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.
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, 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.