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Lecture Explores Plight of Poor Women in Inner City

Women, Poverty and Mental Health

A lecture at the Institute for Women and Girls
explored the plight of poor women in the inner city

Decades of disease, addiction and death have permanently scarred many women living in low-income, urban neighborhoods. That was the message delivered by Mindy Thompson Fullilove, M.D., in the inaugural lecture of the Graduate School of Social Service’s Institute for Women and Girls. This presentation was part of the yearlong Sapienta et Doctrina series, celebrating the inauguration of Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University.

In her presentation titled “Women, Poverty and Mental Health,” Fullilove recalled watching an endless wave of disease and addiction roll over upper Manhattan and the South Bronx in the 1980s and 1990s. The rampant use and sale of heroin and crack, the explosion of AIDS and burgeoning rates of violence, she said, all fed off each other and contributed to high levels of depression, addiction and obesity in the community, especially among women.

Members of the Department of Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham: Chaya Piotrkowski, professor (far left); Dr. Mindy Fullilove; Peter Vaughan, dean; Elaine Congress, associate dean; and Judith Smith, associate professor

“These catastrophes added up, and they continue to take their toll,” said Fullilove, a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at the New York Institute of Psychiatry at Columbia University.

Through the years, some inner-city poor women have seen their children put in prison and their families and friends murdered. In many cases, said Fullilove, they, too, have succumbed to addiction. Their lives have been twisted in all ways imaginable. But while they may try to return to their former selves, they can never fully recapture their true form.

Elaine Congress, D.S.W., associate dean of GSS, said inner-city social service programs that provide educational and job training, childcare and drug treatment offer some hope to women facing such enormous challenges. But it’s going to take a community-wide effort to bring about large-scale change.

“Through this event and other programs sponsored by the Women's Institute,” said Congress, “we hope to make others in the Fordham community, as well as in our metropolitan area, more aware of the systemic problems that women face.”

Following Fullilove’s lecture, an interdisciplinary panel of Fordham professors discussed the relationship between women, poverty and mental health. Participating were Janis Barry, Ph.D., associate professor of economics; Anahid Kassabian, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications and media studies; and Ann Moynihan, J.D., associate clinical professor of law.

— Michael Larkin

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