"Poverty & Justice": Weichbrodt and Wescher Discuss Approaches to Poverty

On the Friday evenings of February 9th and 23rd, prospective students got the opportunity to experience what Covenant does best: thoughtful engagement with the world emboldened by Christian commitments. A recently added feature of scholarship weekends, faculty discussions invite prospective students, parents, and current students to watch faculty members talk about what they love to teach. In one such faculty colloquia, lovingly nicknamed “Artonomics,” Dr. Weichbrodt and Dr. Wescher combined their respective disciplines to help students understand why we think what we think about poverty.

Dr. Weichbrodt’s section of the lecture was spent exploring the idea of a “visual archive.” Like a personal Google Image register, everyone has a mental filing system for all the images they have ever seen. When people look at a painting or a photograph for the first time, they subconsciously compare it to similar images they have seen before. As an example, Dr. Weichbrodt showed her audience the photograph “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange. She explained the audience’s sympathetic response to the photograph was no mistake; the way Lange structured the photo references a visual history of innocent women holding children, tracing all the way back to the common depiction of the Madonna and child.

Dr. Weichbrodt emphasized the role your visual archive plays when you interact with poverty. We have a preconceived notion (or picture in our archive) of what “undeserving” poverty looks like, and if someone falls out of these bounds, we are less sympathetic towards them. These stereotypes are so ingrained into our brain that often we don’t realize when we are relying on them.

To help the audience better understand the reality of poverty, Dr. Wescher presented several studies contradicting common assumptions about poverty — is poverty aid always less effective when in the form of cash? Does gentrification always improve the quality of a neighborhood?

Towards the end of the discussion, both professors fielded questions regarding how their faith influences what they study. Dr. Wescher called the pursuit of academic studies a “sanctifying experience.” Both professors believe asking themselves hard questions requires humility, but ultimately the practice inspires awe for God’s diverse creation. Here at Covenant, we experience this awe every day, through the study of art, economics, and every other subject.