Op-Ed: We can overcome the income inequality at our doorstep

As did Douglas Hall, executive director of the National Priorities Project, and the keynote speaker at a program on income inequality held at Central Connecticut State University, I also have to apologize for the overuse of Dickens’ phrases.

I will begin with: “It was the worst of times.” I tend to be a pessimist.

Unless the administration of CSCU does something egregious, I seldom write about the Connecticut State Colleges and Universites or Central Connecticut State University, my place of employment.

Op-ed submit bugThe “Bridging the Gap” program presentation was a special day for all of us at CCSU. More than 250 students from the Department of Communication had engaged in a semester long academic/instructional conversation on “Income Inequality.”   This was steered by my colleague Susan Campbell, Vance distinguished professor of communication.

Almost all of our colleagues asked their students to work on a class-specific project dealing with this topic.  As somewhat entitled professors, we thought they were going to have to go outside and far away to get a snapshot of the major schism that exists between the very wealthy and the poor.

We were wrong.

One of our stellar students led a conversation on food deserts: the lack of healthy food available to urban residents and the poor.

This was followed with a video produced by a student who himself had to rely on an organization that provided food for the poor in order to subsist. It was underscored by yet another showcasing a student from another local university who became homeless and has to walks miles to keep a minimum wage job at a local supermarket.

Twelve of my students in a digital photography class delivered perfect visual evidence that documented an assortment of “unequal scenes.” Ranging from the former IT employee who was fired and who begs for money in front of the veterans memorial by CCSU, to the Romanian woman who works two shifts and a half to subsist, the images were heart wrenching.

Sadly, poverty is alive and well. This can be fixed though.

Significantly, more than 90 percent of the work documented was produced within a 10 miles radius of CCSU; almost at the heart of New Britain and a few miles from the wealth of Farmington, Avon and West Hartford. All of it took place within one of the wealthiest states in the nation.

The economic schism between the poor and the rich is dismal, but even those in denial subconsciously know that. What is significant, however, is that as professors and educators we have a magnificent platform to empower the next generation of leaders to take the baton and help remedy this problem.

These students were moved, and like me often had tears in their eyes. Following this activity, and hopefully from now on, we have empowered scores of them to develop a conscience and lend a hand or a hug to those who have been dealt a bad hand of cards. They were moved and willing to jump in and help.

Not only they are smart, motivated and creative, but they also put their hearts and souls into it.  It is my duty as a college professor to guide them. Most of my amazing colleagues are committed to this as well.

Despite the dysfunctional melee with Gregory W. Gray, the incompetent president of the CSCU system, and the shaking and myopic trustees, I have absolute trust in the generation of students we are empowering.

I am an optimist now and from this perspective I say: “It is the best of times.” Hope is here to stay!

Serafin Mendez-Mendez, Ph.D., is a professor of communication at Central Connecticut State University.

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