2018 Sentinels Fellows’ names and report titles are listed below. To read the abstract of each report, please click on the arrows to expand the content areas.
My investigation into food insecurity in the Berkshires began with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. I researched how the program works and what resources are available for Berkshire residents who are eligible for SNAP. In the course of my research, however, I found a range of ways in which SNAP falls short of fully addressing food insecurity. The formula to calculate SNAP benefits makes certain assumptions that underestimate many households’ needs, the population of SNAP enrollees is far smaller than the population that is eligible, and benefits tend to run out before the end of the month. Furthermore, politicians in Congress have proposed changes to SNAP that would make it even more difficult to receive benefits.
Luckily, there are some local resources that help fill the gap between people’s food needs and what SNAP is able to provide. One of these is the Berkshire Food Project, which is based in North Adams and serves free meals every weekday to anyone who comes. I volunteered with the Berkshire Food Project, and used their data to learn more about the organization’s role in fighting food insecurity. I found that the group served significantly more people towards the end of each month, suggesting that the Project’s clientele includes SNAP recipients whose benefits are exhausted by the end of the month.
This summer I did research on housing discrimination in the U.S. and focused on exploring similarities and differences in low income housing communities across the country. Initially, I planned to focus mostly on examining the role housing discrimination played in the displacement of low income black communities that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey. I started my research by studying articles that detailed the hardship low income black families faced when their homes flooded and they could not afford to recover from the damage. Since Harvey occured recently in American history, scholarly works on its effects are hard to find, so I decided to take a more historical approach and try to understand how the development of housing in Texas has influenced the social inequities we saw post-Harvey. I found a lot of information on how Texas, specifically Houston, developed and how national legislation impacted the state. As I studied, I uncovered information on racial violence and tension in the Texas and compared that information to the histories of other places in the South. Eventually, I began to think beyond Houston and the South and found that housing discrimination was a pressing issue that permeate the entire country, and was particularly difficult to address in urban areas. My research shifted from focusing primarily on Houston to exploring the “whys” behind racial discrimination throughout the United States in an attempt to find possible solutions.
In this report I explain my findings through a historical lens and connect past laws and policies to their present day equivalents. First, I detail my findings on Houston during the civil rights era, explain what factors caused Harvey to hit some places harder than others and then I link those two points to show how discrimination played a role in both. Houston has a history of neglecting its black residents, particularly its low income black residents, and this is the group I chose to exam to highlight the evolution of discrimination in that area. I have included information from studies on segregation in urban centers, on discriminatory practices of real estate agencies and on the causes of current day housing segregation. My work took me in many different directions, but I was about to find a common thread in most of the material I studied, and I hope my work here will serve as a reference for others who are interested in exploring the ins-and-outs of housing discrimination. I was able to use the sources I found most helpful to give readers of this report an idea of what equal housing in America currently looks like and what areas need improvement. Although I was able to find answers to many of the questions that I had about this topic, I found that I did not find a singular solution to the problem of housing discrimination because it is very complex. At the end of this report I include some ideas on what HUD and the rest of the government can do to address and decrease the possibility of housing discrimination in America.
In 2014, a national data collection by the US Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights revealed that students of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled compared to their white peers. Students who are repeatedly pushed out of school through these methods of exclusionary discipline become less engaged with education and are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system in the future in a pathway commonly referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. To address this immense racial disparity and its dire consequences, many alternative programs and non-profit organizations have been created to provide greater support to students experiencing behavioral and academic difficulties. While many of these programs and organizations do wonderful work, there are two problems with this approach: 1) it cannot be expected that these alternative programs will reach every student in need, and 2) placing a student who is already experiencing behavioral issues is reactive in nature and can work to ‘other’ the student as a problem. Because of these concerns, many schools have decided to consider how they can evaluate their discipline policies and adopt more equitable frameworks for approaching problematic behavior. Instead of relying on outside initiatives, all schools and districts should determine what can be done internally to establish a behavior policy that supports all of their students.
This report provides a basic understanding of the current climate surrounding student discipline and then explores one alternative behavior framework, restorative justice in education (RJE). Adapted from restorative methods of juvenile and family courts to fit an educational context, RJE contains both preventative measures to reduce behavioral problems as well as holistic practices that are used to address specific incidents of misbehavior. Demonstrating the need for new methods of behavior management, defining a restorative behavior framework for schools, understanding the barriers to implementation of RJE, and analyzing past pilots of this new framework are the major topics covered in this project. Through an extensive literature review, analysis of data, and conversations with students, teachers, and school administration from a local school district, I reach the conclusion that restorative justice is a promising approach to creating more respectful and supportive school climates that productively and equitably address student behavior. However, to meet success, RJE programs require whole-school commitment as well as the resources of both time and money.
Over the course of this project, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a school committee member and felt that the opinions/suggestions I gave from my research made a real impact on the local conversation around disciplinary policy. I have also been invited back by one of the assistant superintendents to continue working towards a more equitable and productive discipline framework in the district.
Seeking abortion while incarcerated is part of a complicated tapestry that balances individual political interests, state fiscal interests, gender politics, and a constitutional responsibility to provide adequate medical care to inmates. The rapid rise of incarceration in the past thirty years has resulted in a lack of uniformity in correctional facility policies, resulting in no two incarcerated reproductive experiences being the same. This paper examines access to abortion within a public health context: a public health context that integrates the social, legal, and personal consequences of state and federal policy surrounding abortion access while incarcerated. Abortion access varies greatly in different regions of the United States, and amongst different groups of people with different financial and social privilege. Through a comparative analysis of two regions in the United States, and local county women’s jails, I will draw attention to the discrepancies that exist at every step of seeking abortion, and the consequences of this for the public health. Finally, based on court cases that hold different correctional facilities accountable for their policies, or lack thereof, as well as existing policies, I will put forth a recommendation for best practices. Best practices recommended in this paper only satisfy a minimum legal standard that prisons must abide in order to provide constitutionally adequate care for inmates. These practices include, but are not limited to: having a written policy in place that makes the process of obtaining an abortion in a facility public information, and not requiring a court order to transport inmates off site to access abortion services.