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K-State Today

August 2, 2011

Sociologist presents research at national conference

By Spencer Wood

Spencer D. Wood, assistant professor of sociology, concluded his term as chair of the Sociology of Food and Agriculture Research Interest Group at the recent joint meetings of the Rural Sociological Society and Community Development Society.

Wood presented his paper, "Hiding Inconvenient Truths: Disparities in the U.S. Department of Agriculture." In his paper, Wood argues that the Department of Agriuclture has hidden a key contracted report known as the Miller Disparity Study. The report is in reference to a decades-old civil rights settlement known as Pigford v. Glickman. The settlement was recently overtaken by a follow-on settlement known as Keepseagle, the largest class-action civil rights settlement in the history of the country. Almost $2.5 billion was allocated to compensate the approximately 40,00 black farmers who endured and substantiated discrimination that occurred in county USDA offices. This discrimination occurred when the civil rights office of the USDA were unstaffed and unable to respond to their grievances. Many farmers were denied loans, received tardy delivery of loans or were otherwise treated unfairly due to their race. Consequently, they experienced economic hardship that threatened or harmed their farm enterprises.

Wood shows that this is not the first time the department has hidden significant research by pointing to the widely acclaimed Walter Goldschmidt study, "As You Sow," and the important agency history, "Century of Service." Both reports were either suppressed entirely and later uncovered or printed and not distributed. Concealing the 1996 Miller Report served to draw out the resolution process in Pigford and ultimately denied the claimants' access to significant findings that would have strengthened their cases.