Engaging PovertyMay 28, 2009
By Lane Murphy
Over 20 percent of humanity lives on less than $1.25 a Day. That's more than 1,400,000,000 people. Poverty isn't going away anytime soon, but if what's happening at Baylor is any indication of what's possible, it may be sooner than you think.
"I've always known extraordinary Baylor students who've done wonderful things," says Rosemary Townsend, director of business affairs/community partnerships in Student Life. "But I really do believe there's an energy [on campus] I've not seen before. And that's exciting."
A 27-year Baylor veteran and project coordinator for the two-year-old Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative (BIPI), Townsend says addressing poverty is a hot topic on campus, a growing conversation across disciplines. Issues ranging from water quality in Mongolia to wasteful food disposal practices on our own campus have become the focus of faculty research and new student-initiated programs.
"It seems like a perfect storm for talking about social justice," says Marianne Magjuka, coordinator of service learning initiatives in Student Life. "Faculty are trying to take what is being taught in the classroom and apply that through different programs and into students' lives outside of the classroom. There really is a movement on campus, and students really are interested in these questions."
And while students are often the enthusiastic face of a large-scale movement, Baylor faculty and staff have been working on these difficult and complex issues for years. Their experience and wisdom are providing the framework that enables and sustains measurable progress. Through the establishment of new events and programs and the fine-tuning of existing ones, the Baylor community is strategically and intentionally combating poverty like never before.
"Something has shifted in the last two to three years," says Dr. Gaynor Yancey, associate dean and School of Social Work professor, speaking of the dramatic growth in student interest and involvement. She, too, credits the hard work that's gone on in prior years. "It always takes that process of time, and everything feels ripe at this time for poverty to be a focus of this campus."
Yancey sees a marked increase in people wanting to pursue things that are meaningful, deep and lasting.
The Baylor community is certainly susceptible to the temptation just to fulfill the "obligatory" service project from time to time, "but that's not what I'm sensing," says Yancey. "I'm sensing, even more among students, that we want to be integrally involved in people's lives and communities that need change... not in any paternalistic way, but rather to come alongside and figure out, what's it going to take? This is our community together. And that, to me, is a major paradigm shift."
Still, Karin Klinger, MSED '05, associate director of Student Activities for Organizations and Service, finds the current crop of Baylor students to be part of a particularly justice-minded generation.
"I think there's never been a generation that's been as concerned with social justice issues as the one we have enrolled right now. Generally, this is a group of students who are very passionate about poverty issues, environmental issues; they're very justice-minded. But that's particularly true at a place like Baylor, where we also have that faith component where students can connect that passion to their faith and watch it play out in some profoundly loving ways because of their relationships with Christ."
Demonstrating the breadth and depth of the ways in which the Baylor community is addressing poverty has proven to be quite a task. We could easily fill several issues discussing in detail every poverty-related initiative underway at Baylor today. Instead, in the following pages we offer just a few glimpses of individuals and groups from across campus and across disciplines that are making a difference in the lives of the poor.