Aug. 10, 2016

Major grant expands Center for the Study of Inequality

A recent, $10 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies to Cornell’s Center for the Study of Inequality (CSI) will support new research and educational opportunities focused on the causes and consequences of inequality.

“CSI has been extremely successful over the past 16 years, but this grant allows it to ramp up activities in a way that is incredibly exciting for all the social sciences at Cornell,” said Gretchen Ritter ’83, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences.

“The rise in inequality is one of the major social changes of our time, and has been enormously consequential for so many people and in so many different ways,” said Kim Weeden, CSI director and the Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor in the Social Sciences. “The new grant will support new research in three core areas of inequality scholarship: inequality and democracy; social mobility and equality of opportunity; and immigration, race and ethnicity.”

The grant will help recruit additional faculty and postdocs to Cornell. The first CSI faculty fellows joined Cornell this summer: Filiz Garip, professor of sociology, an expert on immigration and migration; and Vida Maralani, associate professor of sociology, who studies the concentration of disadvantages in health, education and income in families and how it persists across generations.

Increased support for research is another component of the grant, Weeden said.

“This fall, we will launch a new grant program to support faculty research and, indirectly, graduate student training,” she said. “The goal is to advance intellectually ambitious projects that address the root causes of inequality, not just its symptoms.”

These projects are often too risky for external funders, Weeden said, but have the potential for huge payoff down the road.

The grant also supports activities to increase the impact of research.

“CSI wants to help Cornell scholars reach a broader audience, and to create a two-way dialogue between academics and policy makers, community organizers and civic leaders who are dealing with some of the effects of inequality on the ground,” she said. “This is very much consistent with Cornell’s identity as a top tier, publically engaged research institution.”

CSI will continue to offer its cross-college minor in inequality studies, which last year enrolled 235 students and graduated 100. The new grant will increase opportunities for the minors to work with faculty and graduate students on research. “Many of our minors are eager for these opportunities,” Weeden said, “and this grant will help CSI meet more of this demand.”

The first major event funded by the grant will be a Nov. 16 talk by MacArthur Foundation award winner Matthew Desmond of Harvard University, who will speak about his best-selling ethnographic research on eviction and poverty. CSI will invite representatives from local government and community organizers who are wrestling with the dearth of affordable housing in Tompkins and neighboring counties. Desmond’s visit is also supported by the University Lectures Committee and the Institute for the Social Sciences.

CSI will continue to support domestic and global research activities. The grant from Atlantic Philanthropies will link CSI to a network of inequality centers around the world, including centers at the London School of Economics and the University of Cape Town.

“These center affiliations will create a network of scholars and students around the globe who can learn from each other, and advance the common goal of understanding inequality in all its complexity,” Weeden said.

CSI will also continue to work closely with the Cornell Population Center and faculty in departments throughout Cornell to build interdisciplinary connections. “Disciplinary specialization can be efficient in some contexts,” Weeden said, “but not when sociologists, economists, political scientists and other social scientists are asking the same questions about inequality.”

Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.