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.”


Are Chicago’s Safe Passage Routes Located in the Highest Risk Areas?

Safe passage routes to school provide not only a sense of safety for Chicago students from pre-K through high school, but they reduce crime involving students and help increase school attendance. Chicago’s Safe Passage program was introduced in 2009 after the beating death by gangs of 16-year-old Fenger High School honors student Derrion Albert, which was captured on cell phone video. His death and the circumstances received national attention along with a series of other incidents involving CPS students caught in gang violence. Since then, the program has expanded to include schools, parents, residents, law enforcement officials and even local businesses in efforts to provide students with a safe environment. The various types of safe passage programs among the 51 safe route programs currently available include: safe haven programs in which students who fear for their safety can find refuge at the local police station, fire house, library and even convenience stores, barbershops and restaurants; patrols along school routes by veterans, parents and local residents; and walking to school programs in which parents and local residents create a presence to help deter unlawful incidents.

The map below shows the number of all crimes committed in the city of Chicago during the current school year, and the locations of schools and safe routes among those communities that have safe routes. Currently, there are 517 Chicago public schools, of which, only 136 Chicago public schools (26.3% of all schools) fall within the 51 safe routes. Although the safe routes are located in 37 of the high crime communities in general (south, west and northeast sides of Chicago), they do not exist in the pockets of the highest crime incidents (1,500+ highlighted in burgundy) where children are the most vulnerable. Of the 47 schools that fall within the extreme crime areas (1,500+ incidents a year), only 6 have safe routes; the others offer no safe passage options. A list of the schools appears at the end of this blog.

Click through to see the enlarged image.


Schools located in extremely high-crime areas of Chicago (Schools highlighted in green have safe passage routes):
Bennett, Bowen HS, Bradwell, Camelot Safe – Garfield Park, Camelot Safe Academy, Clark HS, Coles, Community, Ericson, Frazier Charter, Frazier Prospective, Galapagos Charter, Great Lakes Charter, Gregory, Harlan HS, Hefferan, Heroes, Herzl, Hirsch HS, Hubbard HS, Learn Charter – Butler, Leland, Mann, Mireles, Noble Charter – Academy, Noble Charter – Baker College Prep, Noble Charter – DRW, Noble Charter – Muchin, Noble Charter – Rowe Clark, Oglesby, Plato, Polaris Charter, Powell, Schmid, Shabazz Charter – Shabazz, Smith, South Shore Intl HS, Webster, Westcott, Winnie Mandela HS, YCCS Charter – Association House, YCCS Charter – CCA Academy, YCCS Charter – Community Service, YCCS Charter – Innovations, YCCS Charter – Olive Harvey, YCCS Charter – Sullivan, YCCS Charter – Youth Development


Implementing visualization techniques in faculty research
The image of the map reflects the different visualization techniques that might be used to effectively convey data or research conclusions to different types of audiences in various disciplines or industries. Visualizations can help identify existing or emerging trends, spot irregularities or obscure patterns, and even address or solve issues.

Ask us how to visualize your research
For help visualizing your own research findings or seeing if your research lends itself to similar techniques including data acquisition and pre-processing of both quantitative and qualitative data, contact Nandhini Gulasingam at

SSRC Co-sponsoring Hacia un Enfoque Event

The Social Science Research Center is co-sponsoring the event “Hacia un Enfoque/Shifting Focus: Race and Gender in Cuban Film”, which is to take place May 17-18th at the DePaul Art Museum. Faciliatator and curator Karina Paz Ernand will screen one of Cuba’s most prestigious film festivals “La Muestra Joven de Cine Cubano”.  Ernand is a Professor of Audiovisual Studies at La Universidad de la Habana and the Institute of Fine Arts in Cuba.  The film festival is a highly anticipated cinema competition that spotlights the up and coming vanguard of young directors on the island.  The screening will take place on Tuesday May 17, from 6-8 pm at the DePaul Art Museum.

Additionally, there will also be a panel on Wednesday May 18th from 4:30-6:30 pm on the topic: Acercando a Una Miranda: Critical Interventions of Race and Gender in Latin American/Caribbean Media.  The panel will take place in the DePaul Art Museum (at 935 W. Fullerton Ave) and refreshments will be served.


Hate Nation

Although we take pride in being a developed nation, we still have a long way to go towards reducing organized hatred, hostility and violence against people who differ from “us” in race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation or are designated as marginal within our society.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2015 Intelligence Report, the number of hate groups active in the U.S rose from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015. The U.S. is home to the world’s most notorious hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, which had the largest share of U.S. hate groups that year (21.3 %). It was followed by the Black Separatists (20.2%), the Racist Skinheads (10.7%), the White Nationalists (10.7%) and the Neo-Nazis (10.5%). These 5 groups comprise 73% of the known hate groups in the U.S. Among the states, Texas reported the largest number, 84, 55 of which were KKK. California came second with 68 groups, mainly Black Separatists and Racist Skinheads. Florida ranked third, with 59, 22 of which were Black Separatist groups.

The following infographic shows the extent and distribution of known hate groups in the U.S.

Click through to see the enlarged image.


Techniques Used
The above visualization includes 3 types of techniques:

Quantitative Analysis: A bar chart was used to visualize quantitative data on the number of known hate groups.

Statistical Analysis (GIS): Spatial analysis included 3 major techniques. The geocoding technique converted hate group locations to a point on the map, choropleth maps and classification methods were used to show the distribution of hate groups by state and to identify the correlation among race and the density of hate groups in each state.

Graphics: Graphics and images used in the infographics were edited using Photoshop graphic design software.

Implementing visualization techniques in faculty research
The image of the map reflects the different visualization techniques that might be used to effectively convey data or research conclusions to different types of audiences in various disciplines or industries. Visualizations can help identify existing or emerging trends, spot irregularities or obscure patterns, and even address or solve issues.

Ask us how to visualize your research
For help visualizing your own research findings or seeing if your research lends itself to similar techniques including data acquisition and pre-processing of both quantitative and qualitative data, contact Nandhini Gulasingam at

Podcasts for Social Scientists and Historians

We’re in the run up to travel season, so I thought I would assemble a list of some great podcasts.  Some of these you have heard, some you haven’t.

FiveThirtyEight: FiveThirtyEight is the brain child of stats wunderkid Nate Silver (yeah, THAT Nate Silver).  Their offerings run the gamut from podcasts about sports (How Many Times did the Mets Blow It?) to sciencey-science (Big Data is Saving this Little Bird) and modern work places (When Your Boss is Big Brother).  There is lots of good stuff here, definitely worth a visit for bookmarking on your mobile device, for when you are on that God awful stretch of I-65/I-57/I-55 between Chicago and ANYWHERE.

BackStory with the American History Guys: BackStory is a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.  I have heard their show on WBEZ.  But in the event that you are not able to access radio waves, maybe you ought to just subscribe to their podcast.  Their topics are mostly history oriented, with podcasts on A History of Farming in America to Rare History Well Done: Meat in America.  These are good for those early morning walks when you’re trying to maintain your sanity while staying in a too-full house with family that you adore, but also that drives you crazy.

Freakonomics: Freakonomics Radio is the podcasting branch of the Freakonomics Franchise (developed by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt).  The podcasts offer also offer a wide variety of topics from How to Create Suspense to Whether Kids Should Pay Back Their Parents for Raising Them, the latter of which you might actually be interested in, depending on the degree to which your offspring are bugging the crap out of you on your second delayed flight coming back to Chicago after Thanksgiving. AmIRite?  CanIGetanAmen?

Basic Question Evaluation Presentation

For those of you who were unable to make it to Kristen Miller’s lecture on February 13 (or who were able to and would like a refresher), here are her slides (including the case studies we didn’t get to at the end and excluding the videos). Audio of the presentation can be found here:

For best results, open the audio in a separate browser tab and hit play, then read along with the slides (which look better if you expand them to full-screen mode). Unlike the read-along records I had as a child, this recording won’t let you know when to “turn the page”, but if you listen closely, sometimes you can hear Kristen hit the key to advance the slides.

Faulkner at Virginia

photo of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten, 1954The University of Virginia Library has digitized and made available the complete audio recordings from William Faulkner’s two terms as UVA’s Writer in Residence in 1957 and 1958.

The collection
includes selections of Faulkner reading from his works, taking questions from classes and from the public, and appearing on campus radio.The site features extensive essays on the contexts of the recordings to give a sense not only of the sociopolitical feeling of the country at the time, but also of Virginia and the context of the period of Faulkner’s own life.