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Community engagement through Farmworker Awareness Week

Last week, Rollins’ annual Farmworker Awareness Week was hosted by the Honors 202 class “Global Cultures” with help from JUMP. Dr. Rachel Newcomb, Professor of this Honors course, was inspired to take charge of the week through past Immersions to the Hope CommUnity Center and the Farmworker’s Association. “As one of the directors of the Honors program, I am always looking for ways to infuse community engagement into the Honors curriculum. The Apopka community organizations, Farmworker Association and HOPE Community Center, have been de facto neighborhood partners, and we’ve had several immersion trips in that area where students have learned more about the challenges farmworkers face in their lives.” She decided her “Global Cultures” class was the perfect way to promote a dialogue and education about farmworkers this year. “I knew they would do an amazing job publicizing farmworker issues during Farmworker Awareness week.”

In conjunction with universities and organizations throughout the nation, the “Global Cultures” class hosted several events throughout the week to promote farmworkers’ visibility and provide aid to them. A long-sleeve shirt drive was conducted by a group of students; these shirts are important commodities, as they help limit farmworkers’ exposure to the sun and pesticides. The documentary which showed on Thursday, March 30, Harvest of Shame, illustrated this need in a new light. “I was a part of the group that organized the documentary showing. I am glad we could offer an inside look, through Harvest of Shame, at the difficult lives of these farmworkers. Even though it was made years ago, it was like we were seeing footage from today,” said Katie Pearce, ’19. Farmworkers in the film faced terrible working conditions—went without proper bathrooms, water, and protection from harmful pesticides—and received pay insufficient to purchase basic housing, nutritious food, or proper care for their children.

The farmworkers’ hard work in spite of these conditions was exemplified in a showing of Danny Franco’s photography, which was exhibited on the television screen outside Olin Library and in the Campus Center’s Bieberbach-Reed room. Morgan Snoap ’20 stated, “…my group organized [the] photography exhibit… Danny’s photographs showed various images from a farmworker’s day in the fields. His images are incredibly beautiful, and… bring further awareness to the farmworkers in America that literally feed the country. Go follow him on Instagram @danny_creative_stories.”

There were also several tabling events in the Campus Center throughout the week. One was the “Farmer’s Market,” an ironically-named event explaining the unfairness of farmworkers’ pay. Other events served to educate students or to encourage them to write their senators and signing petitions to improve conditions for farmworkers.

Overall, the tabling proved to be a success. One of the helpers, Shannon Sullivan ’20, reflected, “I think it is really important that Rollins acknowledges the farm working community that has provided us with so much and even works and lives in close proximity to our college…. we had a fair amount of people interested in learning more about farmworkers’ wages, especially within Florida.” Maliha Qureshi ’20, another student involved in tabling, stated, “We are really grateful we have such a platform, here at Rollins, to be able to spread awareness about the farmworkers who help us get the goods that we use every day. Farmworker Awareness Week is just a small thing we as a community can be a part of to bring awareness to the injustices that these vital people face so we can live our privileged lives.”

When asked what students can do to help, Dr. Newcomb responded, “Be aware of specific campaigns led by groups like Farmworker Association and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers to make lives better for farmworkers, to receive a decent wage for their work, and limit their exposure to pesticides.” Why should students and staff care? “We should care about farmworkers because they plant, grow, and harvest our food for us, and they do the work nobody else wants to do, for prices most people would refuse to be paid,” said Dr. Newcomb. While waiting for another eventful National Farmworker Awareness Week next year, keep your eyes open for ways you can help your local farmworkers year-round.

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