PLUS Mugged at Gunpoint: A Victim’s Perspective » Page 24
Why molecular engineer Paul Nealey hates computers (And other notes from our new faculty) » Page 12
and Memories of a Surgeon and Savior: Donald Liu » Page 6
EDITORS’ NOTE Spring is around the corner. The thaw. With it come birdsong, high crime, and patio seating at the Seven-and-Ten. Never a better time to enjoy prizewinning enterprise journalism, we’d say. In this quarter’s cover story, Joy Crane and Hamid Bendaas show us Hyde Park through the eyes of local retailers, and uncover the hidden action behind a place that has been vacant for months: Third World Café on 53rd Street. The empty shop represents different things to different people—a lost opportunity for Robust Coffee Lounge owner Jacob Sapstein, a new venture for chef Matthias Merges, and a range of possibilities for the property owner, the University of Chicago. Similarly, Raghav Rao and Benjamin Pokross examine two University institutions that have great impact but little publicity: the Committee on Social Thought and the Office of Sustainability. With the Committee’s founding in 1941 and the Office’s just five years ago, Raghav and Ben examine the living culture of one organization and the burgeoning influence of another. William Wilcox takes us into the life of Dr. Donald Liu, chief of pediatric surgery at the Medical Center’s Comer Children’s Hospital, who drowned last year while rescuing two children from a riptide in Lake Michigan. His touching story explores the personal history of a man who devoted his whole career to helping youths, and died doing just that. This issue additionally includes a collection of five profiles of new faculty members, each one representing a different University department. Finally, Jon Catlin writes on being mugged at gunpoint on the Quad during the opening weeks of his first year. Looking back on the incident, Catlin reflects on crime, race, and the UCPD, as well as his role in landing the young perpetrator in prison. We hope you enjoy it. —Editors Adam Janofsky and Harunobu Coryne
STAFF H ARUNOBU C ORYNE A DAM J ANOFSKY J ORDAN L ARSON S HARAN S HETTY C OLIN B RADLEY S ONIA D HAWAN D OUGLAS E VERSON, J R. J AMIE M ANLEY S YDNEY C OMBS J ULIA R EINITZ T IFFANY T AN
E DI TO R S
MANAGI N G E DITO R DE S I GN P H OTO
A LICE BLACKWOOD L ISA FAN J EN X IA B EN Z IGTERMAN
CO PY E DITO RS
A LICE B UCKNELL B EN L ANGE
I L LU ST R ATO RS
T HE C HI C AG O M A R OON 12 12 EAST 59 t h ST R EET C HI C AG O, IL 6 0 615
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7 73 .8 3 4 .1611 e ditor@ch icagomaroon .co m C HIC AG OM A R OON .COM
The Committee on Social Thought by Raghav Rao
» Page 2
Remembering Doctor Liu by William Wilcox
» Page 6
The Way Things Work: Sustainability by Ben Pokross
» Page 9
Q&A: Five Fledgling Faculty by Adam Janofsky
» Page 12
Cover Story: The Road Ahead by Joy Crane and Hamid Bendaas
» Page 18
I Was Robbed (Or, Why We Need UCPD) by Jon Catlin
» Page 24
cover illustration: ben lange
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We Have Met the Committee and It Is They
By Raghav Rao Since 1941, the Committee on Social Thought has practiced the model of education envisioned by its co-founder, President Maynard Hutchins. It admits fewer than a dozen students every year. Most teach in the Core. Half end up leaving. Little else can be said about all of them.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP-RIGHT: John Nef and Charles MorazĂŠ, Saul Bellow, Stephen Toulmin, and Karl Weintraub
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The Committee on Social Thought is not a typical degree granting department. Nestled on the third floor of Foster Hall, it’s physically not much more than a single administrative office, a student lounge, and a coffee machine. Its persona, however, is much bigger: For over 70 years, this small interdisciplinary program has been associated with some of UChicago’s most influential thinkers, from Saul Bellow to Hannah Arendt. Although its students must write dissertations and teach undergraduate courses, the Committee operates on a different model than other graduate programs. For starters, it’s rumored that only 50 percent of students receive a Ph.D., while the other half leave with an ABD— Committee slang for “All But Dissertation.” But, unlike departments in the humanities and sciences, there is no negative connotation associated with dropping out. Some Committee students discover their true callings through the course of their study, like Madeline Miller, who left the program to publish an award-winning novel, The Song of Achilles, in 2011. Additionally, the Committee’s degree structure is highly nontraditional. Students start by selecting and intensively studying twelve to fifteen fundamental books that inform the issues they want to write about.
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Sometime during their second or third years they take a week-long qualifying exam on a selection of these books. On average, it takes a student between seven and nine years to obtain a degree. The unstructured nature of the Committee means that students have highly individualized programs of studies. They are free to take classes in any department they see fit, from Germanic Studies to Comparative Literature to History. “As far as I can tell, I could take a yoga class if I wanted,” third-year graduate student Carly Lane said. One gets the feeling, when sitting in on the biweekly Literature and Philosophy workshop for instance, that “interdisciplinary” is more than a fashionable buzzword for Committee students. There is a certain quiet camaraderie in these workshops run by two Committee students. People from all departments—both graduate students and professors—seem intrigued by each other’s work, and they exchange comments, jokes, and critiques. Barriers between departments crumble and it’s understood that everyone is in the room because of a commitment to pursue knowledge in all its forms. Students are drawn to the Committee because they are “driven by a question, or a set of questions, or a problem that just
has no place in any other department,” Lane said. “You’re going to be pigeonholed elsewhere.” However, the lack of structure that gives them such freedom can also make it difficult to remain motivated. Dawn Helphand, a fifth-year graduate student studying forms of political freedom who has also completed an M.A. in the Humanities here, references a line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “To be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.” If lack of motivation persists, students turn to each other for support. “There’s a lot of mentoring and shadowing going on,” Lane said. “Even if it’s just help finding an apartment in Hyde Park.” As it can probably be gathered, the Committee’s social life is structured not by the institution but by the students themselves. “The thing about the Committee is, you have to constitute it,” said second-year graduate student Lindsay Atnip, quoting a recent alumnus who passed the words onto her when she first joined the Committee. Lane, who was social coordinator for one year, said the Committee has to have something going on at least once every two weeks. “Pub nights, parties. We have an amazing Halloween,” she said. But students also take on the lion’s share
Fifth-year Dawn Helphand (left), seventh-year Noah Chafets (center), and second-year Lindsay Atnip are students in the nontraditional Committee on Social Thought. The only restraints on their courses of study are an exam, a dissertation, and a teaching component; otherwise they study whatever they find relevant to their projects.
when it comes to structuring academics. They organize Kierkegaard reading groups and present their projects at monthly colloquia. Since they pursue radically diverse lines of interest, there is little vying for brightest scholar in a single field. “We’re doing such different work, I don’t know how we could be competitive,” Lane said. “I don’t know anything about political theory—I’m just hopeful some can give me a hand with it.” For many undergraduates, students in the Committee on Social Thought are often the ones lending a hand in Core classes. Many teach the Hum and Sosc sequences, and since most are here for so many years, they often cut their teeth as writing instructors. “I love teaching—it’s why I’m going to graduate school,” Lane said. It’s likely spurious to say that Committee members in general make for better, more involving instructors in the Core. (Lane adds, “I’m averse to any sort of essentialist claim regarding Committee students versus any other sort of student.”) But students still hold a high opinion of many Committee members. First-year Garret Apel was a student in Committee student Noah Chafets’s Human Being and Citizen class last fall. Speaking of Chafets, a seventh-year graduate student, Apel found it difficult to pin his teacher’s interests. “He’s the most knowledgeable
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person I’ve ever met, but I wouldn’t think of him as just a philosophy guy,” Apel said. “He pushed me to find something I wouldn’t normally see.” According to Apel, Chafets’s desire to pursue questions in a nontraditional manner culminated in his having the entire class over to his apartment to watch Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. The Committee is also related—in both style and history—to the undergraduate degree program Fundamentals: Issues and Texts. Although there is little overlap between students, Fundamentals was created in 1983 by three members of the Committee on Social Thought, Leon Kass, Allan Bloom, and James M. Redfield. Both programs are united in their study of what they describe as “foundational” or “fundamental” texts—the works of Plato, Shakespeare, and Thucydides appear often on their reading lists. A belief that these texts have limitless value and need to be studied continually is what drives many, like Chafets, to the University. It is fitting that the Committee students interact with undergraduates through the Core. The Committee was co-founded by President Robert Maynard Hutchins, who famously eliminated varsity football and emphasized a pedagogical system consisting of the Great Books and Socratic dialogue. Through their own
experience, Committee students bring to undergraduates the pedagogy that Hutchins intended. “The Committee is very continuous with the Core,” said Atnip, who is herself an alumnus of the College. “They both try to facilitate good conversation.” Atnip’s own decision to leave her consulting job and apply to the Committee was influenced by her Sosc teacher, with whom she had remained in contact. The teaching requirement often helps Committee students in their professional preparation. Almost all enter academia. However, a degree from the Committee is not recession-proof and, given the glut of Ph.Ds. on the market, students in the program aren’t immune to anxiety. Although the Committee’s prestige certainly works in students’ favor when they start their academic careers, it does have its disadvantages. Some universities prefer graduates from more traditional departments, since they know precisely what they’re getting. “Certain schools that pride themselves in a disciplinarian identity will never let us reach the interview stage,” Lane said. But, as with many graduate students across departments, “the professionalization process is a secondary interest,” according to Helphand. “People get a problem under their skin and want to work it out.”
Grey City | 5
emembering Dr.Liu Dr. Liu
Donald Liu drowned last August after saving two children swept out into Lake Michigan. He was survived by a wife, three children, countless patients, and the next generation of pediatric surgeons at Comer’s Children’s Hospital. By William Wilcox Hospitals tend to be sterile, hectic places. There’s really nothing anyone can do about it. The nature of the work always comes out. Comer Children’s Hospital, tucked into the southwest corner of the University’s Medical Campus, does make the effort. Rocking chairs, video games, cartoons flashing from TV screens, all help remind visitors that this glass-and-steel space at the intersection of 59th and Maryland is devoted to kids. But one section of the hospital, the pediatric surgery department, defies all window-dressing. It is one of Comer’s fastest-paced wards. Doubling as a Level 1 Trauma Center for children, it has to be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Being the only center of its kind on the South Side doesn’t bring surgeons any extra calm, and every year more than 35,000
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children are treated here for problems ranging from acute illness to gunshot wounds. It’s delicate work, operating on children. Bedside manner is always more than careful kindness towards patients—it’s also about understanding and assuring the parents standing next to them. Every day in the depths of these trenches was Chief of Pediatric Surgery Donald Liu. Heavy-set and charismatic, he was a major presence in the halls, smiling often as he shuttled between meetings, surgeries, his medical research, his teaching, and, at last, his patients. Even when he managed to leave the hospital, he never came out of his scrubs—not even when he was coaching his daughter Amelie or son Asher at their baseball games. Doctor Liu was much more to the hospital than the Surgeon-in-Chief. He was known to do anything for a
colleague or friend at a moment’s notice, and was always within reach of his beeper. While tirelessly dedicated to his everyday work saving lives, he was also committed to growing the pediatric surgery department to serve the children of Chicago’s South Side. Raised in Taiwan (though born in New York), he visited China often to train pediatric surgeons at a hospital in Shanghai, where liver disease is a common problem and his work adapting techniques of abdominal surgery for children would do good. It was because of his presence— everywhere, really—that Liu’s death at age 50 last August, drowning in Lake Michigan after assisting two children caught in a riptide, rocked the hospital to its foundations. “The best of us has been taken,” wrote Head of Urology Arieh Shalhav to hospital staff in an e-mail following
courtesy of dana suskind
Grey City | 7
n the operating room, Liu was one of the top surgeons at the University. According to his wife, he often explained that he was able to understand surgery in three dimensions. This helped him to be accurate and efficient. He adapted technology meant for adults and pioneered the use of laparoscopies for children, a delicate procedure in which a camera is inserted into the patient’s body to steer the surgeon’s hand. Many had thought the process was too difficult to wield effectively in children. Liu’s bedside manner was a rare gift. Once, a 16-year-old patient of his had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. When he drove to the patient’s home to discuss the illness, he brought over some video games for the two of them to play. He also brought a few beers. The boy wouldn’t live to twenty-one. “The biggest impact he had was just that human-to-human contact,” said Dana Suskind, Liu’s wife of 17 years, and an accomplished head-and-neck surgeon at Comer. “Granted he saved many lives medically, but it was really just the one-on-one interaction that made the biggest difference.” As a talented surgeon, Liu committed his work to serving the community and taking care of children such as those with major disabilities, many of whom did not have insurance. He was adamant that financial difficulties not hinder his ability to care for a patient. “This was a guy that seemed to work every single hour he could find, but seemed to know every single stat about every single baseball team going back 50 years,” Cunningham said. A self-identified South Sider, Liu had a passion for White Sox baseball. Liu was beloved by his colleagues, who described him as gregarious and ceaselessly optimistic, always willing to help a stranger. Juggling his many projects between surgeries became a hallmark. As a trauma surgeon he was known to come in during the middle of the night to operate on a child and then return later that morning to continue his normal schedule. In his appearance and demeanor Liu was unassuming—“the anti-elitist,” as one colleague described him—always wearing his scrubs to meetings and rarely acknowledging his own achievements. “You would think this person must wake up every morning and put on a fresh tie…crisp it up and wear his thousand-dollar suit and get in his big,
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Donald Liu, an avid White Sox fan and self-identified South Sider, was known for always wearing his scrubs, even outside Comer Children’s Hospital. courtesy of dana suskind
fancy car and come over here,” said John Alverdy, a fellow surgeon and research partner of Liu’s. “That wasn’t him. This was the most down-to-earth, hard-working, ‘I’m in the trenches with the people, my job was just to do the right thing at the right time with the patient every day’,” type of guy. Even with the constant tumult of work at the hospital, Liu always managed to find time for his family, who co-workers say were his top priority and his favorite topic of conversation. “I’ve got to go to a meeting,” he would say before ducking out of the hospital to attend one of his children’s baseball games. He would take his dinners at home and return to work when he was done. He called his greatest success his marriage. The department of surgery is establishing an annual symposium to commemorate Liu’s legacy at the hospital, which will bring together surgeons and physicians working in research and care-of-children. “There’s a profound sadness among the faculty in the department of surgery and the residents and the students that the person who seemed to do the most good, and the person that seemed to be the best among us, is gone,” said Alverdy, who worked with Liu on a research grant from the National Institutes of Health on a fatal neonatal condition called necrotizing enterocolitis. Alverdy has continued the work. As a teacher, Liu saw his work overseas as part of a necessary forging of connections on a human level. When
surgeons would come to Chicago from China to study techniques, he would often host them in his own home. His proficiency in Mandarin helped—in Shanghai, he didn’t lecture in English. At Comer, where Liu was the hospital’s first Surgeon-in-Chief, he expanded his department by starting a fellowship in pediatric surgery. Twoyear fellowships are required training for surgical specializations, and Liu had worked hard to acquire the proper certification to provide a program for them at Comer. Liu led the fellowship himself, and was noted as a patient and positive teacher who was able to take complex scientific concepts and make them understandable. The fellowship has gone on to train the hospital’s next generation of surgeons. “Now that it’s a few months later, it has become clear that we have an outstanding group of young surgeons who have really stepped into the breach to fill the void left by him,” said John Cunningham, chief of pediatric oncology. Genevieve, at 13 Liu’s oldest child, remembers calling him from camp one summer, saying she wanted to come home early. Liu was in the operating room. He finished up, drove through the night (some eight hours), and arrived by breakfast to bring her back to Chicago. “At that time I felt a little guilty, and it was awkward coming home early, but looking back it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “To have that memory of him.”
THE WAY THINGS WORK
By Ben Pokross
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Recycles, a bike-share program with locations throughout Hyde Park, is one of the Office of Sustainability’s measures to promote environmentally conscious lifestyle choices. The Office was created in 2008 and has since set out to track the University’s environmental impact in a number of areas. courtesy of asa watten
As the word “sustainability” hasbecome more and more popular, its precise meaning has gotten muddled. It might be easy to think of examples— from encouraging the use of reusable water bottles to more substantial projects like species conservation—but “sustainability” is now a catchall word for any kind of action that promotes development consonant with environmental principles. Even for many students involved in environmentalist RSOs, the term is a fuzzy one. It’s been four and a half years since the University established its Office of Sustainability. In that time, the Office has provided free bicycles for people to use around Hyde Park, begun fitting campus buildings with more energyefficient lighting, and started tracking just how much in greenhouse gas emissions the University produces. All of these measures appear to fit nicely within a general idea of sustainability. But how does the Office decide which projects to pursue? The Office was established in November of 2008 on the recommendation of the Sustainability Council, a group of students, staff, and faculty
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that functioned more as an advocacy group (organizing events for Earth Week, for example) than a shaper of policy. The Council still exists as an organ of the Office. In its first two years, the Office began to explore the possibility of conducting an audit of the University’s environmental impact, looking in particular at measures like heating and electricity use in campus buildings, fuel consumption by the University’s fleet of shuttles, and everyday food waste. But rather than take up the kind of boilerplate audit commonly used by schools and businesses, like that designed by the environmentalist non-profit Clean Air– Cool Planet, the Office decided to come up with its own criteria. But not all data are created equal. Part of the problem was that some kind of environmental effect follows from the University’s every action—from burning natural gas to run the steam plant on Blackstone, to hiring staff who commute by car, to developing on land that might host important native species. Tracking these effects yields different kinds of information, and not
all of them can, or even should, have a place in a single policy. That was partially solved by Ignacio Tagtachian (A.B. ’11), a former student who took on the task of compiling a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, or GHG. Drawing on the different greenhouse gas methodologies already in use, Tagtachian worked with building managers to determine which metrics are most effective in measuring campus emissions. Some of the inventory’s findings have been surprising: Greenhouse gas emissions have increased for five out of the last six years. But this is due to the recent building projects on campus as well as to differences in temperature between years, according to Tagtachian. The inventory’s ongoing research, tailored to the University of Chicago, culminated in the release of the Office’s Strategic Sustainability Plan in 2011. At four years long, it’s a relatively short-term plan, meant to have run its course by the end of 2014. But it includes a number of ambitious projects, many of them taking place inside cam-
pus buildings where old design flaws (like poor weather-proofing and inefficient lighting) can be replaced with less wasteful technologies. But the plan does not encompass the whole campus. Certain buildings are better-suited for retrofits than others, and priority lies with buildings that are especially wasteful. That’s why the Office has focused its attention on buildings where the plan’s rather general recommendations (informed as they were by incomplete data) would have the most effect. Facilities Services had already set to work in 2010, a year before the plan was released, after former Trustee James Crown and Paula Crown gave $2.5 million to the department under the condition that it update some of campus’ older buildings. First on that list were Henry Crown Field House, Kent Chemical Laboratory, and the Social Sciences Research building—all more than 80 years old—which by winter of 2011 were treated to new lighting systems and better weatherproofing. Still, gaps in the records are a major hurdle (for lack of complete data, the GHG only tracks emissions since 2007). Reading through the plan, it becomes clear that its objective is not just to reduce emissions and waste as soon as possible, but also to ensure that each year the data becomes more complete.
U of C students have focused on specific initiatives in sustainability efforts, such as attempting to reduce bottled water presence on campus.
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Most projects aren’t so prescriptive, and are based on the interests and priorities of faculty, staff, and students. For instance, the Office is considering bringing an electric car recharging station to campus after Flanagan received several e-mails from faculty and staff asking about the possibility of getting one. Things get more complicated when it comes to campus culture. Formally, the Office of Sustainability supports RSOs and individuals who are passionate about sustainability, as opposed to directly leading campaigns themselves. Its Sustainable Actions for a Greener Environment (SAGE) trains interested individuals to bring conservation techniques back into their residence halls and offices. There are currently 315 certified SAGE ambassadors on campus, including 144 undergraduate and graduate students. Some of the Office’s own programs stem from student initiatives. Fourthyear Huiting Xu has been involved in sustainability and environmental work since she entered the College, and currently serves as a co-director for Green Campus Initiative, RSO. She has also held positions on the Sustainability Council, but it was her personal interest in composting and recycling that led to an internship with the Office of Sustainability last year. RSOs hold events all over campus, produc-
ing huge amounts of waste that were usually just thrown away. Xu began coordinating the recycling and composting of the trash from different events, transporting the waste to Bartlett Dining Commons and then sorting it. Around the same time that the Office released its Strategic Sustainability Plan, it drafted a definition of sustainability it could work with: Sustainability embraces and pursues the precept that human well-being is ultimately sustained by the natural world, which is increasingly impacted by human activity. This calls for balancing development with attention to and investment in the health and productivity of the environment. But while the Office’s function as a research and administrative body has started to coalesce in recent years, its place on campus among students is not always clear—especially when politics are involved. According to Brendan Leonard, a second-year who leads the RSO UChicago Climate Action Network, the role of the office is necessarily political, but it has distanced itself from students who agitate. “The University doesn’t feel comfortable reaching out to us,” Leonard said. “The Office of Sustainability is still trying to figure out what they want their role to be on campus,” Xu said.
UChicago Climate Action Network (UCAN) is one of many RSOS currently working on campaigns outside the purview of the Office of Sustainability.
Trash audits have served as an efficient, but tedious, method of collecting data necessary to develop a comprehensive sustainability plan.
Grey City | 11
new kids on the block By Adam Janofsky
Photos by Sydney Combs, Tiffany Tan
he University of Chicago, for most, is a transient part of life. Undergraduates spend four years living here—some a little more, some a little less—before they find jobs in different cities and different countries. For some at the law and business schools, the University is seen as a two or three year stepping stone into their professions. Postdocs and graduate students can spend one to a dozen years specializing in their fields, but the vast majority of them eventually move to different Universities and take on new titles. Sometimes it feels like the only permanent fixtures on campus, along with the neo-gothic buildings, are the professors who walk the century-old halls. But all professors have their unique beginnings here. Grey City profiled five newly-appointed faculty—each one having arrived at the University within the past year-and-a-half. They are all, however, at radically different stages of their academic careers: One is involved in starting a new institute, one is a University Professor, two are established researchers, and one recently finished his postdoc. They represent five separate departments, but their stories aren’t necessarily the ones you would expect: a developer of computer chips who is a self-described “technophobe,” an English professor who often studies video games instead of books, and an expert on China who started his PhD studying European History. It may be too soon to have taken one of their classes, worked in their research labs, or seen them on the quad. But they have big plans for the future, and in time may become fixtures of the University. 12 | Volume 15
Patrick Jagoda Assistant Professor, English Language and Literature
GC: Describe your work in three sentences or less. PJ: I’m interested in the ways the network arose as a material metaphor in the late 20th century. So, why it is that we use the metaphor of the network to describe economic systems, the Internet, terrorist networks, ecosystems? My work looks at the ways different cultural forms—the contemporary novel, films, television, video games, and transmedia games—mediate the network.
incredibly curious and open-minded, and I oftentimes expect to receive more resistance than I do. People are interested in the ways I can think through different concepts such as networks, play, and action, through this new form. People want to share in the work and experience games that they might not otherwise be playing, or think about how categories central to a discipline such as English, like narrative or aesthetics, might help us think about this new form.
GC: What made you decide to look at games as a substitute for text? PJ: Well, I think of them as types of text. I got my Ph.D. in English, and I started at first dabbling in film, television, and games and quickly discovered that given my topic— networks—I really needed to turn to these other forms. Since I was dealing with the late 20th and early 21st century, video games were as important as novels during this period, if not more so.
GC: Roger Ebert, who was actually an English Ph.D. candidate here, generated a lot of controversy a couple years ago for arguing that video games aren’t art. PJ: I don’t want to get into that debate. The problem with that debate is before determining whether or not video games are art or can be art, you have to determine what you mean by art.… And there are about 50 different definitions that I could think of. Can a video game be as good as a novel in the ways that a novel is as good? No, of course not. But videogames can do things that other forms can’t. So I think whenever you are determining whether something is or is not an art form, you need a kind of medium-specific definition of art. I’m very sympathetic towards Ebert’s argument, but he’s really basing his criteria on film and not on games, and he’s not a gamer.
GC: So do you think of video games as both business and recreation at this point? PJ: Increasingly they’ve become just straight business. There was a time I remember when I could play games entirely for pleasure, but I don’t know. It’s a little bit of both. The central problem for me is networks, and the second concept I’m working through in different ways is play—what is human play, how do new media allow us to play in different ways? GC: Have you encountered grumpy old professors who refuse to take video games seriously? PJ: Faculty at the University of Chicago are
GC: On top of your research and game designing, you’re pretty well respected as a teacher. I was looking through your course evaluations and one of them simply said, “This guy is a baller.” PJ: (Laughs) I’m not sure I can come out with
an official response to that. That’s very kind. GC: What do you think students like about your teaching style? If you’re always lecturing or always having the same kind of discussion, the collective thought work becomes stale. I like to throw people off their game.… It is very easy for certain classes to drift toward book clubs or TV viewing parties, but it’s a total gift to be at a place like the University of Chicago and to have students who are excited and passionate about the material but also willing and eager to be serious about it. Play to me is one of the most serious things of all. GC: What are your plans for the next few years? PJ: When I first came here as a postdoc I made a connection with Melissa Gilliam, who’s a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and we started running a series of experimental workshops that became an initiative called Game Changer Chicago. This initiative uses digital storytelling and game design to work through various health issues with youth, especially high school–aged youth... They’re co-creating digital stories that have to do with everything from sexually transmitted infections to sexual violence to gender issues. It started as a series of small projects and recently we’ve gotten the funding to scale up... So part of my work is obviously working on my networks book, part of it is working on all of these articles around games and play, but at the same time I’m really trying to produce this lab with Melissa and make it something that’s a mainstay at the University of Chicago.
Grey City | 13
Amie Wilkinson Professor, Mathematics
GC: My brother got all the math genes in my family, but is it possible to describe your work to me in three sentences or less? AW: My work is in an area called dynamical systems, which is a space that evolves over time according to a set of rules. Both planetary motion and the behavior of an ideal gas are dynamical systems on very different timescales, and both have the potential to display longterm chaotic features, which is what I study. GC: And by chaotic features you mean? AW: Randomness. Unpredictability, but also paradoxically a certain kind of stability. So what I’m really interested in is capturing chaotic phenomena that won’t go away, that are really robust. GC: You won the Satter Prize a couple years ago, which recognizes outstanding research by female mathematicians. Do you ever feel underrepresented in your discipline? AW: It’s a little hard to be one of so few women when you’re young. I do tend to look for people I can emulate, so it was hard when I went to Harvard as an undergraduate and there were no women on the faculty. There were zero women on the research faculty, not even in the postdoctoral level. When you don’t have any role models its difficult to convince yourself that that’s where you belong. But it’s improved dramatically—I was one of the very first female math faculty members at Harvard, and that was in ’95. Now it’s commonplace, but they’re still having trouble cracking the higher levels. GC: Your husband also works in the math department at UChicago. That must be nice?
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AW: I think earlier in our careers I would not have wanted to be in the same department as him—everyone’s looking for recognition when they’re young, so I think being sideby-side would’ve been tough. But we’re at a point where I think we’re both very established. I still was a little nervous—I had to come visit as a visitor to make sure I could handle being in the same department—but it was great. I love it. I’ve never seen him as a competitor, and I’ve been inspired by him. GC: You grew up in Chicago, taught at Northwestern for 15 years. How does Northwestern compare to the University of Chicago? AW: I have to be very careful with what I say here! Northwestern is definitely more of a preprofessional school, and this is more of an academically focused place, and that’s nice for someone who’s not in a professional department. Obviously, if you look at the President of Northwestern and the President of the University of Chicago, there’s a completely different mindset and focus. I much prefer the focus of Bob Zimmer…he is a mathematician! GC: Have you always known you wanted to go into academia? AW: Actually, when I got my Ph.D., the job market in academic mathematics was horrible, and people were scrambling for jobs, and a lot of people just decided to step out of it all and go into finance. And so in the back of my mind I thought if I don’t get a job I could go work on Wall Street. A lot of people I know did that and got very rich and created the mess we had. GC: What’s one thing about math that’s
different from other disciplines? AW: Part of what I like about math is that a lot of discoveries are made by very young people—you’ll meet someone as an undergraduate, and five years later they’ll solve a difficult math problem and have a significant breakthrough. The field is so lively, it moves at such a fast pace compared to something like the laboratory sciences. It’s not just a young person’s game, but they have such a say in the field, which keeps everyone young GC: Just out of curiosity, your bookshelf is full of math textbooks and an out-of-place copy of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Is there a story behind that? AW: (Laughs) Why is that in my office! When the book came out I read it at Northwestern and really liked it a lot, and it’s such a big book that I never bothered to take it home. Then when I was moving here I put all my books in a box, including Jonathan Franzen’s book (laughs). So there it is, I still haven’t brought it home! GC: Well it’s good that you still have time for fiction. AW: I try to! I like to read—you have to turn your brain off from time to time. GC: What are your plans for the next few years? AW: I have a bunch of interesting projects that I’m working on. I don’t have a plan though—that’s one thing I like about math, you sort of don’t know where you’re going to be in a year. But I’m looking forward to just being here, making it my home.
Ken Pomeranz University Professor, History
GC: Describe your work in three sentences or less. KP: Most of my work has been trying to trace long-run patterns of economic development, environmental change, state formation, and social structure in China—particularly rural China. One way of thinking about that is looking at particular sets of patterns of land and water rights and how they’re related to the structure of rural communities. Given those rights, you get a certain set of economic patterns that give you on the one hand an extraordinarily successful rural economy, but does not tend to lead to a particularly dynamic urban economy or to industrialization. GC: Why China? KP: Oh, that’s a long story. I started out thinking I was going to go to graduate school in European history, and then as a senior I took a China course more or less on a lark and liked it so much that I went to the professor. He gave me a list of 15 books and said, “Read these over the summer and if you’re still interested, knock on the door of a Chinese history professor at your graduate school, tell them what you want to do, and see what they say.” That’s pretty much what I did, and that’s probably the reason why I wound up doing comparative work.
while everyone else seems to focus on China’s role in the future. How do you react to claims that China is the next big superpower? KP: China is clearly going to be really important in 21st-century global economics, geopolitics, whether we have a livable climate, and all sorts of other things, and so in that sense they already are a great power. I would also say that China is a society with deep, deep problems, and when we reduce China to this abstraction, this giant individual, we sometimes forget that this is still a society with massive poverty problems, enormous domestic inequality, and huge environmental stresses. Certain indicators of China’s strength are eye-popping, but the amount they have to deal with at home is also just staggering. GC: You’re a historian by training and practice, but your work seems to intersect a lot of different fields like economics, political science, and sociology. KP: I think as the work has evolved, what I’ve come to realize is how much it intersects with environmental studies and also with anthropology, as I’ve become more and more convinced that the patterns of land and water rights are so densely interwoven with community structure that you can’t ask which one comes first—they are created together.
GC: If a student came to you saying he was interested in China or Asia, what would you recommend? KP: Learn languages while you’re young. I can’t say it too many times. Get the language under your belt, and preferably more than one
GC: If you could live in any place at any time period, what would it be? KP: Do I get to choose how well off I am? There are many societies in which it would be pretty fun to be a rich person and not at all fun to be a poor one.
GC: You concern yourself with China’s past
GC: Let’s say you’re the average citizen.
KP: I think for a lot of people who grow up historically-minded, the immediately preceding generation seems so interesting. But then you think concretely about what it meant—my parents both fled Germany as teenagers—it was a grim world out there. There’s something heroic and gigantic about that age, but it’s heroic because it’s so terrifying. With Chinese history, the really exciting moment in some ways would be the 10th to 12th–century Song Dynasty, this extraordinary period of ferment where all these things, at least in retrospect, seemed possible. It was a period where the stakes seemed really high and the arguments really mattered. GC: Have you been able to visit the University’s Beijing Center yet? KP: Probably during the next academic year; I don’t think I’ll be able to get over there this summer. I try to go to China every year. It’s a place that’s changing so fast that if you don’t go every year you turn around and go “What’s this?” GC: What are your plans for the next few years? KP: I’ve got a couple of big projects that are partly done and need to get done. One of them is this slightly crazy book called Why is China So Big?, which gets to the question why does most of the time—not all of the time, but most of the time—this huge chunk of population and territory hold together as one unit. And even when it breaks apart into a half dozen, it only breaks up into a half dozen. Given its size it could easily be 50 and that hasn’t happened in 2,000-plus years.
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Paul Nealey Brady W. Dougan Professor, Institute for Molecular Engineering GC: A lot of your molecular engineering research focuses on computer chips. Can you describe your work in three sentences or less, as if you were explaining it to a political science major? PN: The size of the device is now on the molecular level, so it’s kind of consistent with molecular engineering. The traditional tools and materials that have been refined over the last three decades to make faster and more powerful computer chips are running out of steam. There are materials called selfassembling materials that spontaneously make very small structures, and so we try to figure out ways to get those materials to organize into patterns that are then useful for making devices.
engineers at this university? PN: It feels great! Hopefully we’ll grow in size pretty quickly—there are four of us now and that was the reason for coming: to define a new discipline or way that engineers are educated and the way engineering research is conducted.
GC: You must be a computer junkie. PN: No, I’m actually totally the opposite. I’m a technophobe. I really don’t like the imposition of this thing [motions to his computer]—the expectation now is whenever it beeps I’m supposed to do something.
GC: What were you thinking when you were asked to be a part of the Institute for Molecular Engineering? PN: It was fairly difficult to conceive what was meant, since it’s so different, it’s like, “Wait a minute. You’re starting engineering from scratch and it’s not going to have traditional departments?” Anyone would find that very interesting. Then coming to visit here and meeting everyone from the administration to all the faculty we met with, the level of enthusiasm was overwhelming. Really. And then you get here and realize it may be one of the biggest initiatives the University has taken in maybe 50 or 80 years, and you go, “OK. This is serious.”
GC: So I shouldn’t even ask if you’re a Mac or PC? PN: I have favorite companies that I work with, which probably influences me more than anything, but they’re all the same. There are Intel chips in every computer. What’s more disturbing is that the biggest market is the gamers. That’s who drives the development of the faster and faster machines. It benefits all the trailing interests—visualization of molecules, drug development, data mining for all kinds of scientific enterprise…that’s all secondary. The money is in the gamers. GC: How does it feel to be one of a handful of
GC: I think a big part of the interest comes from the University’s reputation as a theoretical powerhouse, and this is one of the first initiatives into a “practical” field. PN: What we work on has to have tangible applications. It may be so far away that its still a pie in the sky, but it has to be there, and that’s where I think the difference is—in the sciences it might not have to be there and it’s perfectly OK to study something for its own sake, and I like that too, but I generally have to have that connection to keep me going. GC: Aside from computers, you’ve also worked on tissue engineering in corneal
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prosthetics? PN: [Corneal] prosthetic devices weren’t working so well, so we thought we were missing some design aspect. We thought it was likely the physical structure and properties—that you couldn’t just try to make better and better chemistry surfaces and get the epithelium to re-grow and refunction. So we spent a lot of time trying to prove that the topography alone was important. That seems obvious now, but in the past everything in biology was much more chemistry-focused than physical property–focused. GC: I’m not sure if there’s any overlap, but I just read about something that came out of Argonne—the first FDA-approved bionic eye. It had an artificial retina, and it seems like the corneal work must have been very advanced. PN: Ah, I didn’t see that! That’s the really sexy stuff. How do you hook up the electrical signals in the thing you’ve implanted into the back of the eye and get them to actually transmit signals into your optic nerve so that the brain interprets it as images? And they get those things to work? It’s unbelievable. I mean really—it’s unbelievable. GC: What are your plans for the next few years? PN: We’re trying to establish a graduate program and shortly thereafter an undergraduate program, so we’re just beginning to think about recruiting our first-year graduate students. So maybe in two years we’d like to have our first undergraduates, our first majors in molecular engineering.
Nicolas Brunel Professor, Statistics and Neurobiology
GC: Describe your work in three sentences or less. NB: My field is called computational neuroscience, and the idea is basically to use quantitative tools from applied mathematics, statistics, and physics to try to understand how the brain works. There are many different branches of computational neuroscience—some people work on mathematical models of single neurons or synapses, the basic building blocks of the brain, to try to understand how they work. Other people work at the larger level to understand the dynamics of networks of neurons, and my research is mostly devoted to these particular topics—the mechanisms of learning and memory. GC: Is it a challenge to deal with such a multidisciplinary topic? NB: That’s both what makes it difficult, because you have to master many different fields, but it also makes it really fascinating because you have all these disciplines— biology, psychology, statistics, mathematics— that come together. Another major reason why I was attracted to this field is that we understand so little—we probably still won’t understand much in 10 or 15 years. GC: That doesn’t sound too optimistic. NB: Well, the field is progressing very quickly now, especially because there is experimental progress. We can do experiments now that were unthinkable 10 years ago, and on the theoretical side we have progress of the same speed. A big challenge though is that we are getting all of this data from these experiments, and it’s a challenge to analyze
it all. That’s where statistics becomes a major player—how do we make sense of this huge amount of data?
I like this kind of weather—hot summers and cold winters—and at least here it is always sunny. In Paris it is gray all the time, and rainy.
GC: President Obama recently announced that he plans to start a new multibillion-dollar initiative to map the human brain, on a scale similar to the human genome project. Do you think you may be involved in that? NB: Yes, I read that. My understanding is that the basic idea is to push towards any techniques that will allow us to monitor the activity of the brain; it’s really trying to develop new experimental techniques. I won’t be involved directly—I’m not an experimentalist myself—but of course, my research will have a huge impact because it will allow us to observe the brain on a much smaller scale.
GC: You got your degree in physics—how did you end up in computational neuroscience? NB: When I started my Ph.D., by chance I followed a course on neural network theory— at that time there was an explosion of interest in neuroscience because there was the idea that you could use statistical methods to study networks. So neurons are just binary units, they can be on or off, and are connected together in a very simple fashion—but this very simple system shows highly nontrivial behavior and complex dynamics. That was the topic of my Ph.D. Then it was a gradual evolution from physics to neuroscience— during my postdoc I started to collaborate with experimentalists.
GC: And related to what you said earlier, I read that even if these experiments are conducted, there’s the question if its even possible to store all the collected data. NB: Exactly. That’s another big question, and it’s still unsolved. It’s an incredible amount of data. GC: You grew up and did all your studies in France. Do you still keep in touch with researchers there? NB: I actually had a group in Paris and some of them moved with me—two graduate students and one postdoc moved with me and are now in the neurobiology department. But I still have collaborations in France and have Skype meetings with researchers there. GC: How do you like Chicago so far? NB: It’s cold now, but I was expecting worse!
GC: What role do people in the humanities have in the study of the brain? NB: Especially for philosophers there are a lot of ethical questions, like our ability to increasingly be able to manipulate the brain. For example, there’s this thing called brainmachine interface—if you have someone who’s paralyzed, and you’d like to give them an artificial arm, you want to connect the arm to the motor cortex, and somebody can control the signals of his brain. And it’s already working—well, at least in monkeys. They can grasp something and bring it to their mouth. Also, if we’re eventually able to someday observe the brain of someone else—read their thoughts—there are questions of what we should and should not be able to do with these technologies.
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| the chicago maroon
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ROAD AHEAD How Hyde Park development, student demand, local businesses, and University property tell a story unseen and unheard. By Joy Crane and Hamid Bendaas
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On June 2, 2012, early-rising Hyde Park residents showed up at Third World Café’s doorstep, a quick stop along their weekend morning routine. Instead, they were met only by a sign on the front door: I would like to thank all the loyal customers whom supported this place daily. Unfortunately, the economic times being what they are, we were forced to close. I hope we left a positive impact on the community and the area. Respectfully, Robert Raymondo.
inbox for the LOI form. Thanks, have a great day! Jake.” But, on what seemed to be the brink of an agreement, the exchange abruptly fell quiet. Sapstein, curious as to why the communication had stopped, says he understood an email from Schrader on June 11 to indicate that things were moving forward: “We are supposed to have a leasing meeting with [the University] in the next couple days which will include a discussion of your proposal. I will let you know as soon as we are ready.” After four days of no communication, Sapstein reached out to Schrader to ask if there was any news on the agreement. Schrader responded:
Raymondo, who purchased the cafe in 2006 from a local couple, had watched his business struggle through the recent recession. After the closing, he explained Jake, in a Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference report that “after business went to go quiet. I have had a ton of showings for Sapstein’s financials Sorry up for a while, the economy turned, rents the space. The University wants us to keep marketwere sound and his ing it and allowing time for new showings before stayed high, some student housing in the area closed.” conversation with the narrowing the field and zeroing in on a tenant. But to many in the Hyde Park business University’s realtor community, the sound of slamming doors There has just been a lot of activity, but I will be in seemed promising. touch soon with an update. I appreciate the followresounded as the song of new opportunity. Situated on the corner of 53rd Street Then, all of a sudden, up. and Kimbark Avenue, the University-owned things went quiet. storefront property sits just off the wellAccording to Sapstein, the talks stalled afspring of the Harper Court development, ter that. Further inquiries were met by the which brought in a movie theater, an Akira same response: that the University was getclothing store, and a Hyatt Hotel, currently ting a lot of interest for the space. under construction. 1301 East 53rd Street When asked for comment, Schrader exwas an attractive prospect, a fact certainly plained he was no longer working on that known to both small businesses looking to expand and the project and recommended an employee in the University’s owner of the space, the University of Chicago. real estate office. This employee in turn declined to comAhead of the curve in vying for this property was Ro- ment, deferring to a spokesperson for the Office of Civic bust Coffee Lounge owner Jacob Sapstein. Sapstein, who Engagement, Calmetta Coleman. had been looking to expand his small business from its 63rd “I haven’t heard any mention about anyone else seeing Street location for some time, was seeking to further in- the space,” said Coleman, who did not recognize the name tegrate with his target customer—the campus community. of Schrader, Sapstein’s contact at HSA Commercial Real EsSapstein toured the space on June 1—the day before Third tate. “I would actually have to go back and figure out who World’s official closing—and just days after the close he re- Brenton Schrader is.” quested a letter of intent form from the University. “We got in touch with the University of Chicago’s realtor. o the memory of many community members, the reWe saw the space and they seemed very eager to get us in surgence of the University’s commercial realtor perand get us information. We looked at it and it worked per- sona can be pinned to a single series of phone calls in Febfectly for what we wanted,” Sapstein recalled. ruary 2007. In under one week, Sapstein completed all the procedures Working with the South East Chicago Commission, the that the University’s hired representative for this particular University conducted a phone survey with residents of property, Brenton Shrader from HSA Commercial Real Es- Hyde Park and Kenwood to gauge their views on the natate, issued: a list of financials—Sapstein’s were sound, and scent 53rd Street project. Public opinion was on the side have been for years—and a business proposal, agreeing to of development: 76 percent of respondents wanted more the University’s rental rate ($30 per square foot; $3,372.50 retail. The University’s Commercial Real Estate Operations, per month on a modified gross basis). A showing, a pro- which spearheads property acquisitions and lease negotiaposal, and several e-mail exchanges later, it seemed as if tions, wasted no time. Robust had a shot at a great new space, right on the edge At the steering of CREO, big-ticket commercial bodies of the Harper Court redevelopment taking place down 53rd such as Akira, Harper Court Theatre, and Clarke’s descendStreet. ed on 53rd Street within five years. The vision? To make “Let me know if you are ready to move forward with a 53rd Street a real “destination,” in the words of CREO’s asproposal after the walk through today. I already have a draft sociate vice president, James Hennessy. proposal ready for the University to review before issuing,” But even as these initiatives charge ahead, the nuts and Schrader told Sapstein in an e-mail on June 7, less than a bolts of CREO’s operations remain little known in the comweek after Third World Café closed its doors. munity. CREO discloses very little public documentation of By June 11, Sapstein was eager to fill out a form express- both its individual transactions and its collected data. Uning his intent to go through with the lease. like some peer universities, the U of C does not discuss the “I didn’t get anything sent back to me re: the UofC’s spe- terms of its leases, nor does it release a complete list of cific form for a LOI [letter of intent].... I’ll keep checking my its commercial properties or those of its holding company,
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Lake Park Associates. In contrast, Brown University publicly provides a map of all Brown University-owned property, including its commercial properties. Harvard University also provides a list of its commercial properties. The resulting picture is unclear, as to what the University envisions for business in Hyde Park, and how it plans to achieve it.
One of the locations that Hunt looked at was a space on 55th and Woodlawn. Sited on a major thoroughfare close to campus, it seemed to fit the bill. Hunt called the number of the realtor provided on the building. The two got to talking. How big is the space? 2,400 square feet. Who’s the owner? The University of Chicago. How much to rent? $8,000 a month. “Are you crazy?” Hunt recalls thinking. To put this asking price in some context, the Hyde Park property Hunt later considered was a 3,800-square-foot space with a monthly rental rate of $5,000. The University was not the owner. “[The University’s realtor] pretty much let me know that they were not necessarily interested in the startup kind of business,” Hunt says. “They wanted someone who was established with other locations.”
n October 2012, chef Matthias Merges, owner of the Japanese restaurant Yusho in Logan Square, announced he would open a second location in Hyde Park. It would be in the space formerly occupied by Third World Café. According to University officials, talks with Merges about the space had begun before Third World closed. “To my understanding, by the time we began to get interest from other folks, we had already made an agreement with Matthias Merges,” Coleman said. During an informational session with University students, Hennessy confirmed the fact. As with other leasing decisions, the University chose Yusho based on an idea of what will benefit the commuREO is open about its healthy supply of capital. nity. Commercial diversity is important, a mix of upper- and On a tour of 53rd Street on Februrary 19, Hennessy lower-end retail, as well as of local, regional, and national discussed a number of areas where the University subsumes brands, according to Hennessy. upfront financial risk to help a new business grow. The UniAnother criterion is student demand. Recalling the input versity, he explained, technically doesn’t have to pay taxes from student focus groups several years ago, Coleman said on the new 53rd Street Tower (slated for the lot where Mothat the “key things students said they would like to see bil gas station is now located) since it is a non-profit instiincluded a movie theater, a 24-hour diner and a Chipotle tution. It is choosing, however, to pay taxes nonetheless. restaurant.” Tax dollars would go into the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) But student input doesn’t always bring success. The Prai- fund for the district, which he hopes will lead to even furrie City Diner, a late night spot where students could hang ther growth. out, opened on 57th Street in 1987, but Similarly, it is known that Third World Café closed abruptly in 1989. The diner’s landstruggled from time to time, and the Univerlord was the University of Chicago. sity showed some leniency. A Medill feature Ilene Jo Reizner, who worked at the Unireported in 2009 that although Raymondo It’s uncertain whether was having trouble making his rent, the University from 1986 to 2009 and served as its assistant vice president of real estate operthe University has versity cut him some slack, allowing him to ations, called Prairie City a cautionary tale. later if he needed to. made a practice of pay “There were always requests for a lateAnd in 2003, the Chicago Tribune reportoffering certain ed that the University attracted the Checknight diner, and when we actually put one in on 57th Street, it died,” she said. “There businesses different erboard Lounge, an historic but suffering is a difference between what people think blues club popular with U of C rent packages. Bronzeville they want sincerely and what will actually students, to relocate to Hyde Park with a becatch on.” low-market rental rate of $7 per-square-foot. Within two years, Prairie City Diner was The lounge’s owner claimed that was all he headed towards bankruptcy. could afford. “It wasn’t because of the rent. It was because people It’s uncertain whether CREO’s track-record of looking didn’t go,” Reizner said. past a business’s finances—for whatever reason—actually An effort to balance student interests while also provid- amounts to an official practice. Moreover, if the way the ing solid financial security may in part explain the Universi- University charges rent does vary between businesses, it is ty’s reasoning behind turning to larger chains like Chipotle unclear who makes that call, and on what grounds. or Clarke’s. Presumably a major chain with a central office The University does not discuss the terms of its leases, would be able to avoid some of the financial mismanage- according to Coleman. “Each lease is a negotiation based ment and risk that might have shuttered Prairie City—as on the particular conditions of the space and the needs of well as Third World. both parties,” she said. However, during a tour of 53rd Street with students last andall Hunt started his catering businesses, Cookies week, Hennessy stated that the University does not and has w/Flavor, ten years ago. Once a door-to-door enter- never offered “subsidies” to any of its commercial renters. prise, by last year the business had made enough for Hunt But, he clarified, the University does occasionally offer to start looking for an actual storefront. Hunt has been on free or reduced rent for three to six months at a time. the prowl. Community members say they don’t know what to make “We are now looking to be a bit more established. And of it. the opportunity came up to possibly move into a location, “It seems that the University has its favorites that are takso we started doing a few searches.” en care of and if you’re not on that list then it doesn’t mat-
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ter what becomes of you,” said George Rumsey, former president of the Coalition for Equitable Community Development (CECD). CECD is operated by and composed of community members who monitor development in Hyde Park and the surrounding communities to protect and promote economic diversity. “It seems kind of arbitrary right now— it’s somebody’s decision and I don’t know who that somebody is.” Hennessy declined to say which businesses the University has offered reduced rent on a short-term basis, but he noted that “the economics are secondary.”
apstein still doesn’t understand exactly what happened to his bid for the Third World space. From prior experience working closely with realtors, he felt good about his chances. Schrader was eager to keep things moving at the beginning, and Sapstein’s own financials hadn’t a blot. “We stopped asking, really,” he said. “I think the realtor was eager to get us in, and somewhere after we gave them all our info, someone along the line just wasn’t into it.” Sapstein could only speculate as to why the process stalled—perhaps someone didn’t want another café to replace the one that had just closed, or perhaps they were looking for a safer investment. “I think they probably want something very secure to occupy their spots, because it’s a headache to be unsure. If you’re a landlord and you’ve got a ton of property like the U of C does, it’s just easier to know you’ve got something like Panera or Chipotle in one of your retail spaces.” Sapstein was unaware at the time that Merges’ Yusho, the chef’s second restaurant, would be opening in the Third World space. According to Hennessy and Coleman’s statements, Merges had been in talks with the University from the time before the closing of Third World through the period Sapstein was talking with Schrader. Before opening its doors, Yusho has already run into complications. Merges had planned for the restaurant to sell alcohol just as it does in its Logan Square location, but he was unaware that the space was in a dry precinct until after he had agreed to the University’s lease, the Hyde Park Herald reported last month. The University is currently circulating a petition to gain community support to have the liquor ban for the space overturned.
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| the chicago maroon
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I WAS ROB What do you do when your welcome to campus is a gun in your face? What if you find the kid who held it? By Jon Catlin While adjusting to college life—learning how to get all your work done, do your own laundry, and squeeze in a reasonable amount of sleep— the threat of getting mugged hardly takes priority. That changed for me when, just after midnight on October 10, 2011, three weeks after arriving on campus as a first-year, a gun was put to my head on the Main Quad just steps outside of Swift Hall. It was after dinner on my third Sunday of college, and I was heading to Harper Reading Room with a thermos full of coffee and my Fagles translation of Homer’s Iliad, prepared to make some headway for the next day’s Human Being and Citizen class. It took me a few hours, but I finished and had slumped back in my chair when I got a text message from my best friend from high school at around 11 p.m. “You free to talk tonight?” Done with my work and realizing it was getting late, I packed up my things, headed downstairs, 24 | Volume 15
and called him from the Harper Quad. Both having just completed our first few weeks of college, we shared awkward moments from orientation and discussed the Iliad, which we were both reading for introductory humanities classes. This went on for a half hour before I made my way to the front of Swift Hall, where I sat down on a bench facing the center of the Quad. We were still talking around midnight when three young men turned onto the Quad from University Avenue, walking past Walker and Rosenwald, and then past me in front of Swift. They were casually talking in low voices and laughing, but each of them stared as they slowly passed. Sitting on that bench, I realized that I had rehearsed this moment just two weeks before in a workshop during Orientation. In one exercise, my housemates and I were asked to place ourselves along a spectrum between two walls,
BBED jamie manley
| the chicago maroon
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illustrating our responses to certain pulled away from me. prompts. “No!” was all I managed to say, “You’re walking alone at night,” weakly reaching for the bag. But one of the scenarios began. “And he thrust the gun at my head and an African-American man is coming said “I’ll shoot!” He pulled it over toward you on the sidewalk. Do you the bench and retreated to the alley cross the street?” between Cobb and the Administration We spread out. Well over half the Building, still pointing the gun at me. group stood at the wall indicating, Noticing I had stood up, he shouted, “Don’t cross,” while just a handful, “Stay there!” I sat down until they had including me, stood all run through the somewhere in the alley, then instinctively middle. scanned the Quad for “You don’t know that a blue light phone. this guy is up to no It was a similar Spotting one in the good, and the prompt choice: Profile or Classics Quad, I ran doesn’t say anything through the bushes don’t profile. I asked and hit the button at negative about him,” I remember hearing. “So whether I had the 12:05 a.m. who are we to judge “I’ve been robbed at right to judge them. I him?” gunpoint!” I shouted decided that I didn’t. into the receiver, One girl stood alone near the “Cross” side interrupting the of the room. woman who answered. “I have the right to “By three black men, do whatever makes me feel safe,” she running away on Ellis!” said, and left it at that. The woman dispatched an officer, This scenario flashed before my who arrived about three minutes later eyes as the men walked past. All three through the Classics gate. After I of them were black. It was a similar showed him the bench and explained choice: Profile or don’t profile. Is it what had happened, we waited for the fair for me to label them as sketchy? I Chicago Police for formal questioning, wondered. Do they look like they could after which he drove me back to my be University students? I quelled my dorm. doubts with another fact I had learned at the workshop: all kinds of students t was three in the morning when I go here. I asked whether I had the right wandered up the stairs of my dorm to judge them. I decided that I didn’t. and went straight to my RA’s room. I A few minutes after the group had knocked on the door, telling her it was passed, I heard footsteps behind me an emergency. in the grass. I turned around to find “What’s wrong?” she asked. one of the men pointing a gun at my “I was just mugged at gunpoint,” I head, standing just an arm’s length began, suddenly choked with tears away. that continued through the night. I “Give me the phone,” he said spent the next half hour on the phone simply. with my mother, who was stunned Almost too quickly, I handed but supportive as she delivered calm over my iPhone—my friend advice: call and cancel the credit still on the line. Next, he eyed cards and Dad and I will pick you up the backpack sitting next to tomorrow. I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote— me on the bench. That’s when the notes from which provided the panic kicked in. My backpack, basis for this article. containing my new laptop, all The next day, I couldn’t even go my schoolwork and books, outside alone. My RA accompanied my cash, my journals and me to breakfast and my appointment various mementos— at Student Counseling, which just my material life— brought back memories from the was about previous night. I cried again. Still, t o b e we made progress: they e-mailed my
26 | Volume 15
professors and told them why I wouldn’t be in class. They allowed me to check my e-mail and use their phone to call my parents. A grad student had e-mailed me saying that he had found my books strewn about the Midway and collected them for me to pick up—a bit of kindness that made the entire ordeal easier. I gathered the books in a shopping bag, packed a week’s worth of clothes, and met my Dad in front of B-J. We returned to the Midway and picked through the contents dumped from the backpack—wrappers, some coins, but nothing useful or identifiable—and drove to our home in Barrington, an hour away in the northwest suburbs. I spent the rest of the day playing in the yard with my dogs and sleeping, now acutely aware of how safe I felt in my childhood home.
t first, I considered transferring, thinking of how things might have been different if I had chosen to attend some scenic, rural liberal arts college. But before long I was busy with schoolwork and joining RSOs, and I was able to put the mugging out of my mind. Still, something I had written down that night continued to nag me: Chicago is my home now, and I’ve got to learn how to live in it. After some months, I figured that a good starting point would be the conversation already happening on campus about crime. In late January, I saw an opportunity: an RSO called the Chicago Justice Initiative (CJI)—more like a political salon, I learned, than the activist group its title suggests— was hosting an open discussion on the topic of “campus and community security.” The opening question that night was whether Hyde Park has “a crime problem.” Ambivalence was present from the start. “Not a crime problem per se,” one student said. “The bigger problem is the perception of serious crime that is distorted by students.” To some, crime wasn’t as threatening as “the presence of so many guards and UCPD cars everywhere.” Race was a factor. Several black students recalled officers asking them to show identification for little or no reason. Still fresh was the case of Mauriece Dawson, the student arrested in 2010 for allegedly causing
a disturbance in the Regenstein. The arrest, seen by many as racially charged and excessive, sparked a heated debate about police accountability that has continued to this day. One student at the meeting called it “offensive to those in surrounding neighborhoods.” Singled out for scrutiny was the UCPD’s apparent stance on whether students are free to go where they please: You can go anywhere, so long as you “remain vigilant.” People at the meeting scoffed. “The University has constructed an enormous network of blue lights that clearly dictate a boundary of where students should and should not be,” said one student. Frustration with crime was certainly there. And it did seem that the reality of muggings like mine was registering. But the recurring line of argument seemed to run like this: Violent crime is not something to be dealt with directly—it’s too big for students to avoid, and too tied up with social forces beyond our control for the police to make a dent. Meanwhile, the UCPD’s costly missteps are making life worse for more students every year. Better to just keep our heads up. One comment struck me as something I would have believed before the mugging. “I resent the idea that these criminals should affect my choices…I just need to live my life and ignore it.”
bout two weeks after the mugging, I got a new iPhone and restored my old number. I had no reason to think that any of the information logged into my old phone could still be tied to me, but a friend of mine pointed out something strange: someone had been using my phone number to play the mobile game Words With Friends. I Google-searched for the username and found what I was looking for within minutes: an 18-year-old male who had attended Kenwood Academy
tweeted “iphone 4 stuntin” the night of the mugging. Heck, we even had a mutual friend on Facebook—a friend of mine from middle school who had moved to Chicago. I forwarded this information to the UCPD, who within a few days called me to verify the serial number of the phone. It turned out that the phone was in the hands of someone named Edward Davis. He was taken into custody for possession of stolen property. brought into my life, I realize that he Though I could not identify him in likely faced challenges I couldn’t even a lineup as the man who mugged me, begin to comprehend. the Chicago Police were able to get Davis to confess to the crime, likely by or whatever reason, I hadn’t felt exaggerating the evidentiary weight comfortable speaking up at the of security camera footage they had CJI meeting. of him robbing me. However, Davis For one, I felt a great deal of shame continued to claim that the gun was a about getting mugged in such a public fake and that he was alone—two parts place. I had been that first-year who of the case that were never resolved. thought he was immune to crime and I continued to call the attorneys was doing exactly what the police told to ask when the trial us not to: being out would be so that I alone at night, using could recover my electronics, and sitting property, which had down rather than been held as evidence. While I attended purposefully walking Each time, I was told events rallying somewhere. that the trial date was But there was against “mass incar- something else: one of near, but had been pushed back due to ceration, I had also the effects of realizing hearing cancellations fueld it with my own the need for security or attorney changes. around campus is that efforts to seek justice you end up qualifying Finally, on January 15, a full 15 months after against the man who any criticisms of the the crime, I received had mugged me. police. You become notice in the mail moderate. I don’t think that Davis had pled it’s unreasonable; in guilty to aggravated robbery and fact, I think most students here have a was sentenced to four years in prison centrist opinion of the UCPD. (including the time he served before Even still, I have been to several the sentence). I got the closure of a activist events at the University, solid conviction that few victims of from forums on the need for a South muggings ever do. Side trauma center to the annual And so a man my same age was “Disorientation” event (a follow-up to about to spend the same four years Orientation that presents a far less behind bars that I’m spending at one rosy take on town-and-gown), and of the best universities in the world. I’ve noticed that opinions of the UCPD Our meeting—however short and have tacked toward the extreme. unfortunate—was a live example of “Lost in all the commotion following systemic inequality. the protest and arrests of January 27 While I attended events rallying has been the question of whether the against “mass incarceration,” I had University of Chicago might be well also fueled it with my own efforts served in dissolving its private police to seek justice against the man who force,” wrote one graduate student in a had mugged me. I don’t feel guilty recent letter to the Maroon, calling the about what I did, nor do I in any way student body’s acceptance of the UCPD’s excuse the mugger’s behavior, but existence an “unreflected assumption.” I feel obligated as a citizen of social Mauriece Dawson, the UCMC protests, conscience to situate this experience in incidents involving racial profiling—it all a broader context of inequality. While amounts to a “heavy price.” I condemn the mugger and the pain he My first and strongest reaction to
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this view is that this person has never been the victim of a violent crime. The author of this piece is right to ask for an analysis of the UCPD’s costs. But the fact is that only a small fraction of students become victims, and it is easy to lose sight of what that feels like when you’re focusing on the police’s occasional missteps. And this cuts both ways. Students continue to accept the threat of violence as just one more condition of daily life. “We live on the South Side, so, for better or worse, it’s just something we have to deal with,” said a male thirdyear in a M aroon article covering my mugging. I spent a great deal of time after the mugging immersed in the Iliad, which I continued to read for Hum, inevitably comparing it with my own experience. I had decided to change the subject of my first paper from Hector, prince of Troy and an embodiment of civic
duty, to Andromache, his wife, a personification of despair in response to harsh fate. I had read an essay by French philosopher and literary critic Simone Weil shortly after the mugging, in which she calls the Iliad “the poem of force.” The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away. In this work, at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relations with force, as swept away, blinded by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to. The administration and the UCPD do not operate in a vacuum. They are subject to the same perilous social forces that held both Edward Davis and me in their grip. And they have a tough job; in Chicago, force still calls the shots.
An explanation from the UCPD for its missteps is a good start for bridging student attitudes toward crime, but blaming them for all our woes is just as detached from reality as thinking, stubbornly, that crime shouldn’t affect our daily choices, or that violence is an inevitability that we must simply accept. These are the tensions that up until now had rendered me silent on the issue of campus safety. We would do well to remember that other moral positions exist that often stray from sight, and to consider in these moments both the fact of injustice broadly and the experience of victims individually (who continue to suffer at the hands of violent criminals). At a place such as the University of Chicago where we are so privileged to have the time and resources to think critically and adopt multiple perspectives about our choices, there’s no excuse not to.
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