Spotlight: Louwanda Evans and “The Many Dimensions of Poverty”
“The Many Dimensions of Poverty,” a sociology course first taught in Spring 2013 by Dr. Louwanda Evans, exemplifies the Millsaps Community Engaged Learning program and philosophy. Dr. Evans chose to incorporate a CEL project into her course because she knew it was important to get students outside of the classroom to truly understand the course material. “Poverty has a face,” she explains, “and it has a reality that you can’t read about.” To help her students process the experiences they had at their partner sites, Dr. Evans required everyone to keep journals, encouraging them to write about “the discrepancy between what they were reading and what they were seeing.” As the class progressed, though Dr. Evans realized that it was not only the students who were learning and growing from their experiences. She made a commitment to volunteer with partner organizations Operation Shoestring and the Mississippi Food Network, and invited them into the classroom on occasion to emphasize what she calls “the reciprocal learning process.”
This comprehensive approach to developing a Community Engaged Learning course had a tremendous affect on the students. Abe Hutcheon, a student in the class assigned to the Mississippi Food Network, described how the course material and CEL component changed his understanding of poverty. While at first the class seemed to be “walking on eggshells” when discussing the complicated issues of race and class, Abe says “Louwanda recognized that right away, and clearly established the classroom as a safe space” where students could voice their changing impressions and thoughts over the course of the semester. For Abe, “the class was really – it’s a cliché, but – a journey… I completely view society differently now.” Inspired by last year’s course, this fall Abe is taking a directed study with Dr. Evans, “The Sociology of Public Health,” and working with the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center.
When reflecting on her first CEL experience, Dr. Evans said, “what stood out the most was how rewarding it was for me – not just the students.” She encourages professors considering incorporating CEL into their curriculum: “Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and make new community partners.”
The class is the gateway course for Millsaps students into the Shepherd Program, which offers internships and other educational opportunities across the country through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP). Millsaps joined SHECP in 2012 as one of 19 member institutions that have made the commitment to incorporating civic engagement into the curriculum. Millsaps students who completed Dr. Evans class last spring have already accepted internships, and many more will be eligible as the class is taught each Spring going forward.