Race, Gender and Poverty
Soci 418-010-06F
Wednesdays 5:00-8:00
Memorial Hall, Room 110

 Professor Elizabeth Higginbotham
Department of Sociology
Smith Room 316
Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday
from 1:00 to 2:00 and by appointment

Heather Zaykowski
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Graduate Student Offices, 25 Amstel Avenue, Cubicle Two
Office Hours: Monday 10-11, Tuesday 11-12 and by appointment
Office Phone: 831-4420 zheather@udel.edu

This is a senior seminar for Sociology, Criminal Justice, Black American Studies, Women Studies, and other social science majors. It is necessary that students have a background in the social sciences to do the required course work. You will bring knowledge and skills from other courses into this one, where you will do independent and group work. You are expected to be an active participant in the class. Course assignments involve written work and oral presentations.

Course Description

In the last two decades we have witnessed increasing levels of inequality in the United States. The new century began as a nation divided between those who have and those who do not have. There is a gap between the rich and the poor that leaves those in the middle profoundly challenged both economically and socially. The people facing poverty in this nation are racially diverse, but disproportionately people of color. Women and children currently make up the majority of those living below and near the poverty line. This course will examine contemporary American poverty and focus on race and gender as fundamental dimensions of inequality. It will explore how recent changes in the labor market and national income distribution policies have increased poverty and hardship. The course will address societal responses to poverty and the nature of entitlement for different populations with attention given to gender and race issues. Social science research on the poor present a variety of questions about current polices and practices. This scholarship offers insights into how poor and working class people see the social system, as well as, how key decision makers view the poor. Group assignments will enable students to learn about critical social programs and their impact on individuals.

Course Objectives

In addition to learning structural sources of poverty, this course will give you experience writing in the field, and using the sociological skills that you have learned. Group and individual projects are opportunities to use your research skills and to demonstrate your oral and written command of social science material. Your learning is cumulative. You will expand your knowledge base so that critical questions about poverty and social policy can be more thoroughly addressed. There are different types of writing required in the class to give you opportunities to develop writing skills and explore themes. Doing sociology work involves gathering data and successfully analyzing and interpreting it. The final task is to write your findings and analysis in a format for specific audiences.

Most social scientists write for their colleagues in the field, but one can also write for a broad audience of non-social science colleagues. Sociological material, especially on the topic of poverty, will be of interest to service workers, policy makers, students (both graduate and undergraduate) and the general public. As you write, think carefully about the audience for this specific assignment. While you need to understand sociological concepts, it is necessary to avoid jargon that others cannot understand. Most importantly, you need to learn how to evaluate and write about the research findings of others. As you write, you need to reference your sources. Assignments are designed for you to integrate the readings, and often to do independent research. There are clear guidelines for these tasks. You can use the sociological style, Reference Format for Sociologists, or another system, but you need a style manual to aid your work.

Methods of Instruction

Students must be active participants in the course, sharing responsibility to discuss materials and make presentations based on your own learning. I will lecture, but this course should be preparing you for graduate work, where you will be responsible for discussing the material you read. This course includes group projects to help you learn to work together and develop leadership skills. Presentations involve teaching your classmates what you have discovered. There will be lectures, documentary films, and opportunities to enhance your research skills.

Writing Center: This facility can help you with any part of the writing process. Take your assignments to the Writing Center, the ground floor of Memorial Hall, and be sure to give yourself time to write and review your papers for submission.



Students need a social science background for this class.  All students are expected to attend class regularly and to do all the written work.  Students will read reports of empirical research and also look for demographic data.  In addition to keeping journals where entries are made at least three times a week, there are three assignments that push students to integrate the reading and independent research.  A group oral presentation will help other classmates learn about on dimension of a the problem of poverty as it relates to race and/or gender.  Students should be comfortable writing, knowledgeable about reference format, and able to use the computer to follow course projects and produce written papers.
Course Policies

As a seminar participant you are expected to be prepared by doing the reading and writing assignments, speaking thoughtfully, and listening to other class members. Regular attendance and active participation in class sessions are essential for your learning and the success of the class. We meet one a week, so attendance is mandatory. After two absences, a medical excuse is required; otherwise points will be deducted from your grade. Students will also lose points for assignments that are over one week late. You are expected to adhere to university policy on honesty. When you work with a group, you should be a responsible participant, doing your fair share, meeting group deadlines, and also listening respectfully to other group members.

Ground Rules for Participation

 Required Texts and Readings

Mimi Abramovitz and Sandra Morgen, Taxes Are a Woman's Issues: Reframing the Debate (New York: Feminist Press, 2006)

William DiFazio, Ordinary Poverty: Food and Cold Storage (Philadelphia: Temple University Press 2006)

Deirdre Royster, Race and the e Invisible Hand, (Berkeley: University of California Press 2003)

Ruth Sidel, Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream (Berkeley: University of California Press 2006)

All are available in the University Book Store and also in Morris Library in the Reserve Room. There will be links on the course web page to other readings as well as resources for your reports.



Grading, Evaluation Policies and Procedures : Over the semester, you will have many opportunities to demonstrate your mastery of the course material. To get a final grade in the course you have to complete all graded and non-graded assignments.

Writing: In addition to a take home final examination, you will write two short essays about the media and three other formal pieces that involve research and reading. There are also four reflective pieces in addition to the letter of introduction, because we must understand and explore our own feelings about poverty and social inequality. These reflective pieces will be evaluated for writing and mastery of the assignments, but not graded. You can get a maximum of 15 points for doing these assignments, while the other 85% of your grade will reflect work that is evaluated for form and content.

All written work is due on the date and at the time announced. You must turn in a hard copy, not an e-mail or attachment. If you miss class, papers can be placed in my mailbox in Smith Hall Room, 321. Late papers will lose one half grade for every late day (i.e., a B paper coming in one day late will get a B-, two days late a C+; three days late, a C and so forth). If you have an emergency or an excused absence, please notify the instructor as soon as possible.

You should keep all graded work returned to you until final grades are submitted. It is possible that a grade could be mis-recorded or lost. Saving your work will verify your grade in such an unlikely event. It is recommended that you keep a backup disk for all work done on a computer for this course; last minute lost computer files are not an excuse for late work.

Students should check their University e-mail on a regular basis for class announcements. If you use something other than a University account, you should arrange to forward your mail to your university e-mail or you will miss these e-mail postings. Written assignments, however, must be submitted as hard copies, not as e-mail attachments.

Below is a listing of the assignments, due dates, and their weight in the overall evaluation.

Formal Papers and Presentations
September 6 Letter of Introduction to the Course (and photograph) 2 points
September 13 Comments on " In This Affluent Society" 2 points
September 20 Finding a Job 15%
September 27 Media Essay 1 5%
October 4 Group Presentations on Federal Social Programs 5%
October 11 Papers on Federal Social Programs 15%
October 25 Comments on " At the River I Stand" 2 points
November 1 Take Home Examination 20%
November 8 Comments on "Take It From Me" 3 points
November 15 Media Essay 2 5%
November 29 Review Essay of Unsung Heroines 20%
December 8 Rethinking Poverty 6 points



Course Calendar

August 30
True/False Quiz, Course Orientation, and Discussion about Social Class.
After the opening exercise, we will review the course syllabus, assignments, writing in the discipline, and the guidelines for classroom meetings (see Ground Rules for Participation). We will talk about social class and watch a film about the media and social class.
Reference Format for Sociologists.
Documentary Film: A Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class" (Morris Library, DVD 2382).

September 6
Citizens, the State and Changing Social Policies.
Deborah Stone, "Making the Poor Count," The American Prospect, (Issue Date 03.21.94). URL: http://www.prospect.org/web/index.ww and then look in Archives by subject, Poverty and Wealth, or by author to find the Deborah Stone article.
Mark Rank, "As American as Apple Pie: Poverty and Welfare," Contexts (Berkeley), Summer 2003, Vol 2, Issue 3, pg. 41-46 (Available on the Ethnic News Watch database on line via the library databases).
Documentary Films:
Selections from " New York: A Documentary Film," (Morris Library VHS 7942)
"America's War on Poverty: In This Affluent Society?" (Morris Library VHS 3656, # 1)
These documentaries explore the development and expansion of the social welfare programs in the United States and how it affects relationship between government and its citizens. Think about the development of ideas about government over time and the nature of support for the War on Poverty in the 1960s. What are more contemporary attitudes about the poor?
Due: Letter of Introduction to the Course. Each student will read his/her letter of introduction in class and turn in a copy to the instructor along with a photograph that I can keep.
Distribute Writing Assignment 1 (Finding a Job).

September 13
Tax Policy and Economic Inequality in the United States.
Reading : Sandra Morgen, Taxes Are a Woman's Issues: Reframing the Debate. Introduction and Chapters 1-4, pp. 11-92 and Alex Gourevitch, " When Low Wages Don't Add Up," American Prospect, (Issue Date: 07.15.02). URL: < http://www.prospect.org/web/index.ww> and then look in Archives by subject, Poverty and Wealth, or author to find the Alex Gourevitch article.
Documentary Film : "Waging a Living" documentary in (Morris Library DVD 1953)
Assign Groups for Federal Social Programs
Due: Reflections on "In This Affluent Society?"

September 20
Changing Views on Poverty and Implications for Citizens.
Readings: Mimi Abramovitz and Sandra Morgen, Taxes Are a Woman's Issues: Chapters 5-7 and the Forum, pp. 93-147; Lisa A. Keister, A Repealing the Estate Tax:" Recipe for More Inequality" Contexts (Berkeley), Winter 2003, Vol 2, Issue 1, pp. 42-49 (Find this journal in the Ethnic News Watch database on line via the library databases). Fred Block, Anne Korteweg, Kerry Woodward, with Zach Schiller and Imrul Mazid, “ The Compassion Gap in American Poverty Policy, ” Contexts (Berkeley), Spring 2006, Vol 5, No. 2, pp. 14-20.
Health and Human Services: 2006 HHS Poverty Guidelines.
URL <http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/06poverty.shtml>
Think about the changes in the explanations for poverty, even during the 20th century. How might these explanations be linked to characteristics of the poor? Can you identify social programs that target the poor?
Look over the poverty guidelines and think about how a family might live on these incomes. Think about your own spending habits. Think about the ways that social programs you are researching address poverty.
Group Meetings for Federal Social Programs.
Finding a Job Assignment Due.

September 27
Micro and Macro Analysis of the Market Economy: Where Does Poverty Begin?
Readings: William DiFazio, Ordinary Poverty, Chapters 1-6, pp. 1-193.
DiFazio combines both field work and a theoretical analysis to look at why we need social movement to really address poverty. Think about the role of non-profit organizations in service delivery and advocacy for the poor.
Group Meetings for Federal Social Programs.
Media Essay 1 Due. 

 October 4
Reports on Federal Social Programs/ Group Presentation of 12-15 minutes
Documentary Film: Selection from " People Like Us" (VHS 8181), " Tammy's Story" and group exercise and class discussion.

October 11
Field Trip: Visit to the Food Bank of Delaware at 14 Garfield Way, Newark, DE. The Food Bank is located in the Delaware Industrial Park, which you enter by turning onto Dawson Drive off of Route 72 (Library Road). It is a right if you are going south on Route 72. Once you enter the park, you make a left on Garfield Way, which is about a half mile down Dawson Drive. The Food Bank will be the second facility on your right. Park on the street or in the lot, but do not park where there are signs for pick up or deliveries. We can car pool to this venue, so plan ahead.
See the web site at < www.fbd.org> for information and directions.
We will have an orientation and tour led by Executive Director, Patricia Beebe. We will learn about the operation, watch a short film about identifying appropriate food and you will work at the Food Bank, perhaps sorting donated food. This facility is a huge warehouse, so it can be cool. Wear warm and comfortable clothing because you will work for most of our time at the Food.
William DiFazio in Ordinary Poverty writes about a soup kitchen and other out reach to the poor. Soup kitchens, food pantries and other charities are part of the non-profit response to increasing inequality. Before the visit to the food bank, read their web page to learn more about the organization and its part in the struggle for economic equality.
Written reports on Federal Social Programs Due. You can turn these into me either at the Food Bank or in my mail box by 4:30 p.m.

October 18
Challenging Racial Barriers: Workers Efforts and Social Programs.
Readings: Deirdre Royster, Race and the e Invisible Hand, Chapters 1-2, pp. 1-36 and "Wal-Mart Nation," by Harold Meyerson, American Prospect,
Issue Date: 01.01.04 URL: < http://www.prospect.org/web/index.ww> and then look in Archives by subject, Poverty and Wealth, or author to find the Harold eyerson article.
Earning a living wage has been a goal of many groups. We will look at the struggle of African Americans for a union in Memphis in 1968 and explore contemporary issues around work and racial discrimination.
Documentary Film: " At The River I Stand" (VHS 5231).

 October 25
Racial Inequality: Still Shaping Life Chances and Choices.
Readings: Deirdre Royster, Race and the Invisible Hand, Chapters 3-8, pp. 37-192 and Cedric Herring, " Is Job Discrimination Dead?" Contexts (Berkeley), Summer 2002, Vol 1, Issue 2, pg. 13-18. (Find the journal in the Ethnic News Watch database on line via the library databases).
Distribute Take Home Examination

November 1
Race, Gender, and Social Policy: Historical Legacy of Inequality in Policies.
Documentary Film : "Take It From Me" (Morris Library VHS 8186).
Take Home Examination Due.

November 8
Gender and Class.
Readings: Ruth Sidel, Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream, Introduction and Chapters 1-5, pp. 1-134. This study covers women in a range of social class positions, but single motherhood puts many at risk for economic marginality.
Comments on A Take It From Me Due.

November 15
Conflicting Goals of Social Reform.
Readings: Ruth Sidel, Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream, Chapters 6-8 pp. 135-217 and Peggy Kahn and Valerie Polokow, "' That's Not How I Want to Live': Student Mothers Fight to Stay in School Under Michigan's Welfare-to-Work Regime," “ Shut Out: Low Income Mothers and Higher Education in Post-Welfare America,” edited by Valerie Polokow, Sandra Butler, Luisa Stromer Deprez, and Peggy Kahn (State University of New York Press, 2004): pp. 75-96. These stories are important to explore how policies interact with individuals.
Media Essay # 2 Due.


November 22 No class meeting: Enjoy your Thanksgiving

November 29
Poverty and the Next Generation: Implications for Young People in the United States and Around the World.
Documentary Films: “ Girl Trouble ” (VHS 9650). Favela Rising (DVD ).
Due :Review Essay on Sidel's Unsung Heroines.

December 6
Poverty and Immigration: Race and Gender Dimensions.
Look at media coverage of immigration and poverty, so that you come ready for a discussion.
Documentary Film: TBA
Due: Rethinking Poverty assignment is due in Professor Higginbotham' s office, Smith 316 or her mailbox in Smith 321 by 4:00 p.m.




1. Acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and other institutionalized forms of oppression exist.

2. Acknowledge that one mechanism of institutionalized racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and the like is that we are all systematically misinformed about our own group and about members of other groups. This is true for members of privileged and non-privileged groups.

3. We agree not to blame ourselves or others for the misinformation we have learned, but to accept responsibility for not repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.

4. Agree not to "blame victims" for the conditions of their lives.

5. Assume that people--both the groups we study and the members of the class--always do the best they can.

6. Actively pursue information about our own groups and those of others.

7. Share information about our groups with other members of the class, and never demean, devalue, or in any way "put down" people for their experiences.

8. Agree to actively combat the myths and stereotypes about our own groups and other groups so that we can break down the walls which prohibit group cooperation and group gain.

9. Create a safe atmosphere for open discussion. If members of the class may wish to make comments that they do not want repeated outside the classroom, they can preface their remarks with a request that the class agree not to repeat the remarks.

NOTES: These guidelines were initially developed by Lynn Weber, currently the Director of Women's Studies and a Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina. To read more about the guidelines, see Lynn Weber Cannon, "Fostering Positive Race, Class and Gender Dynamics in the Classroom," Women's Studies Quarterly, Vol 18, Spring/Summer, 1990.