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History, public policy and wine

MSMU students in Steve Inrig’s class uncork deeper truths at the intersection of cultural transformation, social justice, and public policy.

March 1, 2022

Who doesn’t love learning about history and public policy and — wine? During a winery tour, Steve Inrig, PhD, became aware that wine was made by workers who couldn’t afford healthcare. He couldn’t stop thinking about contemporary issues of health and well-being embedded in today’s winemaking businesses.
Who doesn’t love learning about history and public policy and — wine? During a winery tour, Steve Inrig, PhD, became aware that wine was made by workers who couldn’t afford healthcare. He couldn’t stop thinking about contemporary issues of health and well-being embedded in today’s winemaking businesses.

Ever wonder what goes into a glass of wine? MSMU students in Steve Inrig’s class uncork deeper truths at the intersection of cultural transformation, social justice, and public policy. 

Inrig, PhD, is a healthcare policy researcher at the Mount and teaches courses in political science, global politics, and public policy. Several years ago, on a tour of a Napa winery, he learned about a nonprofit clinic that served the vineyard workers. 

An animated lecturer, Steve Inrig, PhD, uses lots of hand gestures and a full range of facial emotions to keep his students engaged. He's passionate about the intersectionality of health care, history and public policy.
An animated lecturer, Steve Inrig, PhD, uses lots of hand gestures and a full range of facial emotions to keep his students engaged. He's passionate about the intersectionality of health care, history and public policy.

He’d already been thinking about the parallels between the history of U.S. colonization and the growth of California’s wine industry — and the devastating impact those events had on indigenous populations. However, in becoming aware that the wine he wanted to enjoy was made by workers who couldn’t afford healthcare, Inrig couldn’t help thinking about contemporary issues of health and well-being embedded in today’s winemaking businesses. And that was a connection he wanted to share with his students. 

Building on his previous research with women farm workers, Inrig started looking at the women who work in California’s vineyards. “They’re in communities where they are vulnerable to abuse and discrimination, but there are no levers from a policy perspective for protection.” 

For the past few years, Inrig’s students have been analyzing interviews conducted by a group in Texas with more than 100 women working in the wine industry. Because every interview asks the same set of questions, they’re perfect for teaching research methods. Students have analyzed these interviews to discover what the answers have in common and where they differ. “One of the most interesting themes they’ve identified is that women find themselves discriminated against in a variety of ways. Women of color have overlapping layers of discrimination related to race as well as gender — and discrimination against sexual minorities also comes into play,” reports Inrig.

The work students are doing in Inrig’s class overlaps nicely with the #MeToo movement and with the Mount’s own “Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California,” a comprehensive annual publication about to produce its 11th edition. In addition to research and analysis, students also work on drafting policy-level solutions. Because of how political and polarized our society has become, Inrig has his students come up with four possible options for every problem they identify. “I want them to understand there can be more than one viable solution. We may disagree on which option is the best, but if we’ve done our work carefully, we can recognize that we’re both trying to solve this problem. We don’t have to demonize each other for our differing opinions.”

So far, Inrig says no one has accused him of ruining wine for them. “They do start to be more mindful in the way they interact with people and consider what kinds of injustices may lay underneath products they like.” Ultimately, Inrig hopes this work will trigger a sense of self-reflection in his students. “I want them to recognize that there are cultural and societal systems and structures in place that need to be solved at a policy level and to realize that our personal practices and how we vote actually matter.”