Sunday, November 13, 2005

From Vicky Muehlesen

heard about this blog in a message from Sara. I don't know any of you guys, but I am a Shimer graduate, and I do have something to say (rather a lot…)
Since most of you already seem to be set against the proposal to move, this long message probably won't persuade you otherwise, but I'll post it anyway. Feel free to e-mail me if you want any more details about anything.

First, to introduce myself, I'm Vicky Muehleisen, and I attended Shimer from 1982-1986, which were probably some of the darkest years for Shimer. (There were about 20 people in my entering class, and I think only about 6 who graduated). I went on to graduate school (MA in linguistics from Temple, PhD from in linguistics from Northwestern), and now I teach at a big university in Tokyo. I've been in Japan for 11 years, and I plan to stay here, but I still have ties to the Chicago area. In fact, my brother teaches at IIT (at the College of Engineering, and I've visited the campus a few times. For a long time after graduating, I didn't go back to Shimer (the usual love-hate thing that many Shimer graduates have, I think), but I've gone back to visit a few times in the past few years, I read the newsletters and check out the web page from time to time. From my perspective, I think the proposal to move to the IIT campus is a good one.

The biggest reason is that it would give so many advantages to Shimerians in terms of curriculum. I absolutely loved the Shimer curriculum--I took as many credits as possible each semester, doing all the classes in Soc Sci and Nat Sci, and doing a lot of independent studies in sociology, philosophy, and botany. But although I really wanted to do more science, there was just no chance to do it at Shimer. These days, there must be many Shimerians who are interested in environmental issues, and IIT has interdisciplinary course on the environment. It's true, as someone said, that IIT is a tech school, but technology can be useful. Aren't there Shimerians who'd like to be able to take classes in computer programming, web page design, etc. as a way of expressing themselves? My brother also pointed out to me the Center for Ethics in the Professions and the Math and Science Education Program, both of which are nationally known and which could be of interest to Shimerians.

Another reason in favor of the move is that the general facilities would be so much better. It wasn't until graduate school that I realized how great it could be to have access to a real library, not just a collection of books stored in the basement of the Waukegan public library. And the dormitory! I know people have a lot of attachment to that run-down building, but it was already dangerous when I lived there. From what I saw the last time I was there, in the summer of 2004, there have been some cosmetic improvements (the scary basement is not so scary anymore), but basically, it still seems to be falling apart. It's true that the Shimer dorm rooms have kitchens, but since they have the same stoves that were already no working right 20 years ago, I'm not sure how useful they really are.

What are the specific arrangements for the dorms at IIT? Will the Shimerians be living together in the same dorm? Are there some communal kitchens available? If so, then people can cook and eat together sometimes, as one way of creating a sense of community. (That's what the Chinese students in Tokyo seem to do, in whatever dorm they are living in, and it works for them. And don't they still have community lunches and potluck dinners at Shimer, even though the dorm has kitchens?)

The Chicago location would be great! IIT is much closer to the Art Institute, the Field Museum, the Chicago Symphony, all those used bookstores, not to mention the restaurants and the Chicago Blues Festival. Back in my Shimer days, I was lucky to get down to Chicago once or twice a semester. It would be so cool for Shimerians to be just a short El ride from the Art Institute. Maybe the neighborhood surrounding IIT is dangerous, but I don't think it's nowhere near as dangerous as that of Temple University, and students seemed to adjust to that environment pretty quickly. And what does "dangerous" really mean? When I was going to Northwestern, I lived in Edgewater, another "dangerous" neighborhood in Chicago, and it was really not as bad as the reputation would lead you to believe. My brother hasn't had any problems commuting to and from IIT, even when using public transportation in the evening. What does Waukegan have to offer? As far as I can see, Waukegan has never been especially welcoming to Shimer, and it certainly isn't very attractive to potential students. I went to Shimer in spite of the fact that it was in Waukegan, not because of it.

I can understand the worries about Shimer losing its identity, but I don't think it will really be a problem. Right now, I am at a big university (50,000 students), divided into many schools; I'm currently teaching at two undergraduate schools, the School of Law, and the new School of International Liberal Studies which just opened in 2004. Even at such a big place, the students quickly feel an identity with their school because of the shared curriculum. Even at our new school, which doesn't even have it's own "space" within the university yet, (we're just using empty rooms at various locations aroundthe campus), students feel a strong identity just because they are studying something that the others aren't. As long as Shimer sticks with its core curriculum, people will feel that they are Shimerians, and if they "Shimerize" the space as they intend to, it will be even better. My brother also thinks there would be no problem with Shimer keeping its own identity. He says most of the techie-type students don't especially identify with IIT, and the ones who do want to be part of a group join one of the student organizations. From the point of view of the average IIT student, then, Shimerians would easily be able to keep their distinct identity. He also says that Vandercook feels like a clearly separate entity, but that regular IIT students really enjoy being able to take music classes there.

About the only thing that I don't like about the proposal is that IIT doesn't seem to offer many (or maybe any) classes in foreign languages, something which is sorely lacking in Shimer's curriculum. But at least there are plenty of international students on the IIT campus.

Shimer has been in Waukegan for more than 20 years, and it just is not thriving. I think it's time to try something new.


Anonymous said...

Edgewater...dangerous? Edgewater has diverse neighborhood residents, but it is NOT dangerous in the least....Uptown is so safe and it's ridiculous to compare it to the Bronzeville/35th St. hood. Just because there are lots of ethnic people walking around on the streets doesn't mean a neighborhood is dangerous. I would also be in favor of the move if I didn't fear for my fellow students safety, worry about them being shot or mugged.

Alan said...

Claiming that those who acknowledge the truth of how dangerous Waukegan can be are doing so based on racial diversity is offensive. The claims that Waukegan is dangerous are based on fact and experience.
Waukegan IS dangerous to the average Shimer Student. Waukegan is swamped with inner city problems. It is located next to a huge housing project. Waukegan is full of gang violence and shootings. I myself had to on occation put Simon City Royal gang bangers out of Shimer housing by force when things got rough. Two examples,.. Once when a young Nick Vechioni unfamiliar with gang ettiquette in the area tilted his hat the wrong way. Suddenly he was surrounded by an angry mob wanting to beat him up. Another time was when a crack addicted drunken gang banger was in the dorm trying to force himself into the rooms of several under age early entrants.
I personally never got hassled much on the street. Criminals look for easy marks not willing challenges. There are other postings on here however from students who were mugged or assaulted.
We should not lie about how nice and rosey Waukegan is. If you personally have never had to deal with the seedy underside of Waukegan then lucky you. But don't devalue the experiences of those who have posted here and told of being mugged or assaulted. The fact is Shimer in Waukegan IS located in a bad neighborhood. Frankly, Most of the safety Shimer students enjoy comes from the protection of those gang members who see Shimer as a market place for drugs. For instance "Darryl" the crack addicted gang banger I mentioned earlier was later beat up by members of his own gang for "messing with Shimer" because it's "Bad for Business". This may lead to some people thinking Shimer is a safe place. Being protected from criminals by criminals is not real safety however. It's an illusion.
The ITT Campus is well lit and has a large profesional security force, somehing that doesn't exist in Waukegan. The security patrols the campus in cars, on bikes, and on foot. The buildings are secure. There are emergency call boxes on the campus grounds. The security have a good working relationship with the Chicago Police who also patrol the campus. They can radio for police back up when needed. Also the Security offer escorts to students after dark to housing, trains and other locations.
By the way. I bet there are ethnic people in the Bronzeville/35th street neighborhood too. Don't fool yourself, the idea that Waukegan is a dangerous cess pool is not based on anyones ethnicity. It's based on fact and experience.
Alan Perry