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May 19, 2017

Guest Blogging on Concurring Opinions about Whiteness, Class, Rurality

I've been guest blogging for the past few weeks over at Concurring Opinions and invite you over to that blog, on "the law, the universe, and everything" to see what I've been writing.  I've done a four-installment review/commentary on J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  Spoiler Alert:  I'm not a big fan but, in the end, suggest that the book can help law profs better understand the low-income white students who (thankfully, yes, thankfully!) show up in our classrooms from time to time.  My posts are:

On Donald Trump, J.D. Vance, and the White Working Class

Hillbilly Elegy as Rorschach Test

The "Shock and Awe" Response to Hillbilly Elegy:  Pondering the Role of Race

On Ree Dolly, J.D. Vance and Empathy for Low-Income Whites (or, What Hillbilly Elegy is Good for)

I've also done a bit of writing about rurality, with these posts:

Rurality and Government Retreat

Local Journalism as Antidote to Echo Chambers and Fake News

Also related to rurality are these posts about spatiality and abortion access. 

Did You Hear the One About the Alaska Legislator Who Said ... 

Sanger's Tour de Force on Abortion (with a Blind Spot for Geography)

Carol Sanger of Columbia Law responded to my post about her new book, About Abortion:  Terminating Pregnancy in the 21st Century, here.  I love the fact she says I get the "last word" in our exchange over the significance of geography.

I expect to post another item or two before my term as a guest blogger expires in about a week. 

January 10, 2017

The strangest thing happened at the AALS last week

I have attended the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting for many of the 17+ years I have been a law professor, but I experienced something at last week's annual conference in San Francisco that I had never before seen or heard, something that came as a pleasant surprise.   Attendees were actually talking about rural people and places--including in a plenary session on the future of the legal profession.

For more than a decade now, I have worked to establish as a sub-discipline what I call "law and rural livelihoods" (I've taught a seminar by that name for eight years), and my Legal Ruralism blog is part of that effort.  One of my overarching arguments is that most legal scholarship implicitly embraces an urban norm--and that some legal scholarship is explicitly urbanormative.  Yet in all my years of attending gatherings of law professors, I have consistently been the only person in the room talking about rural people and places--I've literally been the only person using the word "rural."  I've often joked that I'm the "rural lady," perhaps analogous to SNL's "church lady," a character with a one-track mind who keeps showing up and making the same overarching point. Over the years, this approach has attracted a lot of eye-rolling, ongoing marginalization.  But it has remained the case that rural people and places have been omitted from so many scholarly conversations about law--and from so many scholarly works on topics that, to my mind, have an obvious rural or spatial angle, e.g., reproductive justice, poverty.

So, imagine my surprise when, following the plenary on "Preparing a Diverse Profession to Serve a Diverse World," with key note by Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft Corporation (and, incidentally, my boss at Covington & Burling London in 1992 and later my client, from 1996-98, when I returned to Covington and he was in house at Microsoft),  Lauren Robel of Indiana University School of Law asked the first question, which was essentially "what about rural?"  She noted that she had recently been in southern Indiana, which is quite rural, and that shortages of broadband and lawyers are two challenges plaguing the region.  She also referenced the recent NPR story about the "epic" shortage of rural lawyers, a story that quoted me and mentioned the work I have done on the rural lawyer shortage.  After Robel broke the ice with a reference to rural Indiana, several others referenced "rural" in the ensuing conversation.  This was interesting in part because Smith had, early in his talk, referenced a small town in southwest Virginia where Microsoft has a server farm, but he had not used the word "rural."  As the conversation unfolded, however, the word became part of the discussion in a way that seemed, well, natural.

This was somewhat similar to what had happened the day before in a discussion session in which I participated:   Community Development Law and Economic Justice--Why Law Matters.  About a dozen scholars were invited in advance to participate in this discussion, including me.  Because I don't "do" community development law or work as such, I assumed I was invited to participate because of my work on rurality, including rural poverty, thus implicating issues of economic justice.  Once I got the ball rolling by talking about my rural-focused scholarship, several other participants mentioned "rural," including "rural and urban," as in referencing the prospect of intra-regional CED collaborations and such.  (Let me be clear that this usually doesn't happen; when I'm on a panel talkig about "rural," I typically remain silo-ed as such).  I commented that I thought much of the attention to "rural and urban" was racially coded (though it is not necessarily accurate to conflate rurality with whiteness, it is a common phenomenon), as a way to get at cross-racial collaborations, which I very much support (indeed, cross-racial cooperation among low-income folks is a big focus of my scholarship right now).  I also joked that I had not heard as many mentions of "rural" in my entire 17 years of attending law prof. conferences as I had in that 1.75 hour-long session!  Perhaps colleagues in this session--where I was invited to the conversation because I am a ruralist--were humoring me. 

So, is this attention to rurality among legal educators the wave of the future?  or just a temporary dalliance, a moment of intrigue and curiosity, as we absorb the results of the 2016 election and the role that rural America apparently played in Trump's win?  I'm hoping for the former because mainstream (even liberal! highly educated! elite!) attention to rural issues and rural people might help us avert another electoral disaster in two years, or four.  

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism.

October 23, 2016

Documentary on Akayesu case makes debut at UN; reviewers call it "riveting," a "courtroom thriller"

The Uncondemned,” a film about the first prosecution of rape as a war crime, saw its theatrical release over the week-end in New York City, where it will play through October 27, at the Sunshine Cinema, SoHo.  The film, which will play in some 30 major markets through the end of the year, opened to critical acclaim in the New York TimesThe Village Voice, and the New York Daily News. Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel co-directed the film.

Witnesses JJ, OO & NN, along with Godelieve Mudasarasi of SEVOTA, a Rwandan NGO supporting widows and children of the Rwandan genocide. 

A feature-length documentary, “The Uncondemned” recounts the prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) of Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu for crimes against humanity and acts of genocide,  including acts of sexual assault, against residents of Taba commune, which he governed.  The film actually interweaves two stories.  One is that of the Taba rape survivors—until now known only as JJ, NN, and OO—and the social worker and founder of SEVOTA, Godeliève Mukasarasi, who encouraged and empowered them to participate in the prosecution.  The other story is that of the team of young lawyers who worked on the case, including trial counsel Pierre-Richard Prosper (now with Akin Gump) and Sara Darehshori (now with Human Rights Watch, working on issues of sexual assault in the United States).  Also appearing in the film are Patricia Sellers, gender advisor to ICTR and ICTFY at the time the Akayesu case was investigated and tried, Rosette Muzigo-Morrison, a UNinvestigator from Uganda, and Binaifer Nowrojee, who from her position with Human Rights Watch in East Africa wrote Shattered Lives, a report on Sexual Violence during the Rwandan genocide and campaigned for the prosecution of rape as a war crime.  My own work as gender consultant at ICTR—twenty years ago this fall—is also featured in the film.  

The October 21 theatrical release followed a special viewing at the United Nations on October 19.  The Rwandan witnesses, along with Mukasarasi, were special guests at the UN event, hosted by Zainab Hawa Bangura Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  A Yazidi rape survivor previously held captive by ISIS also appeared at the event, speaking on a panel about sexual assault during war that followed the screening.  The UN promoted the hashtag #EndRapeinWar at the screening.     

“The Uncondemned” was shown at several film festivals in the past year, taking the 2015 Brizzolaro Family Foundation Award for the Best Film on Conflict and Resolution at the Hamptons International Film Festival The documentary also played at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and the Napa Valley Film Festival.  Reviewers have called the film a “must see” and “riveting,” and characterized it as a “courtroom thriller.” 

Following the week-long run in NYC, “The Uncondemned” will open in Los Angeles on October 28, at the Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd.   Beginning on November 4, the film will run for one week in Washington DC at the E Street Theatre, 555 11th Street, NW, and for one week in Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Avenue N.  You can find information on all screenings here.     

Cross-Posted to International Law Grrls. 

From left to right at UN Premiere on October 19:  Sara Darehshori, co-director of "The Uncondemned" Michele Mitchell, Pierre Prosper and Lisa R. Pruitt 

November 11, 2015

"The Uncondemned" at Napa Valley Film Festival, Nov. 12-15

"The Uncondemned," a feature documentary about the first conviction of rape as a war crime, is showing at the Napa Valley Film Festival, which starts tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 12.  

That first conviction came in 1998 in a decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the case against Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba Commune.  I worked at ICTR as a gender consultant in 1996, analyzing the evidence of sexual assault in the Akayesu matter, and I am therefore one of the "baby lawyers" who worked on the case and who is featured in the film. (Photo below from 1996, as we flew between Kigali where the Office of the Prosecutor was located and Arusha, Tanzania, where the tribunal judges sat.) 

The film already won two awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival, including the Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for the best film about conflict and resolution. The Guardian.com filed this story about the film and that award.

I have seen the film once before, this summer in Rwanda when the Rwandan witnesses (one of whom is pictured in the flyer) saw it for the first time.  Read more in this previous blog entry.  I'm looking forward to seeing it again tomorrow night, this time with two UC Davis colleagues, Keith Watenpaugh (Religious Studies, History, Human Rights) and Michael Lazzara (Spanish, Cinema and Digital Media). Both are involved with UC Davis's Human Rights Initiative, a project of the Davis Humanities Institute.  Hope to see some of you in Napa this weekend, where the film will be shown at a different venue each day.  Here is the schedule.

October 28, 2015

Campus Community Book Project and Addressing "The Divide"

Is this the "Age of the Wealth Gap?"

Investigative reporter and Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi says yes. His New York Times bestselling book, "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap," is the featured work in this year's UC Davis Campus Community Book Project.

It was my pleasure last week to take part in the first of three book events at the School of Law: a panel discussion titled "Addressing 'The Divide' - 'If You Cannot Afford One...': Access to Legal Counsel in the Age of Inequality." Speakers included Yolo County Deputy Public Defender Ronald Johnson '04, Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) Executive Director Gary Smith, and LSNC Deputy Director Julie Aguilar-Rogado.  As lawyers and professors involved in serving, researching and/or teaching about low-income populations and access to justice issues, we all agreed that little about Taibbi's book surprised us, even though Taibbi wrote as if he were shocked by his findings.  


Ron Johnson '04, Gary Smith, Julie Aguilar-Rogado, and me

Among the topics we discussed were the civil justice gap between wealthy folks and those who qualify for legal assistance from legal aid organizations such as LSNC, which is funded in part by the Legal Services Corporation.  Smith and Aguilar-Rogado described how LSNC is not only providing direct services to low-income populations in the 23-county area they serve in Northern California, but how they are also pro-actively seeking enforcement of many laws that can assist the poor.  In a sense, LSNC is acting as a private attorney general in advocacy to compel counties to live up to statutory mandates that would benefit low-income populations.  I talked about the rural-urban justice gap, including the shortage of lawyers serving rural counties generally, and low-income rural residents in particular.  Our talented alum Ron Johnson spoke about his decade of experience as a public defender.  In particular, he talked about some of the particular struggles facing many who are caught up in the criminal justice system, problems including joblessness, poverty, and mental illness.  Johnson observed that we need to devote more attention to such root causes of crime and mentioned that his office has social workers -- and not only lawyers -- to assist the clients.  

Two more Campus and Community Book events will be held at King Hall. On November 2, the clinical faculty will discuss the human impact of criminal and immigration detention. Then, on February 1, Professors Elizabeth Joh and Thomas Joo will discuss structural inequality in American policing and prosecution. 

For a full list of the book events across campus, visit http://occr.ucdavis.edu/ccbp2015/events/index.html. The events will conclude with an appearance by author Matt Taibbi at the Mondavi Center on February 3, a talk I am very much looking forward to hearing.

June 18, 2015

Premiere of Film on the Historic Trial that Made Rape a War Crime

This week, I am in Rwanda for the premiere of the documentary film The Uncondemned.

The Uncondemned documents the legal and political path to the 1998 conviction of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba Commune, Rwanda, in the first-ever conviction of rape as an act of genocide and as a crime against humanity.  The prosecution and conviction were at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). a forerunner to the International Criminal Court.  The Rwandan Genocide occurred over about 3 months, beginning in April 1994, after the plane carrying the president of Rwanda, a moderate Hutu, was shot down. 

I was a gender consultant to ICTR in 1996 where I did the initial legal analysis of the sexual assault case against Akayesu, arguing that the indictment (for killings as acts of genocide and as crimes against humanity) against him should be amended to include charges of rape and other sexual assaults that occurred at the Taba Bureau Communale, which was under his control.  I appear in the film, along with the two American lawyers who tried the case, Pierre-Richard Prosper and Sara Darehshori. Also featured are other officials of ICTR, journalists who covered the genocide, and human rights advocates. 

Most exciting is that the three women who were the key witnesses against Akayesu are in the film, along with the Taba commune social worker who encouraged them to testify and helped to facilitate their doing so.  Those four women attended the premiere.  Their statements were the ones I was analyzing back in 1996. 

The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, hosted the screening of The Uncondemned in the capital city, Kigali. Also among those in attendance were the Minister of Justice, the Foreign Minister and a number of women parliamentarians. Official photos from the event are posted to the President's  Flickr album.  I am in a couple of the photos there, and my son William is one, too, near the bottom of the page.  

 


Photo: Professor Lisa Pruitt with two of the rape survivors, Serrafina and Victoire, who testified against Akayesu.

The Uncondemned is expected to be in distribution across the U.S. and worldwide in 2016.

 

April 14, 2013

Commenting on the commentary about "Accidental Racist"

I don't watch TV or follow much pop culture, and most of the country music I occasionally listen to is from old albums by the likes of Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss.  But this was apparently a big week in country music thanks to Brad Paisley and his new album Wheelhouse.  I was on the road on Tuesday, but by the time I was catching up on email early Wednesday morning, I had lots of messages from friends giving me a heads up on the furor associated with Paisley's new song, "Accidental Racist," which includes a cameo from LL Cool J.  Commentators have varyingly discussed Paisley and his new song thusly:

In short, as one commentator put it, the song has attracted "an unusual amount of ... sneering."  Another called the response "overpowering vitriol." 

 

Eric Weisbard did not sneer in his piece for NPR. His headline references the history of white southern musical identity, and Weisbard touches on biases against the South, as well as white-on-white biases:

As you may have heard, Paisley is sifting through some rubble of his own right now, having been declared a national laughingstock by virtually all commentators coming from outside mainstream country. But then, this condescending dismissal is nothing new. There is a history to "Accidental Racist," the history of how white Southern musicians — heatedly, implicitly, at times self-servingly and not always successfully — try to talk about who they are in answer to what others dismissively assume they are. 

After all, while the Jim Crow South was Anglo supremacist politically, American culture offered a very different dynamic. Ever since white Northerners started putting out their records, Southern whites have represented a backward rural mindset in a national culture of jazzy modernity.  ... Variety loved jazz but scorned the hillbilly in 1926 as " 'poor white trash' genera. The great majority, probably 95 percent, can neither read nor write English. Theirs is a community all to themselves. [They are] illiterate and ignorant, with the intelligence of morons."

This reminds me of some of the points I made in The Geography of the Class Culture Wars about contemporary bias against Southerners, rural denizens, and the ever burgeoning group of people who get labeled "white trash." I note that various commentators of this Paisley/Cool J duet speak ill of the South in a broad-brush way that is not so different to what Variety had to say nearly a century ago.  This has me wondering if Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory," to which many commentators are comparing "Accidental Racist", elicited such ridicule when it was released?

 

Let me be clear:  I do not defend slavery, the historical South, nor the Confederate flag, which I see as necessarily signaling racism.  Further, I offer no comments on the artistic merits of "Accidental Racist," the song, though I will admit that this media frenzy about it led to my first country music download ever just so I could have the full musical experience, first hand.

 

Mark Kemp, too, puts "Accidental Racist" in historical musical perspective and notes regionalism's role in this kerfuffle.  Kemp observes that this is "hardly the first time a song by a Southerner dealing with white blue-collar issues has produced strong reactions among the Northeastern-based media."  

 

Weisbard's piece goes on to comment on the "choices" available to southern white musicians in the 1960s and 1970s, choices that may not have changed much:

They could embrace black music and contemporary life and cross over, like former Texan Janis Joplin. They could go bluegrass singing the Carter Family's now revived "Can the Circle Be Unbroken." Or they could join the notion of regional separatism to new concepts of identity: In songs by Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn, that great euphemism, country, became something you could be proud of like James Brownwas proud to be black.

I find this recognition of "country" (rurality?) as identity interesting, encouraging--and authentic.  (Describing "country" as euphemistic is similarly insightful).  

 

Which brings to my single favorite commentary on "Accidental Racist," from NYT's "Room for Debate" series about the song.  (Yep, that's right, this little ol' country song was the topic of Room for Debate forum a few days ago, which might be seen as progress for both shunned rural whites and for blacks).  One of the commentators, novelist Will Shetterly, makes the point that Paisley and Cool J didn't write or perform this song for the liberal elites who have responded to it in mostly sneering ways.  In a contribution headlined, "Why Elites Hate this Duet," Shetterly writes of the song's many failings--from the perspective of elites/elitists, that is:  

The song’s first sin is it’s earnest. There’s no irony to please hipsters. 

Its second sin is it’s about members of the U.S.’s racially and regionally divided working class, a southern white Lynyrd Skynyrd fan in a Confederate battle flag T-shirt and a northern black rapper in a do-rag, gold chains and sagging pants. This song wasn’t made for, by or about people who consider themselves the cultural elite, and elitists hate the idea of being irrelevant, especially in a discussion of an issue as important as race. 

Its third sin is featuring a rap artist. Many elitists hate rap as much as they hate country, though they don’t like to admit it for fear of appearing racially insensitive. 

* * *  

Elitists are too smug to consider the possibility that a person from a culture may know it better than they do, so they make easy jokes about “Accidental Racist” being “accidentally racist”.

I like this affirming comment on Shetterly's post, from one who identifies himself as a "liberal elitist":

As a private-school-educated, deep blue liberal elitist, I find I agree with Mr. Shetterly, and in fact said a similar thing about Mr. Coates's piece just the other day. Let's be frank: this song isn't for me and mine. It's for a totally different audience. The problem with people like me is that we want important issues like race and poverty discussed, but only in the way we think is appropriate. We want to set the tone of every conversation. Then we laugh at or scorn guys like these, who take on the same subject in a different way. There are an awful lot of people out there who didn't go to Harvard, yet could greatly benefit from being party to a real conversation about race. However ham-handed it may be, I think there is real good intent behind this song, on the parts of both Paisley and L.L. Cool J, and I hope it does reach their intended audiences.

This, from NPR's Code Switch bloggers, is more typical of the (quasi-)scorn being heaped on Paisley, Cool J and their single:

Most folks, though, seemed to agree that it was at least a well-intentioned, if cringeworthy, gesture. Which we see a lot of in conversations about race, right? 

* * * 

Luis Clemens, our editor, was pretty adamant that this was some kind of elaborate joke. "This is all an elaborate and knowing gag meant to provoke a real conversation about race unlike the pseudo-discussion in the song," he said. "Think of it as a Derridean act of derring-do." 

But nope — Paisley and LL insist that it's the real thing. So if it's a well-intentioned mess, aren't their intentions a little dubious? 

MT: There's probably a mix of intentions, at work, right? I mean, Mr. Paisley and Mr. Cool James had to know that there was going to be a reaction. A lot of reaction. You don't tread into 'Solve Racism' Land lightly. Paisley's tweet yesterday indicated as much. 

So you can take it at face value, and many folks did: this is a serious effort to bridge cultures, to extend a hand and try to embrace someone else's humanity.

I can't resist coming back to this conclusion of Shetterly's piece: 

[I]f you think “Accidental Racist” is racist, accidentally or intentionally, read a few comments at a white supremacy site like Stormfront. So long as they call Paisley a race traitor, he and LL Cool J are doing exactly what the elitists claim they want: furthering the conversation about race in the U.S.A.

For a commentator calling Cool J a race traitor, look no further than this Room for Debate contribution by M.K. Asante.  

 

Mark Kemp asserts that Paisley's accidental racist in the Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt is not necessarily Paisley himself.  No, that man is arguably just a persona that Paisley (who, according to some commentators, is known for his "left-wing" views), has adopted for purposes of prompting a discussion about race.  If Kemp is right, maybe there's a bit of irony or something akin to it in this song after all.  Or maybe the irony is in the knee jerk responses of those who have missed this point.    

 

I can't help think of the firestorm "Accidental Racist" has wrought this week in relation to Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA official who was unceremoniously fired in 2010 after Andrew Brietbart publicized an out-of-context video excerpt in which she hinted at having failed to assist a poor white farmer. (That was, in fact, not the case.)  Matt Bai observed then the "depressingly familiar pattern in American life, in which anyone who even tries to talk about race risks public outrage and humiliation."  Paisley and Cool J seem to be providing another example of that sad phenomenon.  

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism, SALTLaw Blog, and ClassCrits
March 30, 2013

Imploring the Ivy League to Attend to Rural Strivers

One of the most e-mailed items in the New York Times for the past day or so has been Claire Vaye Watkins "The Ivy League Was Another Planet." (The alternative headline is "Elite Colleges Are As Foreign as Mars.") In her op-ed, Watkins recounts her journey from nonmetropolitan Pahrump, Nevada to college at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her story is that of a kid from a working class family in "rural" Nevada (her description; technically, Pahrump is not rural because, though unincorporated, its 2010 population is more than 35,000) who didn't know about colleges or how to pick one.  Lucky for her, Watkins went on to get an MFA from Ohio State and is now an assistant professor of English at Bucknell.

Watkins writes of getting her wake-up call about dramatic variations in educational resources when she was a high school senior, vying for a prestigious state-funded scholarship. That's when she met a peer from a Las Vegas high school who attended a magnet school, took college prep courses, had a tutor, and had spent time abroad.  The variations in resources, she realized, were based on geography:  he was an urban kid and she was a rural one.  But they were also based on class.  She doesn't specify the background of the Vegas teen, but she mentions that her mother and step-father had not gone to college.  I note that Pahrump's poverty rate is a fairly steep 21.1%.  Just 10.1% of residents there have a bachelor's degree or better, compared to about 30% nationwide.

Even after meeting the privileged teen from Vegas, however, Watkins didn't know what she didn't know.  She remained ignorant of the world of elite colleges, a sector that represented the "other planet" or "Mars" of the headline.  Instead, Watkins applied to UN Reno, she explains, because she had once taken a Greyhound bus to visit friends there. As Watkins expresses it, when poor rural kids apply to college (which, I might add, is altogether too rare), they typically apply to those institutions to which they have been "incidentally exposed."

Commenting on what admissions deans at elite schools might do to reach out to high-achieving, poor rural kids--whom they purport to be interested in for reasons of diversity and excellence--Watkins suggests, tongue in cheek, that they do "anything." More specifically, Watkins cleverly contrasts Ivy League efforts to recruit rural kids, which might be characterized by the terms "zip" and "nada," with military efforts to recruit the same kids, which might be characterized as "fulsome" and "robust." Guess who's winning that contest? The military, of course.  Here are just a few of the points Watkins makes:

  • No college rep ever showed up at Pahrump Valley High school, while the military brought a stream of alums through there on a regular basis.
  • The school devoted half a day each year to ensuring that every junior took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB); that test was free, while taking the ACT and SAT was  not.  
  • "But the most important thing the military did was walk kids and their families through the enlistment process."

Watkins closes by noting that elite colleges need to do more to reach those she calls "the rural poor," concluding that, until they do, "is it any wonder that students in Pahrump and throughout rural America are more likely to end up in Afghanistan than at N.Y.U.?"

The jumping off point for Watkins' op-ed is a recent paper by two profs (from Harvard and Stanford, no less), Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery, "The Missing 'One-Offs':  The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students."  That paper was publicized in the Times last week-end in David Leonhardt's story, "Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor."  The summary and conclusions of the Hoxby and Avery paper do not talk in terms of rural-urban difference in relation to these missing "one-offs."  (They do, however, employ a tiny bit of geographical nuance in Table 9, listing two categories of "rural" students, those near an urban area and those far from one). Instead, Hoxby and Avery focus on the benefits to students of being in "geographic concentrations of high achievers."  They write in their abstract, for example, that these high-achieving students who fail to apply to elite schools

come from districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are unlikely to encounter a teacher or schoolmate from an older cohort who attended a selective college.  

And where might those students be?  mostly in rural schools.  For folks like Watkins, it isn't hard to read between the lines and see that the high achievers most likely to slip between the cracks are kids in rural schools.    

All of this brings to me my own experience.  Like Watkins, I can see that many of the "missing" students Hoxby and Avery are talking about are rural.  My own K-12 school in rural Arkansas had an enrollment of about 400--and no counselor whatsoever to advise on college admissions. The first Ivy League graduates I ever met were professors at the University of Arkansas. I was there because, like many who Hoxby and Avery studied, I assumed it was the best bargain for me.  I didn't apply elsewhere.

I have to trust that the numerous people reading Watkins' tale will believe her revelations of her naiveté regarding college.  I certainly hope so, though I have been struck over the years at how many people are incredulous at my similar tale.  How, they marvel, disbelief in their voices, could you not have known to go to a "good school"?  People of privilege can find it remarkably difficult to believe that other people could really not know the things that are the very intellectual and emotional wall-paper of a life of privilege.

But there is another, related problem:  poor rural kids and the diversity they represent often go unvalued by educational decision makers.  Because these rural kids Watkins is talking about are often white, they don't appear, at first blush, to represent diversity.  Plus, I find privileged whites are just as uncomfortable around working class whites as they are around people of color--maybe more so in this day and age.  That discomfort--unmitigated by the need be politically correct because no PC imperative exists regarding poor whites--may deter the privileged from reaching out to recruit poor whites.  After all, as Watkins points out, it's not like these elite colleges are hurting for applicants.

Finally, privileged metropolitan and cosmopolitan types tend to hold the limitations of rural education against those who are products of it, discounting what these kids have achieved because of the absence of AP classes, the right extracurricular activities, and such.  (Read more here and here).  I recall being on the selection committee for the first round of elite Sturgis Fellows at the University of Arkansas in the late 1980s.  When I spoke up for a candidate with what I considered to have stellar credentials, a professor on the selection committee quickly countered by noting that the student was from a rural school, suggesting that the student's achievements had to be kept in proper perspective--namely that s/he had not been subjected to true intellectual rigor.  I recall meekly pointing out that I, too (then the University of Arkansas's undergraduate valedictorian) was the product of a rural school.  What was I?  chopped liver?  or just an anomaly?  I'll never know how the selection committee saw me.  But perhaps because I protested so meekly, my comment--and the outstanding rural candidate--got no traction.  All of that inaugural group of Sturgis Fellows, as I recall it, were from sizable high schools.    

Cross-posted to ClassCrits, UC Davis Faculty Blog, and SALTLaw Blog.    

May 5, 2012

Overlooking (even seemingly high profile) rural crimes

Americans are often said to have a love-hate relationship with rural America. On the one hand, many wax nostalgic about the good old days, simpler times, the bond of "rural community" that many of our grandparents once lived, even if most of "us" grew up in the city. Plus, most everyone enjoys a bit of time spent in "nature," and some even realize--the urban ag craze aside--that most of our food is grown "in the country." On the other hand, urbanites often hold rural people in disdain, mocking them for their attachment to place, their regressive politics and culture and, yes, even for their nostalgia.

One particular aspect of the "love" (more precisely, nostalgia) with which we may regard rural America is the tendency to think that bad things associated with cities--most notably crime--are largely absent in smaller towns, in nonmetropolitan areas. That's hardly accurate, as I've discussed here and here. I wonder, though, if these rural myths are the reason that even more shocking crimes in rural settings--crimes involving, for example, racial or ethnic animus--don't get national attention. For crimes like these, I would think that urban Americans might be anxious to publicize the crimes, to hold these acts up as justification for the "hate" (that is, disdain, contempt) part of the relationship.

I was reminded of all this last week when the New York Times ran a story headlined, "Black Man's Killing in Georgia Eludes Spotlight," dateline Lyons, Georgia, population 4,169. Kim Severson's story tells of a white man, Norman Neesmith, killing a black man, Justin Patterson, in Lyons last year "on a rural farm road, here in in onion country." Neesmith was arrested and charged with seven crimes, but he is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, for which he might be sentenced to just a year in "special detention," which means no jail time. Severson goes on to compare the rural Georgia case to that of Trayvon Martin, which has attracted national and international attention:

In both cases, an unarmed young black man died at the hands of someone of a different race.

And [Justin Patterson's parents] began to wonder why no one was marching for their son, why people like Rev. Al Sharpton had not booked a ticket to Toombs County. The local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P has not gotten involved, although Mr. Patterson's farther approached them.

* * *

Why some cases with perceived racial implications catch the national consciousness and others do not is as much about the combined power of social and traditional media as it is about happenstance, said Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic who writes about racial issues.

Several events coalesced to push the Martin case forward: an apparently incomplete police investigation, no immediate arrest and Florida's expansive self-defense law.

The New York Times' highlighting the overlooked Patterson case reminded me of another pair of cases last year that received grossly disparate media attention.

I learned quite by accident last summer of a federal conviction based on a 2010 hate crime in Carroll County, Arkansas. It was especially odd to learn of the conviction by coincidence (from a UC Davis colleague whose distant relative in Arkansas sat on the jury!) because this was the first ever conviction ever under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law passed in 2009. Here's what happened: After encountering each other at a gas station in Alpena, Arkansas (population 371) in the early morning hours in June 2010, three white men allegedly hurled racial epithets at five Latinos and then chased the Latinos in their car, while the white driver of the truck chasing them waved a tire wrench out his vehicle's window. The truck driven by the white men eventually ran the Latinos' car off the road, where it rolled over and burst into flames. All of the Latinos were injured, one very seriously, but all survived. Less than a year later, a jury in a federal courthouse in Harrison, Arkansas--(population 12,943, about 20 miles from the events, and with a reputation as a long-time bastion of KKK activity) took less than an hour (!) to convict the driver of the truck, 20-year-old Frankie Maybee, of "five counts of committing a federal hate crime and one count of conspiring to commit a federal hate crime." One of his companions, 19-year-old Sean Popejoy, had already pleaded guilty to a single hate crime and a conspiracy count; he turned state's witness. The third man was not charged, apparently because of a lack of evidence that he was part of the conspiracy. (In an effort to learn more about Carroll County matter last summer, I interviewed the Arkansas State Trooper who had helped investigate it, as well as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette journalist who reported on it. They provided some back story, which I'll take up in a subsequent post.)

Several months after the convictions in this case, it had not yet been discussed anywhere except in local media. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran about half a dozen stories, starting in April, 2011, when the men were indicted, running through the trial itself, and ending with Maybee's sentencing to 11 years in prison, in September, 2011. Television stations in nearby Springfield, Missouri covered only the sentencing, and Reuters, too, had finally found the story by then. In that way, the Arkansas case is similar to another Shepard/Byrd Act indictment that preceded the Arkansas conviction, this one in Farmington, New Mexico involving the torture of a developmentally disabled Native American by white men. That case resulted in a guilty plea and was mentioned, along with other Shepard/Byrd cases, in this NPR story a few days ago. (Other NPR coverage of the Shepard/Byrd law, which also mentions the New Mexico case post-guilty plea, is here and here).

Contrast that with the Shepard/Byrd charges against the three young white men who recently pleaded guilty in the death of James C. Anderson, a black man in Jackson, Mississippi. New York Times coverage of that crime is here, here, here and here. The Mississippi story is, of course, a huge one and deserves all the attention it got. But the Carroll County story seems like a pretty big one, too (did I mention that it was the first Shepard/Byrd conviction!?!), as does the case out of Farmington, New Mexico.

What explains the disparate and decidedly after-the-fact media attention to these cases? Perhaps coincidence. Perhaps differences in the Department of Justice's efforts to publicize the charges. Perhaps the fact that the Mississippi crime resulted in death whereas the Arkansas and New Mexico crimes did not. But as a ruralist, I can help wonder if the rural-ish settings of these crimes also obscured them from the national media?

Carroll County has a population of just 27,446, of which 12.7% are of Latino or Hispanic origin. I know the area quite well because I grew up in a contiguous county, and I wrote a lot about Carroll County's three-decade history of Latina/o migration in my 2009 article, Latina/os, Locality and Law in the Rural South. In 2003, MALDEF entered into a settlement with the Rogers, Arkansas Police Department, in neighboring Benton County, to prevent racial profiling.

Farmington, New Mexico has a population of just over 45,000, but surrounding San Juan county is technically metropolitan, with a population of just over 130,000. Indian reservations comprise more than 60% of San Juan County's land area, and 36.6% of its populace are Native American. Farmington has been the subject of major civil rights investigations over the course of four decades.

Like the relations between blacks and whites in Mississippi, then, both Carroll County, Arkansas and San Juan County, New Mexico have histories of racial and ethnic tensions. I would think the racial/ethnic contexts of these two incidents would make them interesting to a national audience--as would they way they illustrate widely held perceptions of the "best" and "worst" of rural America. The "worst" is that the hate crimes occurred--which confirms the image of rural folks as small-minded and bigoted. The "best"--at least in the Arkansas case--is that a local jury of the defendant's peers convicted the small-minded bigot--and they did so in no time flat.

Cross posted to Legal Ruralism and SALTLaw Blog.

March 24, 2012

Rural Women and the Limits of Law: Reflections on CSW 56

The United Nations 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56) featured as its priority theme this year "the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges."  This focus on rural women is long overdue, given that rural women comprise a quarter of the world's population.  Further, women provide 43% of the world's agricultural labor, and they produce half of the world's food for direct consumption.  In fact, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) discovered some time ago that women--referred to by many as the "architects of food security"--are key agents of development.  One reason for this is that when women and girls receive income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families.  In spite of their transformative potential to reduce hunger and poverty, women own less than 2% of land worldwide and they receive less than 10% of available credit.

As one whose scholarship focuses on rural livelihoods in both the United States and abroad, I was pleased to attend three days of the two-week CSW 56 event (February 27-March 9) as an observer for the American Society of International Law. As a former gender consultant for the United Nations, I was prepared for some of what I saw (e.g., bureaucracy), but the experience also held a few surprises. One thing that intrigued me about the “Session”—which is not a session at all but a dizzying array of “high-level round tables” and other meetings, panel discussions, “side events,” and “parallel events”—is that discussion of law was relatively absent. Furthermore, relatively little of the substance of these gatherings focused on rural women in a way that went beyond adding the modifier “rural” to whatever issue was being discussed. Rather than engaging with the circumstances that often distinguish rural women’s lives from those of their urban counterparts, many of the sessions seemed merely to “add rural women and stir” in relation to a well-recognized (and admittedly very important) women’s issue (e.g., female genital mutilation, child marriage). Other sessions did take up issues more central to rural livelihoods, including spatial removal from services and agents of the state, and women’s roles in agricultural production. The lack of significant engagement with the particular challenges facing rural women is reflected in the fact that none of the resolutions adopted by the Commission was about rural women. Nor did the Commission adopt any agreed conclusions on the priority theme of the 56th Session.

In contrast to CSW’s somewhat anemic approach to the priority theme, Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) addresses the rights of rural women as a group. Indeed, CEDAW is the first human rights treaty to recognize rural difference, to acknowledge rural populations. While Article 14 guarantees to rural women all the rights enumerated elsewhere in CEDAW, the article also addresses rights specific to rural women. These include the right:

  • to be involved in “development planning at all levels”;
  • to benefit from “all community and extension services” among other types of education;
  • to “organize self-help groups and cooperatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities”;
  • “to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform, as well as in land resettlement schemes”; and
  • “to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.”

Read more about Article 14, its history, and its implementation herehere, and here. Given the particular attention paid to rural women in this germinal women’s rights treaty, one might have anticipated considerable attention to the provision and its potential at CSW 56. Not so at the sessions I attended. I heard Article 14 mentioned only a couple of times.

It is a common bias among lawyers to presume law can solve problems and should be used to do so. Lawyers may be more skeptical about whether international law is effective at solving problems, attributing failures to the lack of enforceability of international law and the lack of respect for the rule of law, particularly in the developing world. As a ruralist, I have asserted that law is less effective at addressing problems in rural locales for some similar reasons. That is, when legal institutions and legal actors (including lawyers) are literally less present, laws on the books are less potent and the rule of law withers. All of these issues related to the relevance, authority, and efficacy of law were in play—sometimes explicitly, more often implicitly—in the attention CSW 56 gave to rural women.

Many of the participants in CSW 56 were not lawyers—nor were they UN or national officials. Rather, the vast majority of participants were associated with NGOs that have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Indeed, on each morning of CSW 56, officials with UN Women held a briefing for NGO representatives (also referred to as “civil society”). By the middle of the first week, UN Women announced that 1,598 NGO representatives from 358 NGOs were engaged in the annual gathering.

At these daily briefings, UN Women officials offered affirmations to NGO representatives, assuring them of the importance of their efforts. The UN officials also offered updates on what was happening at the “high-level meetings” that few NGO representatives had permission to attend. In spite of their exclusion from many of the events where member states were in direct talks, NGOs presented a robust and varied array of panel discussions. A tiny sampling of the topics and their sponsors follows:

  • Women and Corruption: Grassroots Experiences and Strategies, Huairou Commission, UN Development Program
  • Empowering Caregivers to Build Healthy Sustainable Communities, Huairou Commission, GROOTS International, International Council of Women
  • Rural Women's Groups and Key Stakeholders Frame Joint Actions, Government of Norway, Huairou Commission, GROOTS International, UN Women, UN-Non Governmental Liaison Service, Baha'i International Community, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program, Landesa
  • Rural Women Speak: Land, Health and Rights in Africa, FEMNET
  • Rural Girls and Urban Migration: The Role of Communications for Development in Bridging the Divide, UN-HABITAT, Plan International, UNESCO, Women in Cities International
  • Measuring Change for Rural Women in Sub-Saharan Africa, Global Fund for Women

Here is a link to the official programming, and a full listing of the NGO programming is here.

While most commentators in these parallel and side events presumed developing world contexts, a few offered reminders that biases against women persist in the developed world, too, including in relation to agriculture. In other words, Australia, Canada, the United States (just to name a few) all have work to do to empower women, including those in rural areas. (To be clear, unlike these other nations, the U.S. has never ratified CEDAW and is not bound by it).

This sampling of events demonstrates my earlier points about both the relative absence of attention to law’s role in solving the problems of rural women (and perhaps, by implication, all women), and also the shortage of programming regarding issues unique to rural women. To the extent that the particular concerns and circumstances of rural women were center stage, the focus typically related to agriculture. Among these were issues such as access to credit and means of marketing their products, the relative merits of “sustainable” agriculture versus intensive production agriculture, and an issue that more squarely implicates law: women’s right to own land. Officials from UN Women reported that diplomats participating in CSW 56 were sharing examples of legislation that would achieve land reform and improve land distribution schemes, but in the next breath they acknowledged the challenge of getting these laws implemented and enforced.

The need for legal reform arose in other contexts, too, but so did law’s limitations. For every comment I heard about the utility of Article 14 of CEDAW (or some other progressive national or international law) and the importance of legal and policy environments that were conducive to women’s empowerment, I also heard words of caution about the limits of law. Government and UN officials were more likely to tout the power of law, while NGOs were more likely to focus on village realities that often undermine the rule of law. Among those offering caveats regarding the potency of law were those who noted that many will be reluctant to invoke it—including criminal laws—in relation, for example, to forced child marriage. One African NGO representative stated,

Face reality ... be honest. Even in America, who tells the law? Maybe [the victims and their families] are illiterate ... [child marriage] is their custom. Who goes to tell the law except the child? And how can the child go tell the law?

This is where all of us come in ... if your NGO is interested in solving these problems. You go [to the village], watch the ways things are done and then talk to the educated locals [so that they begin to see the social and economic costs of the practice, e.g., child marriage]. And they will know they must do something.

This woman, like many others I heard over three days, extolled the importance of grassroots efforts to achieve the empowerment of women.

Wherever one might strike the balance between formal law on the one hand and local, grassroots efforts to educate and achieve cultural change on the other, few coming out of CSW 56 would dispute that both have significant roles in empowering not only rural women, but indeed all women.

Originally posted to Jurist.org; cross-posted to Legal RuralismIntLawGrrls and Agricultural Law.