Class raises aid for Haiti
February 3, 2010 10:18 AM
SF State environmental justice students are doing their part in raising money and awareness for the recently grief stricken country of Haiti through an elaborate assignment specifically designed after the earthquake struck last month.
Professor Raquel Pinderhughes of the department of urban studies and planning at SF State revised her syllabus after the earthquake in order to allow her students to gain an understanding of how environmental injustices occur.
"More people died then they should have," said Pinderhughes. "Because the quality of people's homes [in Haiti] is so poor and not appropriately designed, more people were hurt than necessary."
Pinderhughes' course focuses on the way people throughout history have not been equally protected from harm because of institutional racism on land and place, often resulting in poorly structured countries. With her assignment, she hopes that her students understand how the situation in Haiti was put into place over time to become the disaster it was.
In order for the students to learn about the long history of Haiti, the classroom will be split up into eleven groups, each focusing on different historical periods. These groups will report their assessments of the social inequalities, environmental conditions and injustices of their specific timeframe to the class.
"We are looking at something that has meaning and is contemporary when we talk about the earthquake," said Pinderhughes. "But we are also looking at the past."
The class has agreed to work on a collaborative fundraising effort along with the assignment. Plans are still up in the air, but the overall consensus is that the students want to help financially as well, whether it is through a baked goods sale or a dance party.
Shamar Theus, a 20-year-old environmental studies and sociology major at SF State, is Pinderhughes' teacher assistant who also helped develop the Haiti assignment. Theus, whose father is Haitian, jumped on the opportunity to assist with the assignment because of his desire to expand even his own understanding of his family history.
"This should go beyond responding to financial needs," Theus said. "This is about intellectually raising people's awareness just as much as raising money."
His interest in Haiti runs deep, and he ultimately hopes that this project will inform people about the history of the country that they may not have known otherwise.
Jennifer Furlong, a student in Pinderhughes' class, also has ties to Haiti. After visiting for two weeks in 2006 and assisting a friend that was working on a sustainable agriculture project for an orphanage, she quickly gained a different appreciation for the country she said most U.S. citizens know little about.
"People from the U.S. often make the mistake of traveling under [charitable] conditions thinking that they're going to do a lot of good in developing nations by their mere presence," Furlong said. "The truth is that I ended up taking a lot more than I was able to give."
Furlong is hoping that the class assignment will successfully bond fundraising efforts with direct action aimed at increasing awareness.
"The fact that most of us can't identify Haiti on a map is a problem that began long before the recent earthquake," Furlong said. "Education and awareness of our imprint on countries like Haiti will have longer-lasting effects."
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