THE BLOG

Walking in Another's Shoes: Paul Quinn College, Food Deserts and an Alternative Spring Break

02/21/2013 05:15 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2013
  • Marybeth Gasman Professor of Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education

For those who follow Black colleges and the happenings at these institutions, you are probably familiar with Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas. This small college has garnered an immense amount of media buzz due to the innovative thinking and actions of its president and students. For example, President Michael Sorrell turned the institution's football field into an organic farm, which produces food for the college and local South Dallas community, and is linked to a student entrepreneurship program. And, Paul Quinn students led a protest against the city's landfill expansion near the college -- asking the city council members why they support landfill expansion when the community does not have a grocery store or access to fresh food beyond what Paul Quinn College produces. Not only did the students learn how to use their voices for justice, they learned about the history of protest in low-income and minority communities.

Well, Paul Quinn College is doing innovative things once again. During the institution's spring break this year, the college is engaging in a learning experiment. Under the leadership of President Sorrell and President Phil Shubert of Abilene Christian University (ABU), 12 college students from both institutions will spend spring break living in the Paul Quinn residence halls. The Paul Quinn students are used to these facilities and not having access to life's necessities, let alone luxuries; the students from ABU may not be. In order to get food, the students will be walking or riding the bus or shopping at the multitude of convenience stores in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the nearest grocery store is over four miles from the entrance to campus. Moreover, the students will be using a per diem that equals a WIC daily allotment. Although this exercise is hands on, the students will also hone their writing skills during the week. They will keep journals chronicling the experience. And, they will be studying food deserts throughout the nation and their impact on low-income and minority populations.

This project was birthed out of a visit by students from Abilene Christian University made to Paul Quinn College several weeks ago. The coming together of two Christian institutions (Paul Quinn is African Methodist Episcopal and Abilene Christian University is a Church of Christ school) as well as one that is historically Black and one historically White should prove quite interesting. Students will likely gain lessons in race, economics, nutrition and health, endurance, and understanding. And hopefully, these lessons will not just pertain to the impact of hardship on the students themselves but will illuminate the difficulties and inequities faced by those low-income, people of color in the South Dallas Community. Lastly, perhaps this alternative spring break will bring attention from a grocery store chain and Paul Quinn and the people of South Dallas will no longer be in a food desert.