Students and faculty gathered at Lane Hall Thursday for “Feminism and the Politics of Welfare,” a lecture sponsored by the University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
University alum Premilla Nadasen, an associate professor of history at Queens College and a visiting associate professor at Barnard College, delivered the presentation.
Nadasen is also the award-winning author of “Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States.” Her book focuses on the interactions between race, gender, social policy and labor history.
The lecture was part of a series focusing on the institute’s theme of poverty, inequality and how they relate to women and gender.
Nadasen said conservative think tanks help to perpetuate terms such as “food stamp fraud” and “welfare cheat.” She argued that these pejorative terms are used to enable incorrect notions claiming that public assistance is inherently corrupt and fosters dependency.
The issue of criminality in the welfare system dominates news headlines and political debates even though studies show that food-stamp fraud is rare, Nadasen said. Fraud wastes only about 1 percent of the program’s funds, but public backlash against welfare fraud has had profoundly detrimental effects for the welfare system.
“Although the outcry about fraud is not based in reality, the political discourse about fraud serves a purpose,” Nadasen said. “ It justifies cutback; it taints government programs as corrupt, and it stigmatizes receipts of public assistance.”
Nadasen added that one of the crucial developments during the welfare rights movement was the evolution of feminist consciousness.
“It was through the process of building a movement that came to espouse a distinctive brand of feminism,” Nadasen said. “This combined an analysis of race, class, gender, sexuality and social welfare policy,” Nadasen said.
In an interview before her address, Nadasen said that her passion for studying welfare was sparked during her time as an undergraduate, when she was involved in anti-Apartheid and anti-racist organizations on campus.
“It was at Michigan that I found my passion for social justice, my interest in feminism and my interest in issues of race,” Nadasen said. “I have a very special place in my heart for Michigan, and I think it’s an important institution for people engaging in political activism and speaking about the bigger world around them.”
Heidi Bennett, special events planner for the Institute of Research on Women and Gender, said Nadasen’s work on welfare exemplified the institute’s theme semester on poverty and inequality.
“It’s a relevant time to look and see what has changed what has gotten better and how far we have to go.”