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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

College Students Get An ‘A’ For Their Interest In Social Justice, Author Says

CHICAGO – If anyone has an excuse to be cynical about the contemporary world, it’s Barbara Ehrenreich. The author and social critic has looked long and hard at persistent inequities based on race, class and gender.

But Ehrenreich, who is wrapping up a three-week stint at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said she’s upbeat – thanks in large part to the college students with whom she’s constantly in contact.

“They’re a big source of inspiration and renewal for me,” said Ehrenreich, who was a guest lecturer in the course titled “The University and the Public Sphere: Public Intellectuals and Their Social Influence,” taught by Stanley Fish, dean of UIC’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“So many young people are really interested in social change,” Ehrenreich added. That is in sharp contract to previous decades, she said, when college students seemed to grow more timid and conservative after the riotous 1960s. “The real low point was the 1980s. There was the anti-apartheid movement but little activism beyond that. But it’s changed dramatically since then.”

Now, Ehrenreich said, students are energized by issues such as the exploitation of workers in poor countries and low pay for workers on American college campuses. Other issues are waiting in the wings, she added, that may galvanize college students.

“I think if we continue the foreign policy path of seeming to look for more fights around the globe, there will be a new anti-war movement as well.”

In addition to UIC, Ehrenreich has taught and lectured in the past several months at institutions such as Berkeley, Harvard, Queens College, Wheaton College, the University of Michigan and the University of Houston.

Her essays appear regularly in Time and Harper’s magazines and other national publications. Her most recent book is “Nickel and Dimed: A Journalist Reports on Low-Wage America,” in which she describes her experiences as a minimum-wage worker. Ehrenreich’s writing is lucid and forthright, with a passionate indignation over systematic injustice that simmers just beneath the smooth surface. She combines the rhetorical elegance of a great prose stylist with the fighting spirit of an old-fashioned muckracker.

Her next book, an anthology titled “Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy,” co-edited by Arlie Hochschild, will be published in September.

“We’ve become such a class-divided society, with such gaps between the wealthy and the middle class, and the middle class and the poor,” she said. “The total unfairness of it is hard to grasp.”

Students, though, are willing to tackle tough social issues, Ehrenreich said. And she feeds off their energy. “It’s always interesting to see ideas refracted through the minds of younger people. It keeps me going.”