Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Amaris Rodriguez-Price is HECUA’s student blogger for Inequality in America this spring. She is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with an undeclared major. Read on for her first post!
HECUA educates future organizers. Hello, I am Amaris Rodriguez-Price and I am currently a second-year at The University of Minnesota – College of Liberal Arts. Being a part of the HECUA program: Inequality in America, has been invigorating. We are four weeks into the program and I feel as though I am growing intellectually and spiritually. HECUA requiring its students to participate in an internship with another organization has helped me strengthen my self-governance and communication skills. In this piece, I will further discuss why I chose HECUA and my internship, my first couple of weeks in the office of my internship, and how classes and my field site seminars connect and bring me a deeper awareness and knowledge about poverty and inequality.
Why HECUA? I am currently an undeclared major and still have not made a concrete decision for what I want to pursue for a future career. One day during one of my classes, a HECUA recruiter came to speak about checking out HECUA and its programs. I researched the website and programs and was immediately interested. I wanted to experience a different type of learning that would help me gain professional skills with the internship element and field seminars. Also, I believe participating in HECUA will help me to find a major, or at least interest in a major. I feel passionate about researching and reading about social issues, events, and symbols to further analyze what layers and systems contribute to inequality in America.
One chair left standing represents the other 90%. In class, Phil Sandro, Inequality in America Program Director, did anactivity to represent how wealth has been dispersed in America from the 1960s through today. First, we set up 10 chairs in a straight line. In the beginning, the wealthy owned 2 out of the 10 chairs. Then, a decade passed and the wealthy gained one more chair. Then another decade passed and the wealthy owned another, and then another two chairs. We continued to do this exercise until the wealthy owned 9 out of the 10 original chairs. With this visual representation, my classmates and I were able to see the inequality of how wealth is being distributed. The wealthy are becoming wealthier while the poor are getting poorer. This creates a society of the have and have-nots. This exercise brought me more questions than answers. Why does the majority only own 10% of wealth in America? What is causing this disparity?
Our first field seminar was stressful. We went to the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches Urban Retreat Seminar and completed a poverty simulation. First, we broke up our class of eight students into two groups. We were handed a packet explaining that we were a family of five with three children and two of whom were under the age of four. We had to go and pick situation cards for housing, transportation, food, healthcare, utilities, childcare, entertainment and a few more scenarios. We had a budget of about $4,000 dollars a month coming from two parents working full-time. We had to make decisions about whether to rent or own, own a car or use a bus pass, go into debt in order to attend our father’s funeral, or stay financially afloat by missing it.
Many more situation cards were thrown at our groups. During the middle of the exercise, we were already in debt so we decided to make the father pick up a part-time job, which put his work week at about 60 hours. At the end of the exercise, we only had about 25 dollars left over and were happy to be finished. It felt like we were always barely above water, especially with the surprise situation cards.
I hate surprises. The last surprise situation card was the worst because the mother’s father was dying and we had to decide to between visiting him on his deathbed (which would cost $350 with bus fare and would require missing hours at work) or not go at all. We only had $25 dollars left and decided not to go. This card did not even take into account where the mother would stay, what child care would be needed because her husband worked 60 hours, and other expenses, like food, for this trip to Chicago. People have to make these tough and emotional decisions all the time. This exercise connected to our prior class exercise with the chairs by showing what being 50% above the poverty line looks like and how one missing check can easily bring someone, or a whole family, into poverty. It also showed how if we had a better distribution of wealth to the poor and working class, then people could live rather than just survive.
Using my voice to speak about Minnesota Voice. For the internship element of the program, I chose to intern with Minnesota Voice. Minnesota Voice is a non-partisan organization that seeks to end voter suppression by making voting more accessible through canvassing in communities, setting up voter registration tables, arranging rides for people to get to the polls, and much more.
The reason I chose Minnesota Voice is because my Papa believed in the right to vote, especially for people of color. My Papa was a Black man who grew up in Saint Paul, MN and always informed me about Black History growing up. I remember the last special moment I had with him, before he passed, was being able to skip school and watch the 2009 Obama Inauguration with my great-grandma, nana, and papa. It was truly memorable. He reminded me there was a time where Black people did not have the right to vote because of the color of their skin. Obama’s inauguration taught me where our nation can be we if all participate in civic engagement and vote! With all of this information, I felt like I was instantly drawn to Minnesota Voice and was supposed to be there. There is a new executive director, Wintana Melekin and I love how she prioritizes hiring people of color. I have never been able to work in a space with powerful women of color which feels like such a tight community. Everyone there guides me on what tasks to get done, but it is up to me to manage my time to complete all the tasks and even times start my own tasks, which I believe will help the organization.
HECUA provides honest education to teach its students about the issues of inequality and poverty in the real world. These examples have deepened my understanding on what poverty is and has showed me how being just above the poverty line is still just surviving. HECUA has also made me feel that I am a student, but also an organizer, by engaging in my internship and doing work to help with voter registration, calling people to remind them of the primary election, and doing tasks around the office to keep the workplace functioning.