As Kenia Flores ’20 learned, timing is everything.
During a recent visit to Gantt Summary Court as part of her Introduction to Sociology class (SOC 101), she listened as two cases played out between tenants and landlords. In both cases, tenants offered to use funds from their tax returns to pay past-due rent money to their landlords.
“It made me wonder what they would do if it were any other time of year when that would not be possible,” said Flores, a politics and international affairs major who plans to study civil rights law.
More than 200 students in eight sections of SOC 101 received a glimpse this semester into the complex world of eviction and the complicated issues of race and class inequality that go with it.
Each year, the Sociology Department chooses a book to be read by students in introductory sections. “We look for recent books about compelling issues that will show students what sociologists can offer,” said Sociology Professor Ken Kolb.
This year, the faculty chose the book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in America,” by Harvard University John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences Professor Matthew Desmond, who was recently named a MacArthur “Genius.”
“Evicted,” awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, follows eight families in Milwaukee who struggle to keep a roof over their heads.
Desmond, co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project, shared details of the book and of his research during a special talk, part of Furman’s Cultural Life Program, April 20 in the Trone Student Center. Earlier in the day, he met with students in the Qualitative Research Seminar (SOC 470) to discuss the ins and outs of ethnographic research.
As he collected data and life stories for “Evicted,” Desmond was an eyewitness to the daily struggles of Milwaukee’s urban poor. He moved into a trailer park for five months and went without hot water for a time. He rented a room in a rooming house. He slept on the floor, helped his new friends move and babysat their kids. He watched them survive on diets of cheap noodles.
“Eviction is a cause not just a condition of poverty,” he said.
While he found that Milwaukee landlords evict 40 people a day, “this is not just a Milwaukee story,” Desmond said.
It’s a piece of a story that Furman students saw firsthand in Greenville County.
“Having the opportunity to visit eviction court helped put the book into perspective for me. I was reading about it, but having it happen in my presence was entirely different,” said Flores of Charlotte, N.C. “I believe everyone should read ‘Evicted’ and be able to hear Dr. Desmond speak. Both helped me have a better understanding of class inequality in the United States.”
To learn more about Dr. Desmond’s work, visit www.justshelter.org