Jessi Russell is the research assistant on CLASP’s Income and Work Supports (IWS) team. They graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in English and political science. Their thesis entitled Greased, which received the Dorchester prize for best thesis in the English department, combined archival, oral, and political histories, critiques of contemporary benefits programs, and elements of memoir to tell a scathing, but singular, story of intergenerational poverty in East Tennessee. The collection of nonfiction essays invited people like the stubborn, often-hateful, and always-hungry grandmother who raised them to trace the anti-Black history of public benefits programs that built an exclusive, disproportionately white middle class.
Immediately prior to joining CLASP, Jessi founded a large-scale mutual aid fund for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students evicted, displaced, or otherwise concerned for their financial well-being because of COVID-19. The fund ultimately raised and redistributed more than $375,000 to 350+ students. They were quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and Business Insider for the community organizing effort, as well as consulted by student groups across the United States developing similar mutual aid funds. Their most recent position was with RESULTS, a citizen’s lobby organization, where they reported on topics ranging from Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) and SNAP Emergency Allotments (EAs) to the Black and Indigenous roots of guaranteed income as a policy proposal.