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Lender Center Fellows Following Weissman’s Vision for Food Justice
Stop hunger in Syracuse.
In its simplest form, that was Evan Weissman’s vision and why he pursued the Lender Center Faculty Fellowship. Weissman, an associate professor in Food Studies and Nutrition in the Falk College, wanted to use the fellowship to determine if the food systems in Syracuse were meeting the needs of the community, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sadly, Weissman died unexpectedly last April. In collaboration and consultation with Falk College and local food system representatives, the Lender Center chose Weissman’s close friend and colleague, Jonnell Robinson, to continue the fellowship in Weissman’s name. And this past fall, the Lender Center selected the six student fellows who will ensure that Weissman’s passion for advancing food justice in Syracuse will live on.
“I don’t think we have a single meeting,” says student fellow Avalon Gupta VerWiebe, “where we haven’t talked about Evan and his vision and the work he was doing.”
Robinson, an associate professor of geography and the environment in the Maxwell School, said the fellows are fully aware of Weissman’s legacy and are “motivated to do something that is impactful in his memory.”
“I did not have the chance to meet Dr. Weissman, unfortunately, but I have heard such positive and inspirational stories about him and his impact on both SU students and the City of Syracuse,” fellow Nicky Kim says. “Knowing that Dr. Robinson and a few of my student fellows that I’ll be working with were so close to Evan has deepened my understanding of purpose in this fellowship.”
This is the second Lender Faculty Fellowship, and there is a two-year timetable that allows the faculty fellow and student fellows to spend a year identifying issues and the next year trying to address them. The 2021-22 Lender Center student fellows are:
- Phoebe Ambrose (junior): food studies and citizenship and civic engagement double major, Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, sustainable food enterprises minor; member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program
- Shiori Green (senior): architecture major, School of Architecture; member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program
- Anna Gugerty (junior): linguistics and environment, sustainability and policy (ILM) major, College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, food studies and Spanish double minor
- Avalon Gupta VerWiebe (first-year graduate): food studies master’s candidate, Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics
- Nicky Kim (freshman): citizenship and civic engagement and policy studies major, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Spanish minor
- Taylor Krzeminski (first-year graduate): public diplomacy and global communications master’s candidate, Newhouse School of Public Communications, and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, pursuing certificate of Advanced Studies in Women’s and Gender Studies; who had been a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program as an undergraduate
Lender Center Co-Director Marcelle Haddix, Dean’s Professor in the School of Education, says she was pleased that the fellowship attracted interest from students from throughout the campus.
“The student fellows reflect diverse experiences in food justice work that are both academically and community-engaged focused,” Haddix says. “It will be a unique and generative opportunity for the student fellows to participate in a community-engaged food justice project from an interdisciplinary perspective.”
Led by Robinson, the fellows will work closely with the Syracuse Onondaga Food System Alliance (SOFSA) to identify food justice projects that Robinson says are “both compelling for students and necessary for SOFSA.” The fellows will help tackle a growing problem exacerbated by the pandemic as Syracuse reflects the national average of 1 in 8 households that are food insecure.
“As a guest in the city of Syracuse, I believe it is my duty to educate myself more on the issues facing local residents as well as engage with the community to dismantle oppressive systems that disproportionately affect BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) community members,” says Kim, who is from Oakland, California. “Additionally, I learn best when connecting readings to real-life situations and consequently implementing solutions or action plans to address those issues.”
Robinson says the fellows are already working with community partners to host a virtual food justice symposium that will feature a day of panel discussions and presentations —and include a ceremony to honor Weissman’s contributions to food justice in the community. Weissman was also recently honored as an Unsung Hero at the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
The fellows will work with SOFSA on activities that SOFSA outlined in a grant proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture. SOFSA did receive the grant, and SOFSA Facilitator Maura Ackerman, who wrote most of the grant application, told Robinson she was “channeling Evan and incorporated pieces of his prior writing about what SOFSA should inspire to do.”
Robinson says the fellows are also planning to conduct research that will assess how some school districts in New York State have managed to create farm-to-school partnerships and how the Syracuse City School District, which offers free breakfast and lunch to its nearly 21,000 students—can participate in a similar program.
“Our hope is to help (the district) assess how other schools in New York State have managed to get through the bureaucratic hurdles needed for that kind of partnership,” Robinson says. “It would be fabulous for the kids and the farmers to be able to get more fresh produce into the schools in the city.”
VerWiebe, who has a strong community organizing background, says these projects and others will provide the fellows with an opportunity to connect the academic world with the real-world issue of hunger.
“That community participation is something that academia sometimes struggles with and blending those two together creates a powerful structure for change to be carried out based in research and the needs of the community,” VerWiebe says. “That’s what I’m seeing the most (from the fellowship), and I look forward to getting that experience and taking my education at Syracuse out into the world and following in the footsteps of Dr. Weissman and Jonnell and the great work they have done.”
About the Lender Center
The Lender Center for Social Justice was established in 2018 and is managed and housed in the School of Education. The center is host to activities and programming, including multidisciplinary conversations related to issues of social justice and collaborations with other University units to promote a robust dialogue about issues of justice, equity and inclusion.