Professor William Julius Wilson, the next convocation speaker, was once described by Dean Joseph Nye of Harvard as “one of the most remarkable scholars of our time.” Wilson is a Harvard professor, a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as past president of the Consortium of Social Science Associations and the American Sociological Association.
Professor John Brandenburger, chair of Lawrence’s public occasions committee, says that convocation speakers are chosen because they are “people who think about things we need to think about.”
Wilson definitely qualifies as one of those people. He has written numerous books on the issues around poverty, from his 1978 work, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions, to his 1996 book, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, which was honored as one of the most notable books of that year.
Although it may seem at first glance as though Wilson’s work mainly focuses on African Americans, a closer look reveals his broader concern for all people in poorer urban areas.
In a recent interview with New River Media, Wilson discussed the relationship between male unemployment and single-parent families in urban areas. Wilson said, “We found that employed fathers were two-and-a-half times more likely to marry the mother of their first child than jobless fathers… the lack of jobs among males is definitely associated with the growth of single-parent families.”
Throughout his career, Wilson has been engaged in various projects concerning urban issues and poverty, such as examinations of the effects of social status on achievement and examinations of race relations in urban neighborhoods. He has continually fought to show that there is no connection between race and poverty and its associated social problems.
In his latest book, The Bridge over the Racial Divide, Wilson explains that the prejudices working class people of different races have about each other prevent them from joining together as a whole working class to pass legislation that could benefit everyone. This legislation would include strengthening of current social support systems and possible additions, such as mandatory child-care assistance laws.
Wilson will give his lecture on “Welfare, Children, and Families: The Impact of Welfare Reform in the New Economy” May 22 at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. This event is open to the public, as is the 2 p.m. question-and-answer session in Riverview Lounge.