Town Halls on Inequality

The Goals of the Town Halls on Inequality:

Connect different disciplines in previously unexplored ways. 

Town Hall on Inequality proposes to bring together students, staff, faculty and members of Olympia community to hold ongoing forums on the unprecedented rise in income and wealth inequality that characterizes US society today. Drawing across disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the expressive arts, this symposium will hold bi-quarterly Town Hall meetings to examine the causes and consequences of inequality, and to explore contemporary and historical perspectives on the following:

  • What are the effects of inequality on our communities?
  • What does rising inequality mean for our local and global food systems?
  • Why and how do our educational institutions–particularly student debt for higher education–contribute to inequality rather than equality of opportunity?
  • How does our unprecedented resource inequality relate to climate justice? This town hall event might include presentations and film, as well as a possible guest lecture by Bill McKibben.
  • What role do the media arts have in perpetuating or alleviating inequality?
  • What role might liberal arts education–alternative and traditional, public and private–have in confronting inequality in our systems of governance and our institutions of democracy? How can the current crisis at Evergreen be reframed as an opportunity?

 Bring content that is significant and likely to evoke considerable student interest and ownership.

In this moment of a heightened awareness of the polarization of US society, we are troubled by the impact that this inequality of wealth, power and privilege might have on our democratic institutions, on our governance practices, as well as on our schools, colleges and workplaces – sites that we cherish as purveyors of social mobility in our society. As a public liberal arts institution, the Evergreen community has been especially unsettled by the rising cost of tuition, nation-wide, and the concurrent rise in the debt-burden facing our students upon graduating. We think these are overriding concerns facing our students and their families, and feel that we need to tackle this issue openly and collectively as a community.

Provide learning experiences to students that go beyond traditional instructional methods.

We would like therefore to convene an ongoing forum to carefully study the causes and consequences of inequality in the United States today through what we propose to call Town Hall meeting/symposium/program. We propose holding bi-quarterly meetings during governance time, both to increase the possibility for campus-wide participation of faculty, staff and students as well as to revive or invent anew a tradition for the campus-wide democratic governance of our college, as rising inequality of wealth, power and privilege threatens to erode our democratic institutions nation-wide. Evergreen has a tradition of Town Halls and the most recent Town Hall demonstrated powerful student, faculty and staff voices in responses to President Purce’s assessment of our campus’ current enrollment and budget crisis. We want to provide regular classroom and governance space for these voices to develop, and to strengthen the democratic traditions and participatory structures that characterize and set us apart as a public institution with a uniquely alternative mission and purpose in Washington State.

Face-to-face communication in a town hall setting that provides ample time for feedback and discussion, and that is supported by rigorous interdisciplinary study across the curriculum, will allow for a lively discussion of this issue among stakeholders in an organized and structured fashion, so that we the staff, students and faculty are collectively empowered to participate in conceptualizing an alternative vision for the Evergreen community in this climate of austerity.

The above focus and format of Town Hall on Inequality envisions operationalizing an innovative approach to interdisciplinary learning, that links classroom theories and practices in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and expressive arts directly to social, political, economic and environmental issues facing our families, our communities and as a college campus. Our goal in holding these fora is to re-invigorate our collective understanding and practice of democracy among our students, and also among the campus community.

Result in a body of student or student-faculty academic work that makes evident the power of the proposed new learning approach.

In addition to the discussion of shared readings, the bi-quarterly Town Halls will be opportunities for students’ best work to be shared, discussed, documented, and re-circulated. Each of the participating programs will ask students to view the curriculum of their programs through the lens of inequality and incorporate and reflect their learning in their respective program assignments. Our plan is to build and maintain a website to document and house student, staff and faculty responses and reflections on the Town Hall topics. Some possible formats for program assignments include essays, artwork, plays, pamphlets, zines, short films and documentaries. We hope to have the budget to record the Town Hall Inequality presentations and discussions and to also house them on the website.

We want to use curriculum-based Town Halls to innovatively revive and promote Evergreen as an innovative institution of alternative and public and liberal arts education, re-invigorating and refining our participatory governance structure. Our hope for this two-year endeavor is that we will carry forward our conversations and our learning into our work campus-wide, including our classrooms, our meetings and have innovative ideas to offer to the College’s recruitment and retention efforts, as well as its website profile. We believe Evergreen would have more students, not fewer, if we enthusiastically embraced our mission as a progressive alternative public liberal arts institution of higher learning.

Provide an evaluation and dissemination plan for the project’s learning outcomes and replicable, innovative teaching strategies. Projects showing strong promise of replication will be viewed most favorably.

We propose to make a range of campus resources available, and to support their use, for promoting and disseminating Town Hall information both before and after bi-quarterly Town Halls, including pamphlets, posters and website development and maintenance using electronic media, letterpress, 2D and 3D art and printing.

We propose to explore the possibility of supporting an ongoing undergraduate research or internship opportunity for students particularly interested in pursuing any aspect of this proposal, its development and its application. Whether through conversation, joint Town Hall presentations, internships or governance service, we see many possibilities for student, staff and faculty voices contributing to work in recruitment, retention, advising, and website development. We see the first year of funding for this project as a basis for measuring its success in terms of replicable and desirable outcomes. Will we and our students be able to develop relationships across the College that are win-win, meaning can the voices of the students who are currently enrolled help to promote Evergreen’s efforts to increase the perception of rigor and innovativeness to prospective students and their families? How might more current students get involved in telling the story of what an Evergreen education means and why an alternative liberal arts education is more critical now than ever? What will we learn has value when all around us seems to measured by a $ in and $ out model of education? We propose collaborating with Alumni Relations to involve models of successful alternative career paths by including alumni in each Town Hall.