Jennifer Nolan ’00, a sociology major studying through University College, designed an informal questionnaire for the female inmate population at a local prison, visited five on-site prison parent/child programs, and interviewed female inmates at two correctional facilities. Her research confirmed the critical reality of sexism in the criminal justice system and the need for programs to support families during women’s incarceration.

Glenda Alvarado ’00, a College of Arts and Science sociology major interested in maternal health, conducted interviews with area midwives and analyzed the historical impact of the medical treatment of childbirth on midwifery. Her research showed that consumer demand for natural childbirth has contributed to an increased demand for midwives.

Twenty-five juniors and seniors in the sociology class Prejudice and Discrimination worked with 25 urban Syracuse clergy to install donated computers and provide tutoring on using e-mail and the Internet. In exchange, the clergy introduced the students to issues, strengths, and problems in Syracuse’s inner city. Stephanie Slater ’00, a newspaper major in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a sociology minor, taught a local minister how to use a computer to write sermons and perform other tasks. In return, he shared with her stories of the discrimination and prejudice he had encountered throughout the 50-plus years of his life in Syracuse. In one story, he recalled the first time he went into a Syracuse bar. After he finished his drink, the bartender took the glass from him and intentionally broke it. "It didn’t feel good," the minister told Slater. "Nothing was said. The white man next to me said they do that when all black people come here. It hurt."

The minister also pointed out that discrimination in Syracuse was not as overt as it was in the Deep South. In 1967, for example, police pulled him over while he was on a date with a light-skinned black woman in his new car. They told him they were suspicious of a black man driving a new car and thought he was with a white woman. Although he hadn’t committed any traffic violations, he was ticketed for speeding. "You can feel discrimination when you know what it is and you’ve felt it before," he told Slater. "It feels like you’re nobody, like people hate you for no reason. But you have to get over it, or it will hinder you from happiness in life."

Such a learning exchange was the ultimate goal of the Research and Innovative Learning Center project. Thanks to Vision Fund support, the center demonstrated its value as a catalyst for student-centered learning. The center has since attracted funding from other sources, allowing its work to continue. "The results have been very positive for students, faculty, social service groups, and community representatives in the Syracuse area, as well as the clients they serve," Spencer says. "Everybody wins."

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