Photo: Students from the Community Action Gateway and Professor Serena Laws after the Stowe Prize Action Fair and Discussion Events.
The 2018-19 Community Action first-year gateway cohort at Trinity College started off their school year by attending the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center’s events for its annual Stowe Prize and Student Stowe Prizes, awarded to a U.S. author, a college student, and a high school student whose work has made a “tangible impact on a social justice issue critical to contemporary society.” Professor Serena Laws brought her entire seminar to the Stowe Center’s Action Fair, which featured tables from local social action organizations, and a discussion event with this year’s prize winners: Matthew Desmond, Professor of Sociology at Princeton University for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; Wes Gobar, University of Virginia for “What It’s Like to Be a Black Student When White Supremacists March in Your College Town”; and Zyahna Bryant, Charlottesville High School for “Change the Name of Lee Park and Remove the Statue.”
Desmond, Gobar, and Bryant all participated in an hour and a half long discussion moderated by WNPR‘s Lucy Nalpathanchil. Gobar and Bryant started the event with discussions of their actions in Charlottesville: Bryant’s petition to remove a confederate statue and rename a local park and Gobar’s activism in the face of August 2017’s white supremacist rally. They also called on audience members to combine national concerns with local action (Gobar) and remember the importance of intersectionality in activist movements (Bryant). Desmond spoke next, offering perspectives on both the writing of Evicted and what happened to some of the central figures following his research period. He also encouraged audience members to use data from the Eviction Lab as a way to consider how poverty and homelessness occur in their cities. His focus was less on new possible solutions, but instead on thinking about how we can expand current governmental housing programs (both subsidies for renters and mortgage interest deduction for homeowners) to address the vast amount of poverty in our nation today.
All three speakers offered exciting ways for Trinity students to think about their own community work during their time in Hartford. Aidan Arnold ‘21, focusing on how he connected with activists around his age, said he was ”totally blown away by the intellect and thoughtfulness of the student Stowe Prize winners.” Eleanor Faraguna ‘21 pointed out how important it is for Trinity students “to educate ourselves about the city and climate we live in for these next four years, both the good and the inequitable. The Stowe Prize event was a unique and privileged opportunity to learn more about the battle over the availability of affordable housing here in Hartford and on a national scale.”
At the Action Fair, Trinity students spoke with community leaders from organizations like Connecticut Fair Housing, Christian Activities Council, Hartford History Center, and True Colors (among many others). Students were able to meet local activists, learn more about community change happening in Hartford, and get a better sense of what is happening in their new city–an exciting opportunity for the first week of classes!
Overall, the Stowe Center’s event enabled students to hear more about local and national social change work–from students their age, from a much-lauded sociologist, and from local activists in Hartford. Learning from activist leaders in Hartford and beyond was the perfect way to start the semester for our Community Action students.