“Rural areas have unique issues,” according to Lane Riley, keynote speaker at this year’s Carolina Undergraduate Social Science Symposium (CUSSS), hosted by Lander University.
She should know. After graduating from Lander in 2012, with degrees in sociology and Spanish, Riley spent five years doing community development work in the Mississippi Delta, which has the highest rate of poverty in the U.S.
She said that “poverty affects everything else,” including access to housing, healthcare, grocery stores, public transportation, the Internet and banking services.
Shortfalls in banking services open the door to payday lenders, the subject of her thesis at Delta State University, from which she earned a master’s degree in community development in 2020.
“If you don’t have a bank, or if you don’t have a credit union, you’re more likely to use substandard banking options,” she said.
Riley, who has continued her community development work as associate coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina, said that payday lending flourishes here just as it does in Mississippi, with lenders often charging exorbitant interest rates on loans.
She called it “predatory, that you’re charging a 950 percent interest rate on a loan for someone who’s vulnerable and needs cash.” When she learned that the South Carolina legislature was considering a bill that would cap interest rates at 36 percent, she said, “I knew I had to get on board, and I knew I had to get my organization on board.”
Another thing that Riley is passionate about is her work with the Lowcountry Housing Rural Taskforce, which she started in an effort to increase housing options in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Jasper and Hampton counties.
“We’re educating ourselves about challenges and opportunities in these areas, advocating for the equitable allocation of housing resources, and creating innovative solutions that address housing priorities,” she said.
As an undergraduate at Lander, Riley took part in two CUSSS events, which provide undergraduate students the opportunity to present research they did in their classes in a professional setting. This year’s event, which Lander hosted for the first time since 2014, featured the work of 41 students from seven schools in two states, representing a dozen different social science majors.
Lander Assistant Professor of Sociology Dr. Zach Rubin, who served as organizer of this year’s conference, called it “a rousing success.”
He said that hosting such an event allows Lander to “show off what our students are capable of doing, and has a positive impact on the school’s reputation across the state. It also allows for professional, interdisciplinary networking, as faculty from many of the schools came with their students to support them, and ended up making connections with their peers at other institutions.”