, Promise and Possibility initiative, which aims to highlight the University’s knowledge to illuminate both the pressing problems of poverty and the practical steps that local communities can take to address such issues.

SSA has hosted a number of events in the series, and many of the School’s faculty members have presented. Schultz says that SSA’s interdisciplinary scholarship, experience linking research to communities, and relationships with programs like the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community have been notable assets for the initiative. “SSA has been a critical partner in this work,” he says.

Throughout the 18-month initiative, programs included students, faculty, guest speakers and local residents in a wide mix of events, from academic presentations with hundreds of people in the audience to eight-week workshop series for a dozen or so students. “In a lot of ways it grew and evolved organically. The connections and ideas at one event helped guide us on what to do for the next,” Schultz says.

As the initiative moves forward from its initial stage, it will continue to sponsor events, with an increasing emphasis on connecting to local neighborhoods. In March, for example, the initiative sponsored a wide-ranging community forum at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters on religion, happiness, opportunity and poverty, and in April, Schultz partnered with the Rebuild Foundation and Rainbow PUSH to build replica tent structures like the ones used in the 1968 Resurrection City. — Carl Vogel