John Eason, MPP'02, Wins MiPPS Alumni Award

The winner of the 13th annual Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MiPPS) Alumni Award is Texas A&M sociology professor John Major Eason, MPP’02. The award, dedicated to Chicago Harris alumni who have demonstrated excellence in their areas of professional study, was presented at a ceremony and reception MiPPS hosted at Hotel Palomar on May 21. According to MiPPS President Tangela Feemster, a second-year MPP student, “This reception was all about recognizing Professor Eason and celebrating our alumni, because they are the weight behind the Chicago Harris brand.”

MiPPS selected Eason as its 2015 recipient because of his rare insight into the prison-industrial complex and his exemplary contributions to policies that address racial disparities and the concept of the hyper-ghetto. His most recent work focuses on prisons that are built in communities with fewer than 50,000 people and how this illuminates the economy of rural populations. In his introductory remarks, Chicago Harris Deputy Dean and Distinguished Professor Kerwin Charles stated that out of “the many awards we give as a group, this is, to me, one of the best.” 

Eason’s speech raised a series of important questions: “What does a town look like if it wants a prison, and what do we give to rural communities to decrease incarceration rates? Moreover, who are the winners and losers in these rural communities based on existing policies, and how can future decisions compensate for the pervasive and extreme disadvantages that persist? Good research has only created more questions.” 

Eason’s research ties together measures of efficiency and equity in ways that seek to mitigate racial disparities in rural communities and prisons. He is exploring, for example, whether an increase in the number of prisons in rural communities is associated with a decrease in the Gross State Product (GSP). His research provides insight into specific factors that drive criminal activity and identifying resolutions to these issues outside of prison facilities. These findings have the potential to reduce racial disparities in prisons, but also improve the rural economy in which these problems arise.

The program also included recognition of the current MiPPS board members, with brief remarks by Director of Student Programs Maggie DeCarlo on the success of events that MiPPS hosted over the past year. These events included panels with Illinois Democratic State Representatives Marcus C. Evans Jr. (33rd District) and Arthur Turner (9th District) and a Black History Month discussion series on policy topics tied to the civil rights movement. During the spring, the organization hosted a talk with Chicago City Clerk Susan Mendoza and a forum that focused on media portrayal of Asian Americans. 

Board leaders also shared plans to present For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide. The play, made up of seven monologues by African-American women, marries the arts of music, dance, and storytelling to grapple with a myriad of societal and personal issues ranging from rape to the importance of self-realization and community. MiPPS intends to collaborate with undergraduate and graduate student organizations to produce the performance, which can be expected next spring. Donations will be collected to benefit nonprofits that serve at-risk women. The theatrical presentation is sure to garner attention about growing policy concerns around gender and race. 

In her closing remarks, newly elected MiPPS President Nohely Arteaga stated that the agenda of the organization for the next school year will be to enhance programming, increase active membership and alumni engagement, and collaborate with other student groups across campus.

"In designing our strategic plan for 2015-2016, Leila Pree, Vice President of MiPPS, and I made a conscious effort to cultivate programming that would encourage active membership," Arteaga said. "I personally hope that co-sponsoring events that confront underrepresentation in higher education, honor the service of minority veterans, and dispel the model minority myth will propel students, faculty, staff, and alumni to lend their skills, networks, and time to ensure the longevity of MiPPS." 

An important presence in the University of Chicago community, MiPPS was founded 2000 to deal with increasing equity issues in the policy realm. Through its events, it also strives to redress inequitable policies for all minorities represented within the Harris community and beyond.

—Shaun Edwards, MPP’15