Through the Glass Darkly

“Hello, darkness, my old friend,” to quote a panelist at the SSRC’s recent event, “Speaking in Light and Dark.” His reference to the opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s, The Sound of Silence, aptly set the stage for a discussion about light and dark hosted in the late afternoon of January 18 on a stage lit only by natural light coming through the windows of Cortelyou Commons. As the sun set at 4:48 pm aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd darkness progressively pervaded the room, four DePaul faculty members from different disciplines reflected on how lightness and darkness have informed their work or thinking, either literally or metaphorically.

DePaul’s College of Communication had just begun when Associate Professor Daniel Makagon proposed an addition to the schedule called The City at Night, a class held during the unorthodox hours of 10:00 pm to 1:00 am. To see how people utilized the night, his class visited a social worker, a karaoke expert, a needle exchange site, a CTA routing and operations center, and the Guardian Angels, the self-appointed, volunteer safety brigade that once patrolled Chicago subway lines. As an enthusiastic supporter of experiential learning, Daniel fondly recalled one class visit when education become a public event itself. The class was meeting with the Guardian Angels on a subway platform in the Loop when curious onlookers began raising their hands and spontaneously joined in the learning experience themselves. “There was this of kind of opening up at night,” he said. He’s still contemplating its meaning.

Daniel has also applied a night/day lens to his research into the punk music culture to examine underground performance spaces. Subverting our usual notions of how we use spaces by day and night, these all-age punk shows often occur in basements in DIY (do-it-yourself) spaces, during the day. There the basement space becomes a “liberatory, temporary, autonomous zone for folks to enact a different kind of economy, a different social experience in terms of how they meet together in the world, and also a different kind of political experience as well, guided by an alternativepolitics, an alternative economy, to the mainstream music industry as we find it,” he said.

A compilation of night sounds gathered by Daniel’s DePaul students formed an ongoing soundtrack that played throughout the panelists’ presentations. DePaul’s Media Production and Training (MPT) video-taped the event. The results illustrate the significance of light to a technology that depends solely on light to capture and store images.

Field observation has been fundamental to Public Policy Studies Professor Bill Sampson’s academic pursuits. Bill shared with the audience the personal question that has nagged at him throughout his educational and academic life. How was it that he, growing up poor and black in a poor, black neighborhood in Milwaukee did well in school while others sharing the same outward circumstances did not? The explanation his high school teachers gave him — that he was “an exception” — didn’t sit well with him. He has reached some conclusions based on his analysis of observational data students in his classes have gathered over the years, chronicling the lives of poor black and Latino families for comparisons of how the children of those families performed in school.

Not neighborhood, not school, not teachers most affect the results, he found. That leaves him pessimistic about how much of a difference current education policies that shower resources on schools and teachers will ever make. “What mattered most were specific things about the home environment. Kids who did well in school lived in quiet, orderly, structured homes, which is difficult to maintain when you’re poor,” he said. Those students had chores at home, took part in extracurricular activities, were internally controlled, and displayed high self-esteem. All had parents or guardians who showed that they valued education, often by participating in their children’s homework even if they couldn’t do the work themselves.

Acknowledging that “we can’t control families” and that not all families even want the best for their children, he asked: “How do we take what we’ve learnedand give it to the families that want it?” Assuming that teachers and schools are doing what they should (not a given, he noted), “for the parents who are willing, we can make a difference.”

Steve Harp, associate professor of Art, Media, and Design, approached lightness and darkness more formally, but also subjectively. Against a backdrop projection of his own striking, black and white nighttime photos (including the image accompanying this post), Steve presented what he termed a short “pseudo theoretical paper” in which he explicated the word dream from the literary and psychological perspectives of a variety of writers. Noting the seeming similarity between the words trӓume (dreams in German) and trauma (derived from the Greek word for “wound”), he said it’s hard to believe they’re not related etymologically “while linked in so many ways conceptually and experientially.”

Considering any distinction between dream and nightmare as artificial, he discussed the trauma of the nightmare as the experience of waking into consciousness. He linked the traumatic aspect of awakening to the act of departure, or awakening. Inviting the audience to think of dreams spatially, as a path into darkness, he suggested that dreams might be regarded not as wish fulfillment, but as the tension between arrival (or our visions of arrival) and departure. His last words were a lyric from the late Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The panel concluded with Assistant Professor of Philosophy Peter Steeves’ mind-bendingly succinct but sobering, 15-step timeline of the birth and death of light. His only prompt, a DIY “power point” flashlight beam trained on sheets of white paper carrying dates, effectively underlined his observation that light’s lifespan is a relative blip within the sprawling chronology of the universe. In increasingly bad news, he pegged the lifespan of humans on earth at a mere million years and forecast our sun to end 6.5 billion years from now, when it will swallow up the earth. A hundred trillion years from now, all stars — the manufacturers of light — will have been extinguished. Earth too, whose rank as a “Goldilocks of stars” (not big, not small), will succumb with one of the less remarkable star-death displays, he said.

Peter’s interest in the topic is rooted in “the overlap of philosophy and physics,” his twin loves, “and light plays a major role in that,” he said. “Light is not important in any fundamental way,” he concluded. “So I sometimes think, why do we make it so important? Why do we think it’s all about life and why do we think it’s all about light? That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.”

SSRC Event: Speaking in Light and Dark

On January 18, 2017, the Social Science Research Center is hosting “Speaking in Light and Dark”, a discussion between four DePaul Scholars.  The event, which is free and open to the public features Steve Harp (Art, Media, and Design), Daniel Makagon (Communication), Bill Sampson (Public Policy Studies), and H. Peter Steeves (Humanities Center).  The discussion will focus on notions of lightness and darkness, and the ways in which both inform the work of the presenters; figuratively and literally.

light-and-dark

A reception will follow the discussion, which will take place from 4:00-6:00 pm in Cortelyou Commons (2324 N. Fremont Ave, Chicago, IL).  Individuals interested in attending the event should RSVP by sending an email to SSRC@depaul.edu.

Mess Hall: Robin Burke and John Shanahan Talk about Reading Chicago Reading

 

In October, Robin Burke (of CDM) and John Shanahan (of English) stopped by the SSRC’s Mess Hall to discuss their venture, Reading Chicago Reading.  The project, which was recently funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is an empirical examination into who reads what kinds of books.  The digital humanities project started by examining the One Book, One Chicago (OBOC) program, operated by the Chicago Public Library.  Essentially, Burke and Shanahan (as well as their research team, which also includes SSRC Staff Members Nandhini Gulasingam and Jessi Bishop-Royse), are using OBOC data from CPL to examine various aspects of the well-known reading program.

oboc

The Reading Chicago Reading project is innovative in that the team is combining data from texts, community demographics, circulation records, and social media to yield book-level predictions on who is interested in a particular item.  Combining CPL checkout data with other data, such as Census data, the Reading Chicago Reading research team is hoping to determine how the characteristics of branch libraries influence OBOC participation.  Burke and Shanahan are hoping to use these various data sources to predict community interest in various titles CPL might consider for future iterations of OBOC.

For more information on their recent projects, please check out the results page of the Reading Chicago Reading website.

 

SSRC at the CCHE Health Disparities and Social Justice Conference 2016

Last week DePaul’s MPH Program and the Center for Community Health Equity co-hosted the Health Disparities and Social Justice Conference at the Loop Campus in conjunction with DePaul’s MPH program.  The day was full of fantastic events regarding health disparities and social justice issues in Chicago and beyond.  The opening keynote was delivered by Patricia O’Campo of the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Ontario, Toronto.

Friends of the center Noam Ostrander and Fernando de Maio participated in a panel discussion of the Chicago Health Equity Reader, a year long project whose ultimate aim is to produce a reader of the essential readings on Chicago Health.

safeshape

SSRC Director and Sociology Faculty member Greg Scott was on hand with the Safe Shape exhibit as well as two collaborative film projects (Everywhere but Safe and Making a Place Called Safe) he has produced with  VOCAL-NY and the San Francisco Drug Users Union.  Noam Ostrander presented his collaborative project with SSRC Senior Research Methodologist Jessica Bishop-Royse on seasonal patterns in homicide mortality in the US.

The event brought together a wide variety of public health professionals, students, researchers, public officials, and community stakeholders, who were afforded the opportunity to engage with presenters and provide feedback and comments.

Health Disparities and Social Justice Conference 2016

The joint collaboration between DePaul University and Rush University, the Center for Community Health Equity, is hosting the Health Disparities and Social Justice Conference on Friday August 12, 2016.  The conference will take place in the DePaul Center, at the 8th Floor of 1 East Jackson Blvd from 830am-4pm.  Registration is free and the program is posted online HERE.

safeshape

DePaul SSRC Director Greg Scott will have his project Safe Shape on exhibition.  Senior Research Methodologist Jessica Bishop-Royse will be presenting collaborative work on seasonal patterns in homicide mortality in the US with DePaul MSW faculty member Noam Ostrander.

 

 

Field Learning

Newly graduated Master of Public Health (MPH) students Adenike Sosina and Joselyn Williams recently talked about the extra-curricular skills they acquired as research assistants at the Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE). Their analysis of one project will be displayed at the 9th annual Health Disparities & Social Justice Conference that CCHE and MPH will host at the DePaul Center on August 12.

In a conference poster, they will summarize the focus group discussions that CCHE helped Rush conduct in conjunction with Rush Medical Center’s comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment. The focus groups were made up of residents and stakeholders from the 8 Chicago West Side community areas (West Town, Austin, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Near West Side, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, and Lower West Side) and 3 near west suburbs (Forest Park, Oak Park, and River Forest) that Rush serves. They were formed to discover what Adenike described as “the impact of the communities’ perceptions, their needs, things they believed to be beneficial.” That should help Rush understand what makes a good community and what relationships community members value, Joselyn added.

The two researchers began working at CCHE and with CCHE Co-Director and Associate Professor of Sociology Fernando De Maio in 2015—Adenike as CCHE Program Assistant and Joselyn as CCHE Graduate Assistant. Founded jointly in 2015 and based at DePaul, CCHE is a partnership between DPU and Rush designed to link social scientists, students, community groups, and health care professionals in a search for data-based solutions to community health problems.

Last fall and winter Adenike and Joselyn collaborated with CCHE on the assessment report Rush prepares every three years to evaluate the overall state of health in its service areas and to develop internal implementation strategies and community collaAdenikeborations. Using NVivo software, they later analyzed 11 “massive” focus group transcripts—also prepared by a number of DePaul and Rush students—to identify recurring themes such as resources, education, socialization, social division, health care, safety, responsibility, and ownership, Adenike said.

“The software itself served as a resource,” said Joselyn, a self-describJoselyned ‘data nerd’. “[It’s] kind of intuitive. There’s not a lot of bulky things you have to have previous help with.” The researchers also utilized SSRC technical and consulting resources, for transcribing the focus group discussions and for training in GIS and mapping fundamentals. The poster will illustrate the findings of their analysis.

“There was an array of other concerns, besides health, in which they wanted their voices to be heard,” said Adenike. She was impressed by the range of what focus group participants wanted to convey. Across communities, focus groups cited the lack of resources, including insufficient recreational outlets for youth, job opportunities, access to retail and good food, and inadequacies in the city’s educational system.

“…It’s like we’re almost a forgotten community…,” a member of the North Lawndale focus group complained. “And if we could just get a lot of these young guys some work and young women and young men to work, it will be a big change in the community,” a West Garfield Park participant offered.

In conversations about what they liked about their communities, participants voiced “probably a lot more positive thoughts around social cohesion,” Joselyn observed. “Most identified with their community,” she said. “I didn’t feel like anyone said ‘this is per se a bad community.’ They recognized the good and the bad. They wanted the community to be better.” Discussions about how Rush might partner with the community produced suggestions for collaborating with schools, operating mobile clinics to provide services such as back-to-school vaccinations, or pairing medical school students with community teens around health issues and mentoring, Adenike noted.

Both MPH graduates agreed that their work at CCHE leaves them feeling better prepared as they start their own careers. Joselyn, who made some GIS maps for the assessment to show where Rush ranked in child opportunity and hardship indices, appreciated the opportunity to work alongside hospital administrators and to observe how a big organization undertakes a report of this scope. She was struck by the length of the assessment process.

This fall Joselyn will begin teaching English to elementary students in the Gyeongbuk province in South Korea. From there she hopes to explore opportunities for a career abroad in global health. Adenike wants to work in community health practice after her position at CCHE ends in late summer. She’s especially interested in childhood obesity interventions.

At CCHE, graduate and undergraduate student researchers will continue to gain project-based experience working on analyses of the new Healthy Chicago Survey, the creation of an “Index of Concentration at the Extremes” for Chicago census tracts, and comparative analyses of health inequities in Chicago and other cities. DePaul faculty and students will continue collaborating with the Chicago Department of Public Health and other groups across the city as they build on CCHE’s contribution to “Healthy Chicago 2.0”, the city’s four-year initiative to assess and improve health and well-being and reduce inequities among Chicago communities.

Visit CCHE’s website to see the Rush Community Health Needs Assessment report and to learn more about the upcoming Health Disparities & Social Justice Conference at DePaul. Faculty or students doing research on faculty projects who want to access NVivo are invited to contact the SSRC where the program is available in our Lincoln Park computer lab or through remote connection.

Write on Site Fridays at Noon

The SSRC is hosting weekly “Write on Site” events during May, June, and July for DePaul Faculty, Students, and Staff.  These writing sessions will take place on Friday afternoons (from 12-2 pm) in the conference room in Suite 3100 of 990 W. Fullerton.  Bring your lunch, bring your computer, and write away from all the distractions of your office.

What does it mean to “write-on-site”? The term originated by Kerry Ann Rockquemore (Sociology and African-American studies at UIC) and pertains to writers congregating to work on their specific projects for two hours at least once a week. Although working on their own projects, writing together provides the accountability of showing up, and cultivates the sense that writers are part of a community.

The first session will take place on Friday May 6, at noon.  For information or details contact Jessi Bishop-Royse at jbishopr AT depaul.edu.