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Leveling the scales

March 03, 2017

Ohio State's Center for Ethics and Human Values is focusing its academic might on the far-reaching problem of inequality.

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The year is 2017. We live in a time of unprecedented growth, a capacity for excess and a technological savvy that is able to optimize production. Why then, has inequality increased in the last 30 years? 

Inequality is a topic that was prominent in the recent presidential campaign, and the discussion of it and its complexities is still a part of the national conversation. It is a reality that affects a broad swath of citizens.

To wit, in the United States, one percent of our country has 38 percent of the nation’s wealth. Neighborhood segregation in our cities leads to dramatic gaps in education outcomes. Health inequities are apparent as wellness becomes more strongly linked to class. In an era of mass incarceration, the United States holds five percent of the world’s population and 23 percent of the its prisoners. Of those domestic prisoners, roughly 40 percent are black and 34 percent are Hispanic. In the workplace, women still make on average less than men for doing the same job.

Images of inequality

As a part of the Center for Ethics and Human Values' yearlong focus on inequality, Ohio State students, faculty and staff created pieces of photography designed to represent their perspectives on inequality in the world today.

Adam Brown, 2nd Place, Alumni/Community
I took this photo hoping to convey the idea of people who feel a sense silence especially in regards to issues of women and minorities. I believe the image conveys a strong theme relevant to the issues of inequality because of the lack of voice or isolation a person may feel within these circumstances.
80 Cents on the Dollar
Holly Curry, Co-1st Place, Faculty/Staff
Statistics show that in 2015, female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. As a female, full-time worker putting in 50+ hours a week, this issue is near and dear to me. It's 2016--gender wage gap should have no place in our society, yet it still hangs around and affects roughly half of the US workforce.
Cultural* Decor
Julie Rae Powers, 1st Place, Alumni/Community
This photograph displays a seemingly innocent piece of decor inside of a home, in a domestic space. It isn't an overly loud object, it is made of cloth, but the history behind the confederate flag is very loud. It is steeped very deeply in inequality and racism but is still being defended by southerners and various other individuals in states that aren't even associated with the region. The Confederate flag has become a huge point of contention in light of recent events in the United States. This is a representation of inequality.
Location: Ravenswood, WV
In A Cage
Yu Tsumura, 3rd Place, Faculty/Staff
A gorilla captured and put in a cage to amuse human beings. 
Location: A zoo
Low Yielding Maize
Nall Moonilall, 3rd Place, Undergraduate/Graduate Students
This photograph depicts a very minimal yield of maize from Guyana, South America. Low agricultural productivity and yield can result from various factors including low nutrient input, pest and disease, and climate change. Climate change, single-handedly, can be a factor that can severely affect an agroecosystem, if it is not well adapted. As a result, the system produces low yields, if any. Climate change can thus be a driver that can lead to various forms of inequality. Adverse climatic conditions can lead to a reduction in food production in a region, increased instances of natural disasters, reduction in healthy well being, conflict and societal instability, and biodiversity loss. Climate change has the potential to threaten the ability to eradicate poverty in the near future, if not dealt with appropriately. The presence of climate change can therefore fuel the increase of food, health, and political inequality in a given country or region. Significant in nature, climate change is something that is not thought of and is even overlooked when discussing the issue of inequality. It is imperative we take the appropriate actions today to mitigate the effects of climate change so that we can ensure equality persists in the future.
Location: Mon Repos, Guyana, South America
Bella Kitzis, 2nd Place, Undergraduate/Graduate Students
In this juxtaposition of masculine features and feminine glitter application, gender inequality is proposed. Society is quick to judge a man who bends the gender spectrum-but high praising of a woman in unisex clothing for breaking the 'gender barrier'. This photo tackles this inequality and shatters gender norms that may exist in the general population of the world.
Names of Individuals and/or Location in photo
Joshua Thiele/Jacksonville, FL
Outside the Walls
Chris Baggott, Honorable Mention, Undergraduate/Graduate Students
The Forbidden City is a palace complex in Beijing that housed the ruling monarchs of China for almost 500 years. It is now a museum and is open to the public. This image is a simple scene of a man sitting outside one of the walls of the complex. It evokes inequality through a juxtaposition of the royalty and the common person. While China no longer has imperial rule, there are lasting reminders of the inequality that persisted throughout the nation's history. Even today, rapid commercialization has brought the country to an economic crossroads where many citizens are overworked and underserved. 
Names of Individuals and/or Location in photo
Location: Forbidden City, Beijing, China
Jason Joseph, 2nd Place, Faculty/Staff
Regardless the city, there are people who are in need. There is a severe lack in trust that exists because society has become saturated with beggars and many of them simply use their appearance for their own gain. Because of this, so many people who truly need help get lost in the shadows without ever receiving the attention they should rightly receive. This photo offer a unique separation between a busy and busting street and the solitude of a lonely beggar woman.
Location: Paris, France
Holly Curry, Co-1st Place, Faculty/Staff
Every day 21 veterans/active-duty military members take their own lives. A recent analysis found a suicide rate among veterans to be dramatically higher than the civilian population. Veterans and active duty soldier suicides are around 30 per 100,000 population per year, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000. This is almost double the
The March to the Capitol
Ingrid Raphael, 1st Place, Undergraduate/Graduate Students
On July 7, 2016 people gathered at the White House to protest the wrongful killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this photo, a black man is holding a Black Lives Matter sign as he leads the crowd of protesters down Pennsylvania Ave to the Capitol where they eventuallly met with police force and pushed through the barriers to get to the Capitol doors to be the change.
Location: Pennsylvania Ave, Washington D.C.

This year, researchers across disciplines at Ohio State are working together through the Center for Ethics and Human Values' COMPAS program to focus on a yearlong theme of inequality. Core faculty and affiliates of the center comprise individuals from philosophy to public health, women’s gender and sexuality studies to political science, as well as many others. Ohio State's breadth is sparking important cross-disciplinary conversations —the types of discussions needed to move the needle on complex issues that don't have a single solution.

Faculty members tracking along with the center's work on inequality include Dr. Townsend Price-Spratlen whose research focuses on recitivization, Dr. Christopher Browning, professor of sociology, who is researching segregation and community patterns in Columbus and Dr. Rachel Kleit, professor of city and regional planning at the Knowlton School of Architecture.

"Many of the researchers at Ohio State are focused on research that is really trying to address the grand challenges of the 21st century, how do we make sustainable systems for the world? We are trying to deepen the research of those who are working in practical areas and enrich the research of those who are working in the abstract.”

Kleit is focused on housing inequalities. Her research involves the mixture of private and public resources used by housing authorities, the access and availability of subsidized housing, particularly in the suburbs, and the relationship between movement and health inequality.

Within her department, two faculty members will run a field-based service-learning course in North Linden, where students will work with the community to understand their needs and acquire the necessary resources to assist in redesigning their neighborhood. The class will work alongside the Neighborhood Design Center, which is under contract with the city of Columbus.

This will go hand in hand with the new public transportation system from Downtown to Easton that will run through North Linden. This is made possible by the Smart City Grant which was awarded to Columbus, much in part for its focus on inequality. The hope of the grant is that public transportation will decrease infant mortality in poorer neighborhoods by providing its members with better access to doctors.

Kleit and her colleagues are working with the Wexner Medical Center’s Moms2B program to better understand the travel patterns of pregnant women.

Students are also playing an important role in this yearlong discussion. 

Lavender McKittrick-Sweitzer, a graduate philosophy student and leader of the Ohio State Chapter of Minorities in Philosophy, said COMPAS's focus on inequality is creating new and challenging discussions, as well as highlighting the varied work Ohio State students are pursuing in this realm. 

Kylee Smith Kylee Smith

Kylee Smith, a senior dance major and creative writing minor from South Carolina, is pursuing a creative project that combines critical performance theory and dance. Her senior thesis is titled "Black Female Bodies in American Culture and Performance."

Since her sophomore year, Smith has been focused on the disparities between black and white bodies on the stage, and the deeply appropriated Africanist roots in Western dance forms.

She is reading black female scholarship and literature, writing creative essays, and then using improvisation as a choreographic tool to set her response as a dance on her fellow dancers. "I use my body as a way to filter what I am reading and thinking about, in order to translate that into a language that's usable for me as a dancer and a scholar. It's embodied research."

Ross Hashbarger, a senior undergraduate majoring in Data Analytics is currently working with Dr. Steven Brown, associate director of the Center for Ethics and Human Values and senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, on a coding project that visualizes comparative inequalities. The hope is to create a website that compares populations on categories like education, food security, health and happiness to encourage users to donate to vetted organizations working on the ground.

Hashbarger said that the diversity of opportunity at Ohio State enables him to conduct his research and studies in a more interconnected way.

“Being one of the largest educational institutions in the country allows for such a diverse collection of perspectives and ideas — an expert in any field is just a short walk away. Having that intimate connection among hard working, dedicated individuals gives us the opportunity to truly understand the realities of inequality and work to provide everyone equitable opportunities that they deserve,” says Hashbarger.