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Purser Appointed Co-Director of Lender Center for Social Justice

April 19, 2022

SU News

Gretchen Purser

Gretchen Purser


Provost Gretchen Ritter announced today that Gretchen W. Purser, associate professor of sociology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, has been appointed co-director of the Lender Center for Social Justice.

To fulfill their enduring mission to develop ethical and courageous citizens, Marvin and Helaine Lender provided a generous $5 million gift to create a multidisciplinary center that would include research support, symposia, and faculty and student fellowships. The Lender Center for Social Justice launched in September 2018. Marcelle Haddix, associate provost for strategic initiatives and Distinguished Dean’s Professor of Literacy, Race and Justice in the School of Education, and Kendall Phillips, professor of communication and rhetorical studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, were named inaugural co-directors.

“Professor Purser’s perspective on social justice is rooted in her experience using qualitative and multi-method research approaches to better understand the root causes of work and labor disparities and a constellation of related issues,” says Ritter. “Her work on urban poverty, precarity, community-based action, law and punishment, and housing and homelessness will bring a fresh new perspective to the Lender Center’s work with students and faculty to address pressing social justice concerns.”

Purser’s research focuses on work and labor disparities, urban poverty, precarity, social theory, ethnography, community-based action, law and punishment, and housing and homelessness. Purser is also a member of the Maxwell School’s Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration Labor Studies working group, where she is the research director of the program’s Advocacy and Activism working group. In the community, Purser chairs the board of the Workers’ Center of Central New York. Known for her courses that connect scholarly knowledge with real-world experience, Purser received the Excellence in Graduate Education Faculty Recognition Award in 2020 and the Meredith Teaching Recognition Award in 2013. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Purser’s appointment will begin on July 1. She will serve alongside co-director James Haywood Rolling, Jr., professor of arts education in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and teaching and leadership in the School of Education, who was appointed co-director in September 2021. Purser succeeds Phillips, whose term ends on June 30.

“Professor Phillips’ enthusiasm for the Lender Center and its mission has resulted in a four-year track record of quality research and programming, which expanded its reach through virtual symposia and presentations during the pandemic,” said Ritter. “I am grateful for his leadership and the continuity he has provided during these transitions.”

When founded, the Lender Center was administered by the School of Education. When Haddix was named associate provost for strategic initiatives, the administration of the Lender Center moved to Academic Affairs. “In talking to faculty and students across Syracuse University, it quickly became clear that there are vibrant social justice initiatives in almost every college, school and program,” says Ritter. “Given the breadth of these efforts, it makes sense to place the Lender Center under the umbrella of Academic Affairs, where it complements the social difference, social justice research cluster. As part of a portfolio of academic community outreach, the center’s student and faculty-driven programming will be an important way for the University to connect with the community.”

“Working with Kendall Phillips to imagine and set up the center’s initial programs was a great experience, as we each brought our own disciplinary perspectives to the work. Each new co-director brings their life experience and disciplinary lens to the position, resulting in a rich research environment for student and faculty fellows,” says Haddix.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity for continued collaboration with the Lender Center,” she added. “Professors Purser and Rollings offer rich perspectives and I am excited to see what their collaboration brings.”

By Ellen de Graffenreid

Published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective


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