Geographer Ross Doll Joins GPP Program

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Doll as our new lecturer for GPP 115. This course serves students all across campus, introducing them to historical and contemporary debates on addressing poverty and inequality in the world. Dr. Doll’s extensive experience in the disciplines of critical development studies, political ecology, and cultural geography will bring a valuable perspective to this course.

Geographer Ross Doll Joins GPP Program

By Sam Goldman

Ross Doll
Ross Doll (courtesy photo)

It’s not easy — amid life’s various inflection points, large and small alike — to pinpoint one opportunity that reset the compass of one’s life trajectory. But Ross Doll recalls an experience that fits the bill.

Doll, a postdoctoral researcher in the Geography department, was an undergrad in English at Berkeley trying to fix his burnout from working too hard and grappling with heavy theoretical questions with even more hard work and academic dedication. “I started to feel very detached from the world around me,” he recalls. “Because I had lost all sense of perspective, I couldn’t solve the problems I was considering.”

As a senior, he joined a Berkeley School of Education program that trained undergraduates in tutoring youth who needed help with reading. “It mattered so much to connect with my student, to slow down to his pace and see the world from his perspective, and to make a small difference in his life,” Doll says. “I don’t think I could have articulated it at the time, but tutoring made my world feel bigger, grounded, and purposeful.”

“This program,” he adds, “saved me.”

His new perspective ultimately led to two years in Romania through the Peace Corps and six years working and studying in China. Amid a slew of academic publications, intensive Chinese-language programs, fellowships, and teaching appointments, Doll earned his master’s in China studies and Ph.D. in geography from the University of Washington. Now, the Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography can add lecturer with the Global Poverty and Practice minor to his extensive résumé. This fall, Doll will teach GPP 115: “Global Poverty: Challenges and Hopes.”

“I see the goal of the GPP minor as providing a grounded and community-focused experience,” he says. “So, GPP 115 appeals to me because it provides a kind of full-circle moment to encourage and help inform such engaged learning opportunities for current UCB students. I’m honored and thrilled to be a part of it.”

GPP 115 focuses on 20th-century development and 21st-century poverty alleviation, including popular ideas of poverty alleviation, the institutional framework of poverty ideas and practices, and the social and political mobilizations that seek to transform the structures of poverty. Doll’s research draws on critical development studies, long-term ethnography, cultural geography, and political ecology in his focus on agrarian change in Asia. His expertise includes understanding how history, place, and security — or insecurity — play into “the uneven geographies of development in rural China” under the government’s modernization of agriculture.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Doll as our new lecturer for GPP 115,” says Clare Talwalker, GPP minor lecturer. “This course serves students all across campus, introducing them to historical and contemporary debates on addressing poverty and inequality in the world. Dr. Doll’s extensive experience in the disciplines of critical development studies, political ecology, and cultural geography will bring a valuable perspective to this course.” 

For Doll, the deepest learning experiences happen when students can apply what they’re studying through their own experiences — “when what you’re studying seems relevant, applicable, and/or has personal stakes,” as he puts it. 

Take corruption in Romania. The issue meant nothing to Doll before he moved there and got to know folks who suffered from the resulting income inequality and “a common feeling of resignation.” That inspired Doll to study the origins of that corruption, which included the role U.S. foreign policy plays — and by extension, “my own decisions, perspectives, and values.”

As well as seeing his Romanian neighbors as people like him, “I also came to care about the issue of corruption because I saw how I was complicit in its creation and maintenance,” he says. “Which was an awful realization, but also an empowering one, since I could see the role I could play in changing that situation.”

“Those two points of care and connection — to my friends and to my actions — self reinforced and encouraged me to dig deeper and to be more conscious of how I lived my life,” he adds.

By bringing those “points of care and connection” to the classroom, Doll believes students’ resulting sense of responsibility and empowerment will drive them to dig deeper into the ideas, problems, contexts, and solutions the GPP minor will explore, including through a hands-on practice experience.

“You start to see that not only can you not impose your values on [students] or tell them what to think, but there’s no need to, because that spirit of inquiry from the foundation of responsibility and empowerment will guide them,” he says. “And that kind of self learning is so much more powerful and lasting than any ideology or perspective you could try to articulate or impose anyway.”

“The Best of UC Berkeley”: GPP Minor Graduates Its 17th Class

Last month, the Global Poverty and Practice minor’s Class of 2024 celebrated a hard-earned and well-deserved commencement with an intimate ceremony in Sutardja Dai Hall’s Banatao Auditorium.

“The Best of UC Berkeley”: GPP Minor Graduates Its 17th Class
A group of 14 diverse students stands on a staircase, posing for a graduation photo. The students are smiling and wearing graduation stoles with "BERKELEY" and "CLASS OF 2024" written on them. The group includes individuals in various styles of formal attire, with some wearing leis. The background shows an outdoor setting with trees and a building with large windows.
Members of the GPP Class of 2024 (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

Finding success in college is not easy, particularly when you start at the height of a global pandemic. And doubly so when your studies entail a nuanced understanding of and unwavering willingness to act on local and global poverty and inequality.

Last month, the Global Poverty and Practice minor’s Class of 2024 celebrated a hard-earned and well-deserved commencement with an intimate ceremony in Sutardja Dai Hall’s Banatao Auditorium. Over 30 students from 20 different majors had classes and practice experiences upended by the pandemic, Prof. Clare Talwalker reminded the graduates and their families, all while war, oppression, and suffering did not abate. 

“As champions of social justice,” added Prof. Dan Fletcher, Blum Center faculty director, “they represent the best of UC Berkeley.”

The curveballs thrown by the pandemic, however, did not compromise the intellectual rigor of the 17th GPP class’ courses of study.

“The classes were not prescribing a way to achieve social and economic equality. I wasn’t given a linear path where I could work my way up the ladder like some corporate job,” said Alisha Dalvi, a student commencement speaker and political science major. “Rather, GPP classes encouraged us to narrow in on ourselves and our community. I first had to come to terms with my engagement in systemic inequality before I jumped to finding a solution.”

Alisha Dalvi speaking at a podium, wearing a graduation stole with the University of California, Berkeley colors.
Alisha Dalvi (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

Dalvi did her practice experience in Mumbai, doing research to identify the pros and cons of Indian government programs meant to assist farmers with sustainable agriculture practices. For her, GPP also fostered a vibrant community.

“The students in the minor are a very specific Berkeley niche,” she told her peers. “Meeting someone who is also a GPP student is like meeting a long-lost best friend. You’re guaranteed to discuss how fantastic the classes are, followed up by a complex conversation of structures of power.”

For Quiona Zamara Trimmell, the afternoon’s other student commencement speaker, the minor became a lesson in individual and communal commitment. The anthropology major, GPP peer advisor, and soon-to-be University of Sussex master’s student reflected on how the “mosh pit” of experiences we have throughout our lives as well as the values passed on to us lead us to our commitments. 

Quiona Trimmell speaking at a podium
Quiona Trimmell (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

“My hope,” she said, “is that this will foster a sense of humility in us, a sense of gratitude for all those, whether stranger or friend or somewhere in between, that fueled our sense of commitment to that which we have chosen to stand for” — namely, the long, slow, hard work of effecting change, rooted in community. “The commitment seems all the stronger when we know each other, when we can be held accountable, when we eat together, when we laugh and cry together, and when we care and love for one another,” Trimmell said.

GPP alumnus Christian Guerrero gave the keynote address. The Class of 2019 graduate — an arts and media activist, podcaster, and coffee importer — worked with the People’s Solidarity and Education Tours in the Philippines as his practice experience and now works at Tides Network, a nonprofit philanthropy organization.

The work students have already done during college is valuable in and of itself, he said, and should be recognized and spoken for by students as such. “Learn to advocate for yourselves so you can be in a position to serve others,” Guerrero said. “And connected to that is to acknowledge your own position and privilege and play your part” accordingly.

Christian Guerrero speaking at the podium
Christian Guerrero (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

Learn the language of power, he added, so that you can write your own story and a new story for your communities: “The more fluent you are in the language of power, the more you’ll see the opportunities to shift that power and create the impact you want to see.”

Echoing Trimmell, Guerrero pointed out that this crucial, often heavy social justice work is made all the more bearable by the support provided by the graduates’ families, friends, and communities — relationships they should hold fast to. And this critical work, and the perspectives the Class of 2024 brings, do not need others’ permission.

“Y’all, as graduates, have more than enough knowledge and are well equipped to take on the world,” Guerrero said. “I don’t like it when people say, ‘Wait until you get into the real world’ to students — very paternalistic, right?” 

“It should be the other way around: The world is waiting for y’all to contribute, to give your own knowledge, to take these learnings and apply it out there. We need y’all.”

Sustainable Employment at the Bread Project

Sustainable Employment at the Bread Project

By Tamara Straus

What does it take to help hard-to-employ people in the Bay Area find steady, decently paying jobs? According to Veronica Barron Villegas ’18, a Global Poverty & Practice graduate who works at The Bread Project, it requires receptive employers, well trained employees, and lots of follow up.

Founded in 2000 by Lucie Buchbinder, a homeless advocate and Holocaust survivor, and Susan Phillips, a social worker involved in affordable housing, The Bread Project is known within employment development circles for its model of targeted persistence, which includes a rigorous bakery training program, extensive workplace readiness coaching, on-the-job experience, employer outreach for job placement, and long-term follow-up support. Eighteen years ago, Buchbinder and Phillips acted on a hunch. They knew that the baking industry paid above minimum wage and offered a career ladder. With this in mind, they approached Michael Suas of the San Francisco Baking Institute, who agreed to train their low-income clients and provided space and equipment for classes at cost.

Since that time, the Berkeley nonprofit has trained 1,800 individuals for the baking sector through dozens of partnerships with Bay Area chefs like Mark Chacon, agencies like the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development, and employers such as Whole Foods and Semifreddis. Trainings are long by comparative standards: three to four weeks. And follow-up services are beyond the standard: 15 months, which include six rounds of job search assistance and career counseling.

The results for a small nonprofit are extraordinary—averaging an employment rate of 83 percent, a graduation rate of 85 percent, and a job retention rate of 80 percent.

Trent Cooper, The Bread Project’s Program Manager, believes the high employment rates stem from the high-touch training and post-graduation services. “If you see our boot camps, you see how closely we interact with each student. Upon graduation, we provide 15 months of follow-up services, with outreach at one, three, six, nine, 12, and 15 months. This is time consuming and expensive, but we’re able to help participants longer.”

The Bread Project serves people who are the first to get turned down by employers—immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, formerly incarcerated individuals, and people with disabilities as well as those with employment barriers due to language, addiction, unstable housing, and childcare. In 2017-2018, 79 percent of participants relied on public benefits, 21 percent had zero income coming into the program, 100 percent were low income, and the participant pool was 61 percent female and 32 percent male. Most trainees come from Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond. And many lack independent housing and are dependent on public housing, friends, family, shelters, or transitional lodging.

Foundation grants, individual and corporate donations, and city funding keep The Bread Project afloat as well as a well-honed social enterprise model. Its University Avenue kitchen produces sweet potato buns for the high-end San Francisco restaurant International Smoke and mixes up about 3,000 pounds of cookie dough per week for DOUGHP. There’s also a food business incubator program; The Bread Project focuses on renting out its kitchen to minority-run businesses. All of this pays for the cost of the long boot camps, from which about 120 people graduate annually.

To support nine low-income Berkeley residents pass through the training program, UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund recently awarded The Bread Project a grant. The project, in collaboration with the Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice (GPP) minor, aims to strengthen the university’s ties to the City of Berkeley through employment development opportunities and engages GPP student interns in poverty alleviation work.

Jasmine Tsui, a UC Berkeley global health major and Global Poverty & Practice minor, said her summer internship at The Bread Project has given her a front seat row to the Bay Area’s widening income gap. “I’ve seen what it means to be looking for a job and have no computer to do job research and applications. Employment barriers like those are real, but The Bread Project is surmounting them through a range of supports.”

Global Poverty & Practice Students Jasmine Tsui and Emily Lui at The Bread Project in Berkeley.

Tsui, who has been working closing with Barron Villegas, The Bread Project’s employment and graduate services manager, has been on the phone with graduates for much of her summer internship. “I’ll call graduates five, six times,” said Tsui. “I’ll leave messages, emails, and texts, and once I get them on the phone, I ask them how they are, if they need a job, and make an appointment to come in right there.”

Tsui’s summer internship colleague, Emily Lui, a UC Berkeley economics major and Global Poverty & Practice minor, also has been impressed by the personalized services. “There’s a lot of emphasis on trying to find people who graduate from the program a job—and a job they actually want. Earlier this month, there was a hiring event where different reps from different Whole Foods came in and did onsite interviews.”

Barron Villegas, who like Lui and Tsui got her start at The Bread Project as a GPP intern, said she is currently developing and strengthening employer partnerships with Noah’s Bagels and High Flying Foods.

“The reason The Bread Project has the outcomes it does is because we build relationships with both employers and job seekers,” said Barron. “Our clients walk away with a specific skill set and into a more specific job market. They learn interview skills, resume writing skills, and other job readiness skills. They also earn a ServeSafe certificate from the State of California. Employers want all of that.”

 

 

GPP Alumni Reflect on Post-Grad Life

From the East Coast to the Bay Area, several esteemed Global Poverty and Practice Minor program alumni gathered in Blum Hall for a panel hosted by GPP to speak about their experiences after graduation. For the majority of the graduates, the minor was crucial in shaping their career paths and passions — and in some cases, far more impactful than their majors.

Staying true to the nature of GPP, each alumnus had different majors and, after graduation, entered different fields. Although they are all still trying to “figure it out”, these returning students had plenty of advice to give to current program students.

Where are they Now?

Farnaz Malik, a 2011 graduate who has a degree in Integrative Biology, said that the minor had a profound effect on what she did post-graduation. Through GPP coursework, Malik began to foster an interest in epidemiology, a branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health. Now, six years and two degrees later, Malik works at Vital Strategies, a global health nonprofit in New York that partners with governments to design public health initiatives and build better health systems — particularly in low and middle income countries. For Malik, the GPP minor has come full circle now that she can further her interests in epidemiology at Vital Strategies.

2015 graduate Shrey Goel is a case manager with Asian Health Services and volunteer at the Berkeley Free Clinic. In his undergraduate years, Goel majored in Environmental Sciences, but recalled how his GPP courses were the ones that interested him the most. He discussed how the clinic is furthering this education through a more hands on approach. After graduation, he landed a job as a research coordinator at UCSF where he learned plenty about clinical research, but where he was also exposed to the ethical dilemmas embedded in research.

“I think the years since I graduated really enriched me in challenging my own role and my own position in the institutions I participate in,” Goel said. “I hope to pursue a career in medicine in a way that is more authentic to what my actual interests are.”

Nikki Brand, a Master’s student in International Policy Studies at Stanford, graduated from Cal in 2013 with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and immediately moved to Guatemala to work as a field consultant with Community Empowerment Solutions, supporting women micro-entrepreneurs in marketing and selling products with health and environmental benefits. In 2014, Brand started at USAID as a program assistant, which “was not glamorous” at first, but after a year Brand was promoted to a team tasked with applying digital tools and approaches to support  small farmers around the world.

Brand traveled to multiple countries — Ghana, Nepal, and Cambodia, to name a few — conducting workshops and research on ways that digital tools such as mobile money, digitally-enabled extension services, and geospatial analysis can support smallholder farmers. Brand left USAID in August to start a Master’s at Stanford and will be continuing to focus on the use of technology and data in international development.

2011 Graduate Lauren Herman said her story was far from linear. After she graduated with her B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies, she received the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize and traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to do consumer outreach, which was inspired by her Practice Experience working with a microcredit program. When she didn’t get accepted to a public policy fellowship program she had applied for after she returned from Kenya, Herman said she took some time off to seriously reevaluate her goals and wants. After initially preparing to apply to graduate school, Herman secured a job as the Director of Communication and Training at a consulting and organizational management company where she’s worked for the past four years. But she credits her time off as fundamental to finding her own path.

“What I hope you take away from all this is no one has it set in stone,” said Herman. “ It’s all about taking it day by day and asking others for help.”

Lastly, Areidy Beltran, a Class of 2015 alumna who studied Environmental Earth Sciences, said her first job was an environmental/geotechnical engineer in Oakland. After a year, however, Beltran discovered that she wanted to work on issues of energy and climate change on a broader scale. This led her to return to Cal for a Master’s in Earth and Planetary Science and pursue additional short-term programs focused on computer science and business education. Now in order to meld her interests in business and environmental science, Beltran said she is considering a job in energy consulting.

The Road to Grad School

Many students in the audience wanted to know how these graduates weighed in on the value of graduate school and what were the best strategies to approaching the next step in academia, if they wished to do so.

Brand said she talked to at least 100 people before applying to grad school, which led her to some valuable advice. First, is to have at least two different jobs before entering graduate school in order to get a feel for what one should study. Similarly, Beltran said taking a year off led her to the realization that she did not want to pursue environmental engineering as a career. Second, Brand advised students to pay attention to job descriptions of positions they want to be in 5 years in the future, and noted many of them will require a graduate degree and at least two years of work experience.

“Wait until you at least have a more specific sense of what you want to do in life,” said Brand “Now I have a better sense of what direction I want to go in.”

Change is Okay  

When confronted with sobering statistics and facts on global poverty, students of the GPP minor admitted that the work of global social development can often seem overwhelming. The speakers, in turn, recommended ways to deal with “burnout”.

Herman reminded students that the small ways in which the minor engages them to be critical thinkers matter, as well. Although progress is slow, Herman said it is crucial for students to not put too much on themselves and to “slow down and breathe.”

Beltran assured students that it is okay to change your mind, even after graduation. She said that she considers jobs right after graduation as experiences that should lead to self-reflection and change.

Goel believes the issue of scale underlies the struggle to find purpose after graduation for many students, meaning that students may feel pressured to have a large impact on a large scale. He found focusing on  concrete skills development helped him find a sense of purpose.

“By really making sure I’m in spaces where I’m learning something very specific and I’m doing something very specific, I can gain an understanding of the connection between output and input,” said Goel. “So I understand what my effort and work is worth and can actually accomplish.”

Through their different experiences, these alumni imparted their knowledge upon the next generation of global development changemakers. The Blum Center is proud to see its graduates contributing to the GPP community and is looking forward to what they will accomplish next.

Welcome to the Global Poverty & Practice Minor!

Welcome to the Global Poverty & Practice Minor!

The problem of poverty is far from a clear-cut issue. In the new age of globalization and technology, future generations must develop the skills needed to critically think about the complexities of inequality in order to overcome the world’s most challenging obstacles.

Since its formation 2007, the Global Poverty and Practice minor at the University of California Berkeley trains students to understand contemporary forms of poverty, wealth, and inequality through invaluable academic coursework and a worthwhile practice experience. GPP has become one of the largest, most popular minors on campus, with about 350 students regularly enrolled in the program.

At the core of the minor lies the “Practice Experience”, a fieldwork opportunity where students apply the theoretical approaches they learned in their coursework to aiding local and international populations by partnering with a non-governmental organization, government agencies, and other poverty or development groups around the world. In addition to utilizing theory in the field, students learn from the organizations on how they approach poverty in action.

GPP invites all students from different majors and backgrounds to gain a critical edge and a unique opportunity to supplement their field of study.

Priya Natarajan, a 4th year linguistics major, completed her Practice Experience in the summer of 2017 with KIVA, an international nonprofit dedicated to alleviating global poverty through microfinancing. According to her, the GPP curriculum allows for a diverse range of students from multiple disciplines to come together, which changes the perspective of each individual student and fosters a more holistic approach to learning about inequality.

“Sometimes you look at a problem and you’re like ‘Ok this is it. Let’s tackle it’, but we fail to consider a lot of different factors that are causing the problem in the first place […] I think GPP really pushes you to explore the different roots of the problem rather than just the surface level problem and I’ve really appreciated that and that’s really helped me in different parts of my life, not just in school,” said Natarajan.

Check out the GPP website to learn more about the minor! If you have any questions about the application process or the program in general, feel free to attend any GPP info sessions. Best of luck to our incoming freshmen and returning students. Go bears!

Deadline to apply for the minor is October 4th.

 

Global Poverty & Practice Graduates Reflect on Program’s Impact

Global Poverty & Practice Graduates Reflect on Program’s Impact

gppstudentarticle_captions
By Sarah Bernardo

The Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice (GPP) minor is one of the most popular undergraduate minors at UC Berkeley, bringing together students from across disciplines to explore poverty, wealth, and inequity through coursework and practical field experience. As a course requirement, students spend six weeks working with local or international organizations on issues ranging from human rights, to public health, to the environment. This year 78 GPP students will graduate, having completed practice experiences in 15 countries around the world. The Blum Center sat down with three graduates–Andrea Miller, Elise Umansky, and Gustavo Alvarez–to hear more about their experiences and future plans.

Skills Gained and Lessons Learned through GPP

The GPP program is highly experiential, enabling students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it in real world settings. Students are taught to engage with communities, think critically, exercise patience, and persevere. “The work that many GPP students want to do can be disheartening, and it’s important to be resilient,” student Andrea Miller said.

While the students feel classroom-based coursework is critical, they also attest that the greatest education often comes from direct engagement with communities. “[Gaining] knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean [gaining] education,” Alvarez said. “Listening to people’s narratives can teach the greatest lessons.” Umansky agreed. “I will bring with me the importance of humbly honoring the traditions of any community I’m working with, and letting them guide the work.”

Memorable Moments

For Andrea Miller, the classroom engagement was the most impactful. “The Ethics, Methods, and Pragmatics of Global Practice was my favorite class in all of my Berkeley experience,” she said. “Our Professor (Clare Talkwalker)  and GSI (Mary Glenn) were the Superwomen duo. My peers were intelligent, caring, and amazing humans. There was something to learn from [each person], and everyone was so accepting of each other and ready to help.”

For Alvarez, a moment from his practice experience solidified his desire to work in service to others. While working on a water project outside Chiapas, Mexico, he met two poor young boys. “I remember the joy of the two brothers-who were 5 and 6- when they met us. They lived in such humble circumstances, yet their faces were bright with happiness. They showed me their toys, their hammock. The reason I am doing what I am doing is for them. I want to help provide clean, drinking water to this and other families so they don’t have to worry about illnesses.”

Like Alvarez, Umansky’s work was motivated by her practice experience. Working with Nepalese communities after the 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 and injured 22,000 was an eye opening experience for her. “My first trip to Nepal occurred right after the 2015 earthquake, and much of my time was spent on rebuilding efforts,” Umansky said. “When I returned for my Practice Experience, I had the great fortune of living with the same host family. We had tears in our eyes when we reunited at the Kathmandu airport. I worked with an organization providing mental health services to post-earthquake trauma victims. Experiencing the healing and rebuilding effort was very powerful,” she said.

Future Plans and Parting Advice

The students credit the GPP program for inspiring the future direction of their careers, which include positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Following graduation, Umansky will return to Nepal to work with The Centre for Victims of Torture. In the future she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Global Health with a focus on mental health in Nepal.  Andrea Miller will join the Peace Corps in Guatemala, where she will work in the field of public health. Alvarez’s will join Eaton, an energy company, and plans to pursue a PhD in Environmental Engineering “to develop more effective intervention plans to provide clean, drinking water to individuals in Central America.” All had important parting advice for GPP students.

“Keep an open mind, learn to sit in discomfort, and remember that there is never a completely pure path from which to act,” Umansky said. “No approach to social justice and poverty alleviation work is without flaw, but proceed with genuine intention, a critical lens, and a yearning to always learn.”

Alvarez advises, “Remember: we are not the experts. Those whose lives we are attempting to impact are the experts, and we must work together in order to innovate. Our collaborative efforts to design for meaningful impact will propel us to success.”

Miller encourages students to “Take advantage of the GPP community. The program is a family; people will always have your back here. They will also help remind you that you are not alone against this fight of trying to make the world a better place.”

GPP Lecturer Khalid Kadir Honored with the Distinguished Teaching Award

GPP Lecturer Khalid Kadir Honored with the Distinguished Teaching Award

By Sarah Bernardo

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Each year, UC Berkeley bestows its Distinguished Teaching Award, the campus’ highest honor for teaching. This year, Dr. Khalid Kadir is one of five esteemed recipients. Since joining Berkeley in 2010, Professor Kadir has built a reputation for being brilliant, personable, and passionate, gaining recognition from both his students and colleagues for his accomplishments and his service to others.

Professor Kadir currently teaches courses in Global Poverty & Practice (GPP), Political Economy, and the College of Engineering. The Blum Center caught up with Professor Kadir to hear what drives him, and learn more about his experience teaching at Berkeley.

How would you describe your teaching style?

At the root of it, it’s about building a bridge between theory and people’s lived realities. That’s a formal way of saying that I try to make things relatable, relevant, and meaningful to my students. That’s at the core of my teaching.

I am also excited about what I do and I have a lot of energy. Even when I walk into a class tired, I get pumped up as I dive into the material. The ideas excite me, and working through the ideas with my students gives me energy. I try to keep my classes interactive. I’m not interested in listening to myself talk for an hour; I’d rather have a conversation. When I feel that I’m grinding too hard on complex topics, I pull back and ask the students a really simple question just to get them talking. For example, “What’s your favorite color?” Then, I gradually move towards the content I’m trying to cover.

What makes your interaction with students unique?

Sometimes professors operate in an austere, removed, inaccessible way when they talk to students. I don’t have the capacity to consciously perform when I teach, and as a result I think that students in my classes relate to me, and think “Hey, that’s someone I can actually talk to!” There was a student in one of my engineering classes who came into office hours and asked “Did you read my assignment?” I told him yes. He then asked, “Did you write those comments?” I told him “Yes, I did.” Astounded, he said “You’re the first professor who’s ever done that.” I can’t deny that I was a little shocked to hear that. It was a large course, and he was amazed that I took an interest in each student’s assignment. After that, he came to my office hours every week and we developed a great relationship. He is a deeply respectful person and a powerful thinker, and it was great to have the opportunity to get to know him.

How does your background as an engineer impact your teaching in Global Poverty & Practice?

Like many engineers, I was always interested in going out into the world and applying what I learned, and the GPP program is very much oriented that way. The program doesn’t just include theory classes, it also has a Practice Experience where students engage and then reflect upon how ideas and theories manifest in the real world. This allows students to understand those ideas better and iterate upon them. GPP is a place where I can take social science ideas and work with students to apply them to the world.

I’m an engineer who studied social sciences. Often students are looking for hard engineering skills – they want to know how to use this software or do that quantitative method or produce this other kind of product. I’m trained with those skills, but I’ve come to believe that, when you are working with marginalized people, there are a different set of skills that are actually far more important to the success and failure of projects than “hard” engineering skills. Deep thinking and humility is required. It is important to me that students understand that their ability to engage humbly and effectively with communities is one of the most important skills. I think that resonates with students.

Do you bring concepts from your Global Poverty & Practice courses into your Engineering classes?

One challenge I face is that concepts taught in my GPP courses are not always viewed as valid or relevant in technical engineering courses. Nonetheless, I try to squeeze them in every moment I can. For example, in the middle of a lecture about water chemistry, I will try to bring in the politics of measurement in an attempt to really contextualize things for students. It’s great if we can talk about what chemicals are in the water and in what quantity, but it’s important to also talk about who chooses what to measure, when, and where, and who decides what counts as dangerous or not, and for whom. These are absolutely critical questions, and learning to ask those questions is, for me, a crucial part of my students’ education.

What do you value most about being a professor?

At the root of it, I value the people, the students. I value their willingness to be vulnerable and learn. I value getting to be a part of their difficult journey because I get to see their intellectual and personal progression. Being invited to join the journey that students are on is very rewarding. In the GPP program, the kind of relationships that we – the faculty and staff – build with our students are incredible.

I also value the ways teaching holds me accountable. If you’re real with your students and you’re open with them, they’re going to push you. I can understand why some professors might not want this sort of pushback, but I’m open to it, even though I can’t deny that at times it is hard. As much as we may try to push ourselves, it helps to have other people push us too. I really value my students in that sense – they push me – and I appreciate them for that.

How does it feel to receive the Distinguished Teaching Award?

I just want to say that it takes a crew or perhaps a village. GPP is unique in that we bring the curricular and co-curricular together. We are deeply integrated throughout the program in a way that I have not seen anywhere else on this campus. We acknowledge that learning doesn’t just happen in these single-semester boxes inside the classroom, but that it’s a complex process that happens between classes, over breaks, through summers, through office hours, and in peer advising.

GPP and the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship program (ACES) are key programs that I’ve been a part of, and both these programs are pushing against the tide of the factory model of schooling. I worry about the future disappearance of programs like these that reward, encourage, and enable great teaching. The invitation to teach in these programs is what has led to this award, and I am grateful to those who share these spaces with me. Overall, I’m excited about this award. This is a space where teaching gets recognized, and I would like to see good teaching recognized and in fact structurally prioritized across our campus.

Professor Kadir and the other award recipients will be honored at a public ceremony on April 19, 2017 in Sibley Auditorium at 5:00 pm. In addition to the ceremony, Professor Kadir will receive a cash award from the campus, recognition by the Academic Senate, and permanent indication as a Distinguished Teacher in the UC Berkeley catalogue.

Clarifying Poverty Action: A Profile of GPP Student Kristian Kim

By Nicholas Bobadilla

Kristian Kim decided to pursue a minor in Global Poverty & Practice because she felt a moral impetus to mitigate poverty. Instead, she found herself immersed in critical reflection and uncomfortable questions that forced her to examine her own role in the systems driving global inequality.

A double major in Development and Peace & Conflict Studies, Kim completed her practice during the summer of 2015 with AFSCME 3299, a labor union that represents University of California service and patient care workers statewide. She conducted research and interviews with workers, and examined how administrative decisions trickle down to affect their wages, job security, and benefits. Through her work, Kristian developed relationships with on-campus employees and gained a deeper appreciation for the people who make her life as a student possible.

“Getting to know people whose labor and struggle make it possible for me to come to school on a daily basis has tied me more to campus,” said Kim. “Understanding my relationship to them has helped me better understand my responsibility to support them as they struggle.”

That struggle involves a demand to be hired directly by the university, which currently outsources workers from private companies that do not provide the wages or benefits required to ensure economic stability.

Kim’s work on behalf of AFSCME 3299 also resonated with her personally. The socioeconomic struggle facing many campus workers, she said, resembled that of her own family members. Her grandparents fled North Korea in the 1950s and immigrated to the United States from South Korea with her parents in the early 1980s. Kim entered GPP knowing the sacrifice her family made to provide the stability in which she grew up. But witnessing the struggle of UC workers firsthand brought her closer to her own family’s hardships.

The Global Poverty & Practice minor is one of the most original, unorthodox, and progressive poverty studies programs in the country. (Full disclosure: I am a GPP minor.) Since its inception by the Blum Center in 2007, the minor has become one of the largest minors on campus, with students from numerous disciplines. GPP aims to supplement students’ chosen fields, encouraging them to engage with poverty on a systemic level and critically reflect on their own positions in relation to the problems they seek to address. In addition to teaching the prevailing theories on global poverty and development, the GPP program requires a minimum six-week “practice” component, in which students work with an organization dedicated to poverty alleviation or socioeconomic development.

Said Kim: “[GPP] gave me a different way of understanding some of the struggles my family members had as people, not just as stories, but as people who go to work and are exploited and struggle to make ends meet.”

Kim’s practice experience also reaffirmed the privilege she enjoys as a result of her family’s and UC workers’ sacrifices. This sense is not unusual among GPP students, who are taught to reflect on the factors that make their socioeconomic positions possible. It is an approach that ensures students are aware of the benefits they have, and it aims to prevent them from becoming complicit in the problems they try to ameliorate.

“My work with GPP contextualized my work with AFSCME and all my work in general. It’s given me a space to be critical without being paralyzed by cynicism,” said Kim.

Kim is referring to the commonly quoted words of Professor Ananya Roy, one of the founders of the minor who created its introductory course, GPP 115, at UC Berkeley. Roy often spoke of the “impossible space between the paralysis of cynicism and the hubris of benevolence.”

These words capture the essence of an educational program that provides an uncomfortable awareness of the factors responsible for systemic inequality. Students are encouraged to question their motivations and many come to recognize their own complicity in the systems that create global poverty. Kim is no exception, and expresses a deep awareness granted by the minor.

“GPP showed me things are messed up, but we engage with these forces every day. My choice to engage in specific aspects of struggles comes with the responsibility to fight those forces.”

This conviction drives Kim’s continued study of global poverty and her ongoing work with AFSCME.

“I move forward with that knowledge that I have a responsibility to undermine the systems that privilege me at others’ expense,” she said.

Such a realization has been possible due to the reflective tools provided by the minor. GPP 105 teaches students common methods used in fieldwork, while building habits for reflecting on the modes of power and inequality that come with their roles. It is this reflective component that Kim believes is one of the most standout features of GPP, in that it encourages students to go beyond the typical approaches to poverty utilized in academia.

“The way poverty alleviation is often approached at Berkeley is by looking at the global impact an organization can have, but that often comes with a disregard for the experiences of the people in poverty. This approach can undervalue the importance of these experiences,” she explained. “I think doing the work I did over the summer showed me I can’t ignore the way it [poverty] plays out in people’s lives.”

Kim recognizes the role she once played in perpetuating the conventions of poverty, yet the GPP framework has allowed her to step outside her previous mode of thinking and deconstruct those conventions.

“If you find yourself reducing people to things,” Kim said, “you need to face what keeps you from recognizing that your liberation is implicated in other people’s liberation. Thinking about poverty action that way makes it clear what you’re responsibilities are.”

The Fast Trains of Mumbai: A GPP Grad Reflects on Living and Working in India’s Most Populous City

The Fast Trains of Mumbai: A GPP Grad Reflects on Living and Working in India’s Most Populous City

By Priyanka Athavale

Priyanka Athavale
Priyanka Athavale

Today was the epitome of the Mumbai fast train experience. It was utter frustration, suffocating stench, and packed with bodies. At the same time, the train felt systematic, organized, even solitary. This duality—a kind of chaos within order—is what defines Mumbai, the most populous city in India and the country’s financial, commercial, and entertainment capital.

For someone from suburban California, accustomed to organized roads and paved sidewalks, taking the trains is something of an adjustment. Yet I saw the transport as a feat—and not just any feat, a feat that thousands of Mumbaikars accomplished every working day. After four months in the city, my aim was to be a true Mumbaikar. Riding the fast trains would be the ultimate validation of my belonging.

I stood at the platform ready to board, my face sweaty, my palms clammy. The sun beamed in my eyes, as I read the digital sign blaring in red digits “F02,” indicating the fast train was approaching in two minutes. Mumbai’s trains are a miracle of mass society. Spread over a 465-kilometer network, they carry about 7 million passengers a day. Around 3,000 people die every year on the trains, most from falling or being pushed off the packed cars.

Standing there, I could hear my Indian family members warning me against the fast trains. I buried their sounds. I looked to my left, to my right, and felt a lump forming in my throat—the feeling you get when you’re about to drop 50 feet in a roller coaster. Seventy women stood at the platform, on par with me, ready to board the train.

Whatever confidence I had started to evaporate. I realized there was no way 70 people were going to board the train. It simply wasn’t possible. But there was no time to make an alternate plan. I needed to get to work. I had to board the train, and it was already in sight.

The train approached and then screeched to a halt. Women started pouring out of the ladies car. Pouring is an understatement. Women were flooding out. They were getting thrown out with their babies, their bags, their young children, all rushing to escape the havoc. There were women in saris, women in business clothes, women selling fish, women hocking earrings, fat women, thin women, old women, young women—they were like marbles gushing out of a bottleneck. At the same time, the 70 women on the platform were trying to get in.

Inside my head, I thought, “THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” but maintained a calm exterior. There were collisions, verbal conflicts, insults. Women were shoving other women, defending their bags, moving haphazardly—and all the while, I was getting sucked into the crowd with my two bulky bags. I closed my eyes and let the crowd take me in.

I appeared composed yet inside I was fuming: This experience should not be the norm for millions of women. The trains have to change—they needed a total revamp! The only thing calming me down was John Mayer blasting through my headphones, “Waitin’ on the world to change.”

Fury and fuming are familiar emotions in Mumbai. During my initial days, I questioned the streets crowded with rickshaws, the cows roaming aimlessly, the myriad of fruit and vegetable carts, the stray dogs and cats, and the street dwellers scattered on the sidelines. Everyday, I saw street children, some crying, some sleeping, some basking in the sun, and their mothers trying to manage a thousand things at once.

As Fulbright-Nehru scholar, my purpose in Mumbai was to conduct qualitative research on maternal barriers to child nutrition among families making less than $5 a day. I considered myself part public health researcher, part anthropologist, and part humanitarian. But when I walked through the streets of Dhobi Ghat, a large Mumbai slum, all I felt was appalled. My eyes stuck on corner stores selling junk food, the mildew-stricken jugs containing “fresh” water, and the half-clothed children wandering barefoot between homes.

Yet the mothers I encountered expressed hope about the future, despite the conditions they face. They are among the most inspiring and energetic women I will ever met—household managers, caregivers, and wives facing multiple daily lacks—of toilets, adequate food, clean water, effective education, and access to basic, affordable healthcare.

Mumbai is rife with juxtapositions: of affluence and poverty, of technological advancements on the one side and lack of electricity on the other, of towering highrises shadowing low tin-ceiling slums. How can a place like this be? The answer lies in the intrinsic necessity to survive. The city has an intangible energy; it is a place where resilience blossoms from struggle.

Back in the train, I let myself be taken through the crowd. Gradually, I realize I am part of team, a group of women, albeit complete strangers, who share a common cause and are helping each other toward it. The women guide me through the battleground of the train car and allow me to pass through. I find a little oasis near the window where I can stand.

I take a deep breath of air—the feeling of relief is unmatched to any I’d felt before. I look around and notice every woman is engaged in some activity: talking, sleeping, people watching, holding onto children, selling trinkets. I am just another woman in the crowd, trying to get to my ultimate destination. This train is a microcosm of the city. It could use some oiling, but it works and it has been working for years.

Priyanka Athavale graduated from UC Berkeley in 2014 with a double major in Molecular and Cell Biology and Public Health and a minor in Global Poverty & Practice. She was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship to study barriers to improved nutrition and health practices in the urban slums of Mumbai, India.

 

 

Moving Beyond Benevolence and Cynicism: The Global Poverty & Practice Minor (A Graduation Speech)

Moving Beyond Benevolence and Cynicism:  The Global Poverty & Practice Minor (A Graduation Speech)

By Danielle Puretz

Danielle PuretzGood afternoon friends, family, faculty, and graduates. For many of us the Global Poverty courses we have taken together have been our most intimate. In this room alone, I am surrounded by mentors and peers among whom I have not only found meaningful inspiration but also deep camaraderie. So it is truly an honor and a privilege to be here addressing you today.

The Global Poverty & Practice minor is set up as a journey, and through our coursework we begin what becomes a recursive practice of questioning and critiquing strategies of poverty alleviation, the ethics of “global citizenship,” and where we lie within those discourses ourselves.

What makes our minor unique is our Practice Experience: the main requirement of which is time, a simultaneously minuscule and yet inconceivably large 240 hours.

For my Practice Experience, I focused on arts education and New Orleans.

Looking back, my Practice Experience was one of the most formative experiences of my time at Cal. Although upon returning to Berkeley, it didn’t feel formative, it felt incredibly unsettling, and I felt lost. I was unsure if I had made the right decision by going to New Orleans in the first place and I was feeling equally uneasy about then having to leave and come back to school.

Within the minor, we are taught to challenge the problems and ethics of voluntourism—destination-volunteering that benefits tourist volunteers more than “beneficiary” hosts. In critiquing this increasingly common phenomenon of service trips, we have to ask ourselves if this is also what we are setting ourselves up for with our practice experiences—doing “more harm than good.”

A number of times within my own Global Poverty journey, I’ve been required to read Ivan Illich’s “To Hell With Good Intentions.” As a speech he gave to Peace Corps volunteers almost 60 years ago, Illich’s words are as acerbic as ever: “The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the blated insight that they shouldn’t have been volunteers in the first place…I am here to challenge you [he explained] to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the ‘good’ which you intended to do.”

As Global Poverty & Practice Minors, I believe that we have the best intentions.

However, we have surely put our fingers in our ears if, at any moment, we felt as if our benign intentions are enough. As we’ve all learned, the world does not begin the day we set out to do good. We are predated by centuries of systemic exploitation, which created the very poverty we so benevolently seek to eradicate. The courses we take in Global Poverty are meant to help us understand this history and our own positionality, as we set out to do social justice related work.

Along this journey, I have had quite a few moments of self-doubt, many of which somehow coincided with reading articles such as Illich’s. In these moments, I have found some distraction by mulling over a paradox Professor Ananya Roy shared with us Global Poverty 115: “To find ourselves in the space between the hubris of benevolence and the paralysis of cynicism.”

I remember initially hearing Professor Roy say these words in lecture, and it felt like a prophecy that would define the rest of my time within the minor. I arrived at Global Poverty, because I had such arrogant dreams of wanting to fight inequality and end poverty. I wanted personal fulfillment and the affirmation that I was indeed doing good work while contributing in some way to global change.

When Professor Roy’s words set in, I felt like a mirror had been held up to my ambition. I realized that this was my hubris—to think that with my good intentions, nothing I did could be conceived as anything other than altruism. In my will to change, I began to fear a trajectory where I would learn more and more about a world filled with greed, cruelty, and despair, only to be left in a psychosomatic paralysis. I was no longer just afraid of doing more harm than good; I was also afraid of becoming someone who would do nothing. As my fellow GPP student Shrey Goel mentioned, ignorance is ethically indefensible, but so too is choosing inaction. Thinking that neutrality might not be a political decision in itself is an expression of complicity in systems of exclusion.

Feeling pulled in different directions, motivated toward public service, but afraid of doing more harm than good, and terrified of doing nothing, I decided to let my curiosity get the better of me. Thus I proceeded to plan my practice experience in New Orleans.

Part of this planning is guided by the minor curriculum—thorough education and significant time commitment, we aim to set ourselves apart from volunteers who are more visibly in it for themselves. The minor facilitates “praxis”—the combination of theory and practice. We believe that sustained commitment and thorough education allow for us to build better relationships with the people we are working with. That these efforts may substantiate our presence where we are not solely putting more work on their plates. In New Orleans, I felt my own expectations to test myself, my knowledge, and my character—and have the depth and richness of the relationships I was building act as the metric for my achievement.

But when I returned to Berkeley, I felt ripped from all of the people I had been working with.

Fortunately, as Shrey so beautifully laid out, we are taught a self-reflective praxis, and experience this firsthand through our shared catharsis in the capstone course. I arrived on the first day of Global Poverty 196 not looking to be validated, but searching for some resolution and justification for the work that we did. I believe that all of us will remember Professor Khalid Kadir’s extravagant metaphor about climbing hills and mountains, building to his point that “there is no Mount Everest.” There is no end to the work we do; there is no closure or final affirmation that should ever go un-critiqued.

In looking at the Global Poverty journey as an educational experience, I want to suggest that there is value to this feeling of being unsettled. As Professor Clare Talwalker quoted Paulo Freire in our Methods course, “Those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.” I think that this practice of constant critiquing, questioning, and challenging is exhausting, but the unsettled feeling that comes with it is a discomfort that comes from learning, and it is necessary if we want to “do good” or at the very least learn from our mistakes.

Yet despite this realization, my anxiety about my hubris and potential to become paralyzed by cynicism lingered throughout my time in the capstone course. I was hanging onto the hope that I could grow out of my hubris without tumulting into such an opposite extreme. And on the very last day of this class, as I was still searching for my place along the spectrum of hubristic benevolence and paralyzing cynicism—I became critical of the dichotomy this analysis suggests.

I realized that another state to be wary of is the hubris of cynicism.

As we learn to constantly critique ourselves, it becomes easy to lapse into cynicism. And as we develop an association of cynicism to intellect, we learn that in playing pessimist, we may seem smarter or more well seasoned, an expert even. Cynicism acts as a shortcut, providing the guise of experience—that we’ve seen a lot and it doesn’t look good. I have learned that if I am cynical as I describe myself, I seem well versed in criticism, somehow more keenly aware of myself and the world around me. But how conceited is that? To think that we could ever know so much that we may be above the people that we work with and learn from, that their efforts aren’t enough, that our skepticism is superior to a tenacious perseverance of hope—makes me feel that cynicism is fundamentally twofold with a dangerous hubris.

To me, conflating hope with naiveté and cynicism with intellect demonstrates an arrogance that may need more than reflection to eradicate. As we hear “to hell with good intentions,” we need to be able to feel the discomfort that we may be doing the wrong thing, without using cynicism as a coping mechanism.

As I share with you one of my newfound fears of cynicism, I want to also reassure you of my faith in us to overcome it. Our minor has encouraged us to explore ourselves and given us theory to understand the space we occupy. And while our practice experiences were the climax of our journey, the core of our minor is community. It is no coincidence that we go through the different stages of this minor together, we are reflecting together, we are asking deeply personal and difficult questions together. Social justice work is difficult, but we share this responsibility, and take on these challenges in community.

Now we’re graduating, which is scary in and of itself. We must take with us our ability to understand complexity. My mom is an elementary school teacher, and when she takes her class outside to play softball she doesn’t keep score—she tells them that they are just out there to exercise. She has worked with children longer than anyone I know. Her expertise comes from her lived experience, and it is so visible when I go to her school and see how loved she is by her students, their families, and her colleagues. My mother has been my main teacher my whole life. The classroom she cultivates is a space free from failure, which I think is especially important for her second graders, so that they can learn to keep trying without fear of some ultimate failure. And in my understanding of complexity, education is a point of stability, where our failures are somewhat cushioned. So as we depart from that, we need to work on cultivating within ourselves an acceptance of failure as well as metrics of success where we do not find validation within the failures of others. We need to be able to dish out criticism as well as take it; we need to be understanding of unease, and comfortable with failure. We need to recognize that these are challenges that we need to work with, learn from, and find motivation to try again.

We now occupy a space of “educatedness”—able to understand that problems are more complex than meets the eye, that narratives are shrouded with hegemony, and that we must challenge the notion of expertise, while also doing justice to our educations. Recognizing that our degrees bring power and we are on some level experts ourselves. We are brave and we are curious; we are arrogant and we are fearful. Still, I am confident that our education and lived experiences have taught us the strength and humility to push back against injustice as well as the ability to receive the personal criticisms we undoubtedly will encounter. To do nothing is to accept the world as it is. To challenge and critique our world is ultimately an expression of hope: that while we will never reach Utopia, we can still work toward a better tomorrow.

At the very least, I hope we have learned that we are not alone. It has been an honor and a privilege learning with and from all of you. Thank you, and congratulations.

Danielle Puretz is a recent graduate with degrees in Theater and Performance Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies as well as a minor in Global Poverty & Practice. She has been selected for the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship, and will be spending the next year continuing her exploration of theater and social justice-related work.

For Cal Students Looking to “Do Good”: The Global Poverty and Practice Minor (A Graduation Speech)

For Cal Students Looking to “Do Good”: The Global Poverty and Practice Minor (A Graduation Speech)

By Shrey Goel

Shrey Goel with Prof. Ananya Roy
Shrey Goel with Prof. Ananya Roy

The pre-Global Poverty & Practice Minor student is a particular, but not unique, sub-species of the Berkeley undergraduate. Often, these students come to Berkeley impassioned but without direction. They want to challenge the status quo, advocate for those in need, and represent a cause that is being ignored. Deep down, they just want to do something meaningful. I know I certainly did—I had a desire to “do good,” and maybe a bit of me even believed that desire set me apart from others. You see, my parents taught my siblings and me to always recognize our privilege and value the idea of “giving back” to those in need. In high school, I began to tap into that social consciousness, exploring issues like social welfare, affirmative action, and inequality. So perhaps you can understand that for many in my cohort, myself included, when we first heard about the Global Poverty & Practice Minor, there was no question about it – this was our mission, what we came to Cal to do. GPP was our calling because we cared about poverty and inequality. What we may not have realized then is that we were late to the game; GPP was already one of the largest minors on campus and the debates about how to address poverty had already been raging long before we even arrived at Berkeley.

But perhaps it’s a good thing we didn’t realize it at the time. Our naiveté made us ideal candidates for what GPP can offer. I must confess, I had never cared enough about course material to take notes the way I took them in GPP 115, the inaugural class into the minor. Sitting in Wheeler Auditorium, I found my hand scribbling away, racing to capture the nuance of every point of Professor Ananya Roy’s impeccably delivered lectures. Those lectures were riddled with ethical dilemmas, forcing us to confront ideas like the savior complex, simplistic notions of the poor as victims without agency, and the development industrial complex. And at the end of the day, the message was this: you are guilty. We are all inextricably implicated in systems of power. There’s no silver bullet but ignorance is ethically indefensible. So what will you do?

At it’s best, what GPP does is lure us in, with our fledgling social consciousnesses, and throw us into debates raging in the world of poverty and development. In doing so, the minor presents students with an opportunity to contribute to those debates. Then, through the help of our GPP 105 Methods Course taught by Clare Talwalker and Khalid Kadir, we are taught to engage in a form of scholarship that is simultaneously nuanced, critical, and self-aware, as we learn to contextualize our looming Practice Experiences in the “real world” of development work.

Our Practice Experiences cannot be summarized through any one anecdote. Some of us worked for local organizations, others abroad. Some of us worked in offices, others in the field, some of us performed administrative tasks, others labored to build things. But more importantly, some of us worked for organizations that pursued “Band-Aid” solutions, and some of us for orgs that sought to tackle the causes of poverty at a deeper, more structural level. It wasn’t always something we had control over, and the work was sometimes frustrating for many of us, but in all cases, there was plenty to take in.

Although our Practice Experiences varied, returning from them and taking the GPP 196 Capstone Reflection Course was, for many of us, a cathartic experience. Our instructors Khalid Kadir and Cecilia Lucas pushed us to take our experiences and actually engage in the iterative process of reflection, never allowing us to become complacent in our critical assessment of our organizations or our roles in them. The reflection course provided us with a setting to connect to our peers in the minor—the few other people who could understand what it meant to wrestle with the ethical dilemmas presented by our practicums—and the course facilitators helped us to find support in one another. We came to see that the empathy and perspectives of our classmates were as indispensible to the learning that took place as the mentorship we received from our instructors and the support we received from our program coordinators, Sean Burns and Chetan Chowdhry, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to hone and improve the minor.

GPP seeks to mold us into citizens who will advocate for the rights of the marginalized to be heard in the dominant narratives of the global political economy. The irony of pursuing a minor like this at an institution like Cal, however, is that even public education is expensive these days; thus the rising cost of public higher education is excluding many voices from discussions of the very systems which affect them most. Yet another irony of pursuing a minor like GPP is this: if it weren’t for the depth and richness of the GPP curricula, with its focus on teaching us to critique and challenge everything, including our very education, I might not have felt my education was worthwhile. For me, the heart of what GPP offers is all about self-reflexivity. Self-reflexive scholarship, to me, is about never letting yourself off the hook. It’s about challenging yourself, your ethos, and your motivations, as well as the motivations of the people and organizations around you to demand better.

Today we are here to share—to share with you all, our friends, family, and faculty who have supported us, this celebration of all that we have accomplished. But I believe we are also here to share with you our challenge: our mandate as global citizens and graduates of the Global Poverty & Practice Minor. It’s a challenge that I believe is fundamentally about remaining self-reflexive. Holding on to a social consciousness and having social-welfare-aligned political views are simply not enough. Rather self-reflexivity necessitates that we never stagnate in our pursuit of praxis—in the endless oscillation between action and reflection, which inform one another and lead to true learning. Self-reflexivity asks us to never become complacent in self-congratulation and always be willing to point the magnifying glass inwards; as anthropologist Laura Nader encouraged us to do, to be willing to “study up” and critique the power structures of the institutions within which we operate; and also, most importantly, to seek out and always remain accountable to those whom we purport to help, never allowing our voices to speak over those who are being ignored and helping to carve out spaces and build platforms for them to be heard.

Graduating as a GPP Minor comes with a responsibility, and that responsibility is to recognize that the job is never complete, but is also constantly evolving. That job cannot be done alone. So as much as today is about celebration, it is also a call to action. What we students have learned and experienced through the minor is a window into how we all can push ourselves to engage in the discussions and processes of change taking place in communities around the world. So on that note, I’d like to end by recalling the prompt I left GPP 115 with: we are all inextricably implicated in systems of power. There’s no silver bullet but ignorance is ethically indefensible. So what will you do? But more importantly, what will we do together?

Shrey Goel graduated with a minor in Global Poverty & Practice and a BS in Environmental Science, for which he wrote an honors thesis based on his GPP Practice Experience. After graduation, he plans to work in the Bay Area and apply to medical school.

What Will the Children of Madagascar Inherit?

By Roxanne Rahnama

There is a local Malagasy proverb in the southeast Anosy region of Madagascar that goes Ny fianarana no lovasoa indrindra: Education is the best heritage.

In this same isolated region of Madagascar, a country that ranks 151st (out of 187) on the United Nations 2013 Human Development Index, approximately 90 percent of the population lives in chronic poverty, below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.

Since the World Bank and IMF structural adjustment policies of the 1980s, which drove Madagascar deep into debt and continuous aid dependency, there has been a particularly stark deterioration in the country’s education system, among its other sectors. Some 3,000 communities lack even a basic primary school; 50 percent of school-aged children have never been to school; and in the Anosy region, the literacy rate is alarmingly low at 34 percent.

While the new president of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, has pledged to fight poverty and increasingly invest in the education sector of the country, it will require a great deal of political will and commitment to undo the damages of colonialism, structural adjustment policies, and political unrest since the country gained independence in 1960. Furthermore, since the 1980s, Madagascar has confronted a widening range of climate-related challenges, including drought, more violent and frequent cyclones, the spread of malaria, recurrent flooding of schools and other basic infrastructure, and exacerbated food security issues.

During my Summer 2014 practice experience as a student in the Global Poverty & Practice minor at UC Berkeley, I spent six weeks in the Anosy region working on education projects with a UK-Malagasy joint community development organization called Azafady. A particular experience on a sweltering mid-July day remains locked in my memory. A group of volunteers, staffers, and I visited an abandoned primary school in a rural commune called Tsagnoria, for which Azafady is currently raising money so that local children ages 7-16 can regain access to their national heritage. The following series of photographs document that place.

Azafady is currently seeking $8,000 to rebuild the Tsagnoria School and outfit it with 40 desks and benches and a blackboard. For more information and donation opportunities, please visit: http://www.globalgiving.co.uk/projects/tsagnoria-school-building-project/

Free Speech Movement Legacies and the Promise of Community Engaged Scholarship

By Sean Burns

While the 1964 Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley focused on one central demand—the freedom of students to openly speak about and engage in political advocacy and organizing on campus—the many months that students dedicated to winning this struggle was nourished by much broader discussions about the nature of higher education and the role of the university in a democracy. This week’s 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley marks an opportunity to reflect on these broader discussions and their legacy. Specifically, as a student advisor and faculty member affiliated with the Blum Center’s Global Poverty & Practice Minor, I want to offer a few thoughts on the meaning and challenge of “community engaged scholarship” in higher education today.

For those of you new to the phrase, community engaged scholarship is a set of educational practices and principles that fits within a much larger civic engagement movement in higher education. While community engaged scholarship has many roots (some of which go back to the 19th century), it’s fair to say that the Sixties’ era student appeals for political relevance in their education was a historical milestone. Certainly here at UC Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement must be seen as the fountainhead for contemporary social justice struggles faced by students today.

In the fall of 1964, through countless meetings, rallies, and protests, the students of the Free Speech Movement built a culture of social transformation. At the heart of this culture was a dedicated passion for dialogue and debate on the pressing issues of the era—most notably, the persistence of white supremacy in 1960s America. As students shared their concerns on the steps of Sproul Plaza, in dorm rooms, dining halls, and occupied administrative buildings, they began to increasingly ask why their college courses were not taking up such issues. In short, they began to ask fundamental questions about the relevance of their schooling to the urgent social issues of their day. Today, those of us committed to community engaged scholarship—students, faculty, and citizens in general—continue to ask these questions.

At the most basic level, community engaged scholarship is about invigorating the public and democratic character of education by linking up classroom learning with the efforts of communities (both local and international) to address the social problems they face. While this might sound a lot like the popular, educational practice known as “service-learning,” community engaged scholarship projects are often conceived as efforts to remedy some common, problematic features of service-learning. Rather than discuss these problems abstractly, I want to talk a bit about two, complementary programs I am involved at UC Berkeley and how these programs approach community engagement.

Founded in 2007, the Global Poverty & Practice Minor aims to support students from all disciplinary majors who seek to understand why high levels of poverty persist throughout the world. Born at a moment when the “Millennials” began arriving on campus, the Minor sets out to examine and complicate a number of contradictory features of the era. On one hand, the 21st century has seen a proliferation of concern for injustice. It is no longer the task of a small collection of international agencies to solve famines, mitigate sprawling urban slums, and tackle new epidemiological crises.  Rather, all of us are called to take action. Well, at least certain kinds of action: to run races to support the homeless, to shop to fund education, to party to reduce infection. Sound familiar? Students are especially recruited into this alluring logic. An enormous industry exists through which they can “make a difference” during their education, be it through volunteer-centered spring breaks, semesters abroad, summer trips, or co-curricular programs like ours.

So how does our program try to navigate this climate of what might be thought of as the neoliberalization of social action—where efforts to change the world are so often channeled into individualized and monetized activities that more or less reproduce social inequalities (or, at worst, aggravate them).

To start with, the Global Poverty & Practice Minor aims to work with students in understanding global problems through historical and critical examination. Critical here means: rigorously investigating the assumptions through which we see problems. When we ask a specific question about poverty, we also ask what are the political ingredients of that question? If we find ourselves desiring to take up action in specific ways in specific communities, we ask what are the ingredients of those desires? (Many examples of faculty demonstrating this kind of thinking can be found in our #GlobalPOV social media project.) Our program, as such, isn’t framed in terms of impact, but instead is focused on the kind of study and reflection that we feel is requisite for making any meaningful, long-term impact.  We see this humility as vital in light of the long history of Western higher education’s implication in colonialism, empire, and environmental destruction. Our intentions are not to stifle student action; the world itself provides enough obstacles in this regard. Rather, we aim to inspire a certain kind of reflective action that can guide them throughout the course of their lives. As GPP founding professor Ananya Roy eloquently states, we seek to open up a space for students “between the hubris of benevolence and the paralysis of cynicism.”

Crucial to this space is a vision of working with communities rather than serving them, as “service” is often heard as a paternalistic term—expressive of the attitude that when university students engage with communities, the student is there to give, while the community is there to receive. In our time of such profound poverty and inequality, certain kinds of service provision are undoubtedly necessary. My point is: they are insufficient. Food pantries are not a substitute for food justice. Homeless shelters are not a substitute for establishing housing as a right. Tutoring in prisons must be seen as one node in a web of activity to dismantle mass incarceration of poor communities in the United States. A primary learning objective for our program is that students gain tools for thinking, strategizing, and innovating at this systemic scale, and, in terms of how we seek to relate to community efforts, solidarity has become a cornerstone concept in our program.

Now, even if we set out to partner with communities in their work in a spirit of solidarity, that doesn’t end the challenges. In fact, it really just begins them. Students and faculty who aspire to engage with communities in a manner that is reciprocal and mutually beneficial have to grapple with a range of tensions. First, we all know that systemic social change takes a long time—certainly beyond the time frame of a student’s college years. So an important question we are sitting with (along with many others engaged in community engaged scholarship) is: how to build community partnerships that last and that can incrementally build a more just society? Second, the framework of partnership is an ideal. Contained within this ideal are the realities of building relationships across space—from campus to community, from community to campus—when these relationships are mediated through complex, historical issues of power, knowledge, and representation. The points of encounter between powerful research universities and marginalized communities are not innocent spaces. Precisely for this reason, the transformative possibility for all involved is immense. Free Speech Movement students like Mario Savio who participated in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer knew this edge of peril and promise, and so do, perhaps better than anyone, today’s first generation college students who often arrive at Berkeley from these marginalized communities.

To speak to these challenges and possibilities of partnering, I want to reflect a bit on a course I teach through the American Cultures Engaged Scholarship program called “Social Movements, Urban History, and the Politics of Memory.” The motivation for the course stems from two basic observations I’ve made in my 20 years of social justice education in the San Francisco Bay Area. One: students have little awareness of, let alone contact with, the dynamic and diverse population of social justice activists in our area. Two: these community organizers so often have insufficient time to document their work; the immediate struggles are too pressing. Therefore, the course trains students in methods of community history and social movement scholarship and links them up with community members to document important social histories of the Bay Area. We do this in collaboration with a respected community history organization called Shaping San Francisco and make the collaborative research available through an online wiki-based archive “Addressing Injustice: Bay Area Social Movement Histories.” Because the course foregrounds the analysis and experience of community activists, it illuminates the benefits of what might be thought of as an important form of “public education.” The impact on students is profound. Intellectually, it makes all the difference when the questions that shape the class are not emanating solely from the professor or “the academy” but rather from dialogue with communities. This makes deep impressions on the students about what voices matter, who speaks with legitimacy on what topics, and what democratic education can mean. On a personal level, the results are even more telling. Students have told me (and community members) time and time again how their visions for their future are altered by building relationships with these activists and the movements they are committed to.

The key word here is relationships. Nothing meaningful in the development of community engaged scholarship can happen without committing significant time and energy to building campus-community relationships. If we at Cal want to truly honor the legacy of Free Speech Movement on this 50th Anniversary, we have to recognize the need to embolden our commitment to this public purpose. Many other research universities are doing just this, and the results are significant: in terms of the quality of student learning, the direction and scope of faculty research, and, in the most fundamental sense, the blossoming of our commitment to a just and democratic society.

Dr. Sean Burns, who serves as the Blum Center’s Director of Student Programs and lectures in International & Areas Studies and Peace & Conflict Studies, has recently been awarded an Impact Award for his Bay Area focused course on “Social Movements, Urban History, and the Politics of Memory.” Awarded by UC Berkeley’s American Cultures Program and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, this honor recognizes Burns’ efforts to deeply engage Cal students with regional community members around issues of social movement history in a way that publicly disseminates student work. In spring 2014, he received the Chancellor’s Public Service Award for Faculty Civic Engagement. Burns’ course is offered each spring as IAS 158AC / PACS 148AC.

2013 GPP Graduates Look to Careers of Social Engagement

2013 GPP Graduates Look to Careers of Social Engagement

On May 23rd, sixty-nine students representing thirty majors accepted certificates in the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) Minor from Professors Ananya Roy, Clare Talwalker, and Max Aufhammer, as well as Richard Blum, founder of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Faculty and student speakers stressed the complexity of global challenges as well as the imperative of creatively combating those challenges each and every day.

“We can’t let the limitations we face bring us down or be intimidated by the magnitude of the work,” said student commencement speaker Sarah Edwards. “We can’t think things will never change. We can’t stop trying. Really, we can’t be stopped.”

GPP Class of 2013
Photo credit: Jim Block

The diversity of intended career paths in the GPP Class of 2013 is a testament to the program’s interdisciplinary nature. Students are bound for many destinations and types of work, from studying housing struggles in post-Katrina New Orleans, to working locally as an emergency medical technician while pursuing a graduate degree in humanitarian engineering design, to helping design a cultural center in a Samoan community nearly 5,000 miles away.

While many graduates intend to work locally, others in the class remain focused on global-scale interventions. Edwards and fellow student commencement speaker Nikki Brand will both be working overseas—Brand in Guatemala with the social entrepreneurship organization Community Enterprise Solutions, and Edwards as a Peace Corps Forestry and Agroforestry Extension Agent in Cameroon.

Nikki Brand speaks at GPP Graduation
Nikki Brand, GPP Class of 2013, encouraged fellow graduates not be innocent bystanders, but to reach further and use the tools given to them at Cal to work toward change. Photo credit: Jim Block

This diversity of student interests is unified through a shared commitment to community engagement. This year, three members of the GPP community were honored with prestigious Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service in recognition of their service to communities both local and global. The Chancellor’s 2013 Service Learning Leadership Award was given to Dr. Genevieve Negron-Gonzales, who taught the GPP capstone course as well as an enrichment course on educational justice and undocumented students.  The 2013 Mather Good Citizen Award, which recognizes one graduating senior who has demonstrated a high standard of conduct and service to the campus, was awarded to Abhinaya Narayanan. In addition to her GPP studies and internships in the community, Narayanan served as Project Coordinator of Asha, a student-run organization providing education to underprivileged children, and as Student Director of Oakland Community Builders, connecting UC Berkeley students with internships at social justice organizations in the East Bay. Gardenia Casillas, another GPP student, received an Undergraduate Student Award for Civic Engagement.  Casillas completed service work in Ecuador providing dental care to poor communities and plans to work in Ethiopia this summer, funded by a Harvard Fellowship in Public Health, before pursuing advanced degrees in medicine and public health.

As the GPP Class of 2013 disperses to all corners of the globe, the Blum Center is confident that this new generation of poverty action scholars is prepared to face the challenges, questions, and complexities of global development work.  Dr. Negron-Gonzales bid farewell to her GPP students with an inspiring quote from Antonio Machado, reminding them: “Journeyer, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”


For more photos, visit the GPP Minor Graduation 2013 Facebook album.

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