Students from Princeton University and several Kentucky universities spent a week of their summer together at UofL to learn intensively about a weighty topic: the haves and have-nots of society.
The 20 students participated in the Kentucky-Princeton Undergraduate Summer Institute on Inequality, sponsored by the Princeton University Center for Human Values. Through academic study, field study and service learning, the participants explored various theories of what inequality is and why it matters and examined how inequality affects people across sectors of society and aspects of their lives such as housing, justice and health.
Carmen Mitchell, a UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences doctoral student, helped with the institute, serving as a local resource and residing with the group in Kurz Hall. She was impressed by the conversations, listening to “the participants connecting what they are learning with their own experiences. That’s one of the best parts, actually – them getting to interact freely, not being graded, building relationships and friendships as well.”
Mitchell also presented to the group on her focus area of health policy, particularly in health disparities. In giving a public health overview, she wanted to identify some of the barriers such as provider access, rural care and a history of racism and sexism. “It’s very complicated.”
“More than memorizing facts, I want the students to have a framework for how to talk about the issues,” Mitchell said.
After morning seminars in the Overseers House on Belknap Campus, the students ventured out to various sites in Louisville, including Churchill Downs and the Backside Learning Center, an environmental justice tour, a meeting with the mayor and a civil rights history driving tour developed by UofL’s Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research. Central Kentucky tours took them to a Pathways Inc. health clinic, a horse farm and a distillery. Capping off the week was a Saturday service learning project to participate in New Directions Housing Corp.’s Repair Affair on a Louisville house.
Micah Castanon, a UofL philosophy and sociology major and Pan-African studies minor, was looking forward to the hands-on nature of the service project after the week of an institute he described as “really good and super relevant.”
The Glasgow student was interested in the experience because of “the prospect of gathering practical learning of equality and inequality – who it affects – and being able to carry it away from here and implement it in actions and everyday decisions.”
UofL philosophy professor Avery Kolers and Anna Stilz, Princeton professor of politics with the University Center for Human Values, coordinated the institute. Additional faculty participants were from several UofL departments as well as Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University and University of Kentucky. The faculty volunteered their time, and the students had an all-expenses-paid educational experience.
In October, the students will go to Princeton for a weekend to learn from faculty presenters there and to work on op-ed writing projects together, as well as visit Trenton, New Jersey, Stilz said.
The institute “brings a lot of depth” to an academic experience, she said. “It adds a lot to your understanding. The students are fantastic.”
The summer institute was the first of its kind; organizers plan to gauge its impact and possibly offer future seminars, varying the topics annually to look at other questions about values in public life.