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Seeking Justice

By France Griggs Sloat

Three students in Xavier’s philosophy, politics and the public honors program took their studies on the road last summer. They were researching a consent decree involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture and efforts to make reparations for decades of unequal treatment of African-American farmers. Having already attended Congressional hearings in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., they spent the summer getting the other side of the story by interviewing farmers on their southern farms.

The decree was reached in the late 1980s with a class of black farmers, and the students wanted to document evidence from the farmers themselves. There have been allegations that some black farmers were unfairly denied loans or grants from programs set up by the court. Students built a web site with information about the issue last year. But a grant obtained by their instructor, Gene Beaupré, funded three sophomores—Joe Moorman, Mary Rose Miller and Courtney Hansman—to work on a video about the case as well. After videotaping legislators, the students went south to interview farmers. One interview takes place in the cotton fields belonging to a farmer and his son, who was told he didn’t have enough education to qualify for a loan, even though he has a four-year degree.

“That’s really the best example of someone who was deserving who didn’t receive a loan,” Miller says. After a lengthy appeal, the son prevailed. “Our main message is to raise awareness of the issue among the constituency and in Congress starting with college campuses.”

The students hope to air the video at conferences and schools across America.

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