Tuesday, December 20, 2005

From Yael (moved up from comments)

I wanted to post this as a main header instead of as a comment, but I don't want to wait for a to-join invitation, so here it is. Just pretend this is a new topic entitled "this is what propaganda looks like."

It's so weird getting letters from Shimer. I will admit, however, that I prefer it to getting strange phone calls from sorority-sounding telemarketers who are obviously reading a script off of a page as they ask me to donate money to Shimer and inform me that Shimer does not have the staff to make these phone calls themselves. It's a strange, impersonal approach and one which I don't think many alums would respond to well, me included. I wonder if it has anything to do with the low level donations.

In any case, I was disappointed to receive the "information of interest" letter in the mail because it read like propoganda. I'll be up front about the fact that I never liked Waukegan and took Metra to Chicago every chance I could get during my time at Shimer. However, I never went to the South Side of Chicago for safety reasons. I also know how hard it is to get from one part of Chicago to the next even in the better parts of the city. It's not like it's a hop, skip and a throw from all of the art museum. But I digress. My point is that this letter didn't even cover SAFETY in the "number of objections" list. And I think it's a huge issue. I know that the letter stated that neither the pros nor cons are exhaustive, but I still don't think leaving out this very vital point was just an oversight.

Also, if you look at the wording of the "pros" versus the "cons," it is totally inconsistent. Every word under the list of "various rationales" is not just a verb, but a strong verb that reads like a resume: providing, strengthening, creating, enhancing, giving, promoting, positioning. The language used for the "number of objections" is extremely wishy washy. Like for example, "the loyalty that SOME alums feel to the Waukegan campus" (emphasis mine), the POTENTIAL loss of a distinctive Shimer identity, the lingering unfavorable reputation of the south side of Chicago DESPITE RECENT IMPROVEMENTS." This language makes the objections seem weak. Imagine if the rationales were written in that language. "The possibility that some people think Shimer college might grow that some but not all alum believe would exist" or "overall nervousness about Shimer's fundraising base weakening, despite the possibility that it could strengthen."

Is it just me, or does anybody else feel that a decision has already been made and this letter is just propaganda?

I feel like the most important thing is Shimer's survival, it is more important than this particular decision, finding ways we can all get together to support one another and support the college which has done so much for us. I felt this strange nostalgia I didn't expect just reading this blog and seeing how passionate everyone is, how they've taken the Shimer experience and applied it to different goals... even the way people have reached different conclusions in a way that is so thought-out and balanced and Shimerian. But when I get letters like this, I feel like it totally insults not just my intelligence but that of everyone who's ever stepped into a Shimer classroom and stepped out a different person. Despite what it says, to me it seems obvious that this letter obviously is not intended to provide a balanced perspective and to seek feedback, but to sell an idea. I'm disappointed. When my alma mater claims to send a document to "share an account of the issues at hand" I'd prefer to receive an account that is less one-sided.

Whether or not Shimer moves is obviously not my decision. The fact that my parents would have never let me attend a college on the South Side of Chicago (and that I would be very hesitant to visit for the same reason) probably doesn't matter at this point. I just find it disengenious for this letter to say that moving to that area would "provide an opportunity for Shimer alums to reengage with the college." Just a bit off kilter, don't you think?

I think everyone here has brilliantly hashed the rest of the rationale bullet points quite well, but I just wanted to add something about the whole "providing basic, traditional student services" and "overcoming isolation by giving students contact with greater cultural diversity, larger communities and more academic opportunities" thing. In my three years in Waukegan, I took two yoga classes in Lake Forest, a class at the Carl Jung Center in Evanston, went to the gym in Waukegan regularly, was involved with two pagan groups, was heavily involved with different types of activism in Chicago, and basically had a lot of contact with a large, culturally diverse community. This is a choice. It is possible to live in South Chicago and stay in one's Ivory Tower (and in fact that's probably a choice I would make were I at ITT, under the watchful eye of campus security.) It is possible to take falling-apart dormitory rooms and make them beautiful (as Kathleen demonstrated when she moved into the room I was in...what was it, 18? It took her two days to make it beautiful). It is possible to go to the gym, go to the library, take the train to a bookstore, learn how to cook, hang out in the computer lab, stay engaged with the college, have contact with a culturally diverse community, have access to the cultural assets of Chicago, and all the numerous rationales listed in these bullets in this letter--while still residing in Waukegan. It is much more difficult to maintain a tight-knit community amongst a much bigger one, to experience a city one has to worry about physical safety to get to.

I still have a feeling this decision has already been made, but just wanted to add my voice to the record, to the long list of objections to this move, and the inherent uncertainty of the positive projections listed in favor of this idea.

Yael Grauer, class of '02


Katie Harrell said...

I felt the same way reading the letter. To be honest, I didn't even finish it. It kind of made me nauseous. Like I'm being resold something by someone who wasn't around for my original experience of it. A quick look at the bullet points is discouraging. the pros outweigh the cons by bold dots alone.

Laura Hewitt said...

The thing is, the decision hasn't been made. It is being presented as having been made, but the board members I have actually spoken to seem undecided.

As I have said, the "cons" section of that letter does sound extraordinarily dismissive to me.

The Board is carefully considering this move, both pro and con, and the people who wrote that survey have a lot of nerve calling us "intellectually dishonest."

PLEASE do not think your voice is not heard! PLEASE do not let yourselves be defeated because you feel the battle is already decided. Whether or not you are in favor of the move, AS LONG AS WE KEEP SHIMER ALIVE WITH DISCOURSE AND PARTICIPATORY GOVERNMENT AND THINKING ABOUT WHAT SHIMER MEANS, IT IS THAT MUCH FURTHER FROM KICKING UP ITS LITTLE TOESIES AND DYING.

Nil illegitami carborundum, or whatever.


Behind Dish said...

I have some problems with some of the generalizations that the south side is dangerous and scarey. Some of these comments, though not intentional seem to be racist and classist. I've had experiences both good and bad in many Chicago neighborhoods. I've gone to Lincoln Park to find cafes where there are people of all one color and the atmosphere of entitlement and snobbery is frightening. I've lived in 'bad' neighborhoods that have supposedly turned 'good' and what that means is the taking over of small businesses by things like borders and starbucks. In these so called, 'bad areas' one has the opportunity to truly build community, friendship, activism and business ties in a place that is not outrageously expensive. In my years in Chicago I truly enjoyed the cafes and informal spaces in these 'bad' areas. People who take chances and inhabit these areas are truly making a difference in the city.

Behind Dish said...

I'd also like to add to this thought that I'm not completely convinced inhabiting the same space as IIT is going to be good for the neighborhood. In my wierd little hippie dreams I see Shimer in a 'not so traditionally prized' neighborhood really making a difference by being visible in the community and not staying behind the doors of IIT. Does IIT do any outreach in the neighborhood to make it a better more welcomming place for everyone?

Anonymous said...

So it's racist and classist to say that Waukegan, which is predominantly Hispanic, is safer than the south side?

Saradevil said...


Send me an email address and I'll send you an invite so next time you can post away without waiting.



Laura Hewitt said...

I apologize for being racist and classist. Or (I hope) merely for coming off as such.

I would like to think I can tell the difference between, say, Beverly (where my best friend for twenty years, grew up where I visit his mother three times a year and where I intend to move if I get this academic position in the medical district) and, say, Cicero at the numbered streets, near where we were shot at a couple of months ago, where I may be seen every day, where I occasionally get challenged by law enforcement officers because a slightly hippy-looking white woman can ONLY be selling drugs, because she's too old to be peddling herself. (And yes, I *do* differentiate between this neighborhood and IIT's). I grew up (so to speak) at Armitage and Sheffield (1951 N Bissell), before it was "okay" for a woman alone to venture west of Clybourn or south of Sedgewick. My mother lives in Rogers Park, near the Howard "el" in a stately old Victorian. I visit twice a week, more if I have a lot of laundry.

I freely admit that I don't like any densely populated city, or how humans react to being in this environment, and this is what I distrust about Chicago. While it is important to recognize that we have a duty to not only communities that need Shimer's knowledge and methodology, I would ask Kat L. about the progress the Learning Center(Homework?) Center has made, and its commitment to the community. Are they less "deserving"? Is poverty or struggling less valid in a suburban setting?

Someone nameless, at the alumni meeting, told us that his daughter complained about how, at DePaul in Lincoln Park, there is a huge drinking culture, because "what else is there to do around here?"

It's easier to study the Logos/Word in a monastery on a mountaintop. Whether "easier" is better?

You tell me.