Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Jones Scholar Gwendolyn Murray Finds Global Issues To Be Local Too

November 13th, 2010

By: Shearon Roberts

Photo: Gwen works with student Gavin Meyer at the Urban League. (Photo courtesy of Gwen Murray)

Gwendolyn Murray may have initially set her sights on working with marginalized youth in a global setting, particularly in Latin America. However, after a year working with New Orleans public school students as a tutor, and now as a 2010-2011 Tulane Jones Scholar, Murray has become invested in working with marginalized youth here in New Orleans. The Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane awards financial stipends through the Eugenie and Joseph Jones Family Foundation to pair students with New Orleans public high schools or non-profit educational programs to conduct civic work.

“This work has created a tension in me,” said Murray, a Stone Center PhD student in Latin American Studies. “I do have a global focus, but it was not enough to simply be sensitive to issues going on in this city, I needed to do something.”

That something Murray became drawn to was working in 2009 with the Urban League’s College Track program, tutoring students from low-income communities through an after-school program. As a Jones Scholar, Murray now serves as that program’s College Affairs Director. She manages curriculum for 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students, organizes the advisers for the students, coordinates college tours and recruiter visits, and helps the students navigate the process for admission to college.

“It’s really fulfilling work, but its hard work, hard work that needs to be done,” Murray said. Although Murray grew up in Seattle, Washington, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College, she became invested in New Orleans when she pursued her master’s degree at Tulane at the Stone Center. Like her native Seattle, she saw how education could be a path for low-income students to advance. She became concerned that New Orleans was a place where the wealthy can pay for good private schools, but others were forced into a cyclically under-resourced public school system.

“I will never be able to wrap my mind around the fact that people don’t realize that education is the single most socially-constructed barrier to opening opportunities for low-income children,” Murray said. “In the city of New Orleans, mostly white and wealthy kids go to private, Catholic schools, and black children and Latin American immigrants go to public schools, perpetuating the social design of the city.”

Working with College Track, Murray wants to ensure that minority children firstly graduate from high school, can meet the requirements to get into colleges, and are prepared to complete college as well.

While Murray has studied media, democracy and development in Brazil for her master’s degree at the Stone Center, her work with the Urban League has brought her to consider splitting her energy on research and work in education in global and urban settings. Ideally, a career with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would be her first bet for advancing such work. Murray said it is important to mix the practical work in a local community, be it in New Orleans, or in Latin America, with her academic studies – a primary goal of the Jones Scholar program.

“It’s easy to get sucked into the narcissistic academic world,” Murray said. “I really felt that I wasn’t engaged with the community and this is what it is about for me. I’m definitely very invested.”