After decades of mistrust and misunderstanding, the University is getting reacquainted with Woodlawn
IT’S POSSIBLE TO ARGUE THERE’S NO SUCH THING as Woodlawn. Geographically, the neighborhood is bounded by Jackson Park, King Drive, 60th Street, and 67th Street, but its true demarcations—its identity and unifying characteristics—are murkier. Woodlawn lacks the natural cohesion of other city neighborhoods: there are no softball leagues (or fields), no arts district, few storefronts, and fewer community centers. Residents don’t necessarily feel connected to each other or to the jostling neighborhood groups that claim to represent them. The vacant lots dotting the landscape both embody and contribute to Woodlawn’s social fragmentation; the physical gaps between neighbors widen their isolation. Community gardening on empty property has become one of the area’s few civic activities.
Until this decade, when development began picking up and new residents began moving in, Woodlawn’s history was a marathon of decline. Between 1960 and 2000, its population fell from 81,279 to 27,086 as integration provoked furious white flight (in 1930 Woodlawn was 86 percent white; by 1960, 10.4 percent; in 2000, 3 percent) and worsening poverty chased away middle-class blacks. In the 1960s and ’70s neighborhood deterioration sparked “insurance fires” that claimed more than 100 buildings. Gangs commanded the streets. Taverns overtook 63rd Street’s once-bustling commercial corridor, until finally most business died. Across the Midway’s grassy moat, meanwhile, the University raised its drawbridge.
After early-1960s protests foiled their urbanrenewal hopes, some U of C officials ignored the neighborhood. Others sought engagement. In 1968 high-school basketball coach Larry Hawkins became inaugural director of the University’s Office of Special Programs—a post he still holds—organizing Upward Bound curricula for youngsters in Woodlawn and elsewhere. By the 1970s Chicago’s education dean began looking for ways to help local public-school principals. A few students tutored Woodlawn grade-schoolers, while individual professors offered after-school and summertime lessons in math and science.
Today many of those efforts have become institutional. Students and faculty volunteer through the Center for Urban School Improvement and the Neighborhood Schools Program as tutors, mentors, and instructional coaches. They work with Woodlawn social-service agencies, the University Community Service Center, or activist groups like the Student/Tenant Organizing Project (STOP). The Office of Community Affairs seeks to preserve and create affordable housing, while the Civic Knowledge Project, an organization founded by Humanities dean Danielle Allen, aims for an unusual exchange: University book-learning for neighborhood memory and experience. Civic Knowledge Project staffers arrange programs, tutoring, and library access for local residents, who help catalog and archive their neighborhoods’ cultural, economic, and political histories. Even if Woodlawn residents haven’t decided to trust the University, they’re certainly seeing a lot more of it.
BY THE TIME RESIDENTS OF BEAT 313, in Woodlawn’s northwest corner, begin arriving for their monthly chat with the Chicago Police Department, 7 p.m. has come and gone. “We sometimes start a little late,” explains Gerald Ross, who serves as liaison between 3rd District officers and his neighbors. “They’ll be here.” Moments later, a few footfalls thump the stairs, and then a trickle becomes a torrent. By 7:35 residents fill six rows of folding chairs at St. Philip Lutheran Church at 62nd Street and Eberhart Avenue. Five officers listen as locals describe the drug deals they’ve witnessed from bedroom windows and kitchen balconies. One woman reports that “some not-kosher people” often loiter outside her apartment; another says squatters and drug addicts have been breaking into boarded-up buildings on his block. Someone else wants to know, “Who do you have to kill to get some streetlights?”
Three rows from the front, University Police Sergeant JoCathy Roberts takes notes. When a resident calling herself a “single woman alone” confesses she sleeps with a cell phone under her pillow and a hammer under her bed, Roberts offers comfort. “Don’t be shy about calling the police if something happens,” she says. “And take a self-defense class. You’ll feel more confident.”
Roberts and other UCPD officers have been attending Woodlawn beat meetings for four years, ever since campus police agreed—at the request of 20th Ward Alderman Arenda Troutman and 300 locals assembled at a June 2001 community meeting—to extend its patrols south to 64th Street. “We’re mending the broken bridges,” says Roberts, who, as a community-outreach officer, often shows up at schools, libraries, and condo-board meetings. “In the past, people, especially in Woodlawn, really distrusted the U of C. That’s not as true anymore. Now the message we’re sending is we’re willing to say the safety of Woodlawn residents is as important as the safety of people in Hyde Park and the University.”
Rudolph Nimocks, University Police executive director, agrees that the message is getting through. A Woodlawn resident for 53 years, he says the past decade has seen a drop in crime. “And people know that when they call 911, we come out too. Sometimes we get there before the city cops do. The University and the University Police Department are part of, rather than apart from, neighboring communities.”
Yet a chill sometimes lingers south of the Midway. Wrapping up Beat 313’s meeting, police warn about a recent spike in attacks on lone pedestrians near 60th Street and Washington Park. Residents say they’ve already noticed it. One man wryly observes that a similar crime wave on campus and in Hyde Park prompted televised warnings on local news segments. “What does it take,” he asks, “to get a warning on TV?”
The reply comes quickly: “It’s all about who carries the juice,” says a 3rd District officer. A room full of heads nod solemnly, knowingly. One man chortles. “Yeah, who carries the juice.”
In the past 40 years, says TWO chair Leon Finney, his relationship with the U of C has evolved from conflict to collaboration.
THE NIGHT IVY BASS RETURNED HOME to the news that gang members were trying to recruit her teenage son, she hit the streets spoiling for a fight. “I had just come from work,” she says, “so I put on my house shoes and got out my baseball bat and I said, ‘Who wants you to join a gang? Who said that to you?’ And I walked up and down Ellis and Greenwood looking for them.” Bass never found the culprits, but she and her husband did manage to raise four boys in the 1960s and ’70s who were “good kids in Woodlawn. Never in any trouble that I knew about.” Beginning in the late 1950s the family spent three decades in an apartment at 61st Street and Woodlawn Avenue, where her kids grew up playing ice hockey on the Midway. Four years ago Bass moved to a low-income cohousing development on Kimbark Avenue and 62nd Street. A block north, a handsome graystone sits boarded up, while a developer’s sign across the street advertises 33 soon-to-be-built condominiums with gas fireplaces, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and asking prices starting at $215,000. “I call this the new Woodlawn,” Bass says. “The old people are gone, new people coming in.” Her husband Henry died in 1997. The following year she took over the newsstand he’d operated at 63rd Street and Ellis Avenue for three decades, ever since he saw the stand’s previous owner robbed at gunpoint and killed. “He stayed with him until the ambulance came, but the man died.” Now waking up at 4 a.m. everyday, Bass sells the Tribune, Sun-Times, and Defender to University-bound commuters and Woodlawn locals. Most of the newer residents, she says, get their news from the Internet. “My husband sold everything: candy, newspapers, magazines. I just sell the three papers.”
She’s heard the “rumors and conspiracy talk” about University involvement in Woodlawn’s changing demographics—and she too has noticed white residents moving in while blacks are moving out—but Bass says she “can’t relate to that. I just say time was coming and a change had to take place.” What Bass sees is neighborhood evolution. “It’s a poor wind that don’t blow.”
SONYA MALUNDA, THE UNIVERSITY’S assistant vice president and director of community affairs, is still settling into her new office. After eight years of working from the quads, she packed up her desk last fall and headed to the community-affairs office’s first field outpost, in the Edelstone Building at 6030 S. Ellis Avenue. Woodlawn has become her single focus, and the South Campus Plan her most visible assignment. Over the next 15 years, the U of C will add a dormitory, a parking garage, offices, and retail space to the area roughly between 60th and 61st streets and Cottage Grove and Stony Island avenues. “It will create an attractive, welcoming campus edge facing the community,” says Vice President for Community and Government Affairs Henry Webber. “Something like what we’ve done successfully along 55th Street.” Still, south-campus redevelopment is a sensitive topic; at public meetings in 2004, Woodlawn residents expressed unease about University intentions and dissatisfaction with the level and frequency of its communications. Malunda’s presence, in fact, is part of a campaign to answer those worries. The revelation last October that consultants had urged University trustees to consider expanding the campus south of 61st Street—which would violate a 42-year agreement with one of Woodlawn’s most influential community groups—sparked a minor uproar and prompted swift assurances from Webber’s office. “Keeping that agreement is absolutely significant” to building trust with Woodlawn residents, says Malunda. “This is a work in progress. The University has had a very long, complicated, controversial history with its neighbors to the south, and it will take many years to improve that connection. Are we getting better? Yes. Have I worked my way out of a job? No. The main thing we need to do is be in the community. And the trick is to be at the table, but at the same time not be at the table with all the answers.”
Proof, she says, lies in the $20 million plan to renovate the Midway. During neighborhood skull sessions in 1999, locals were eager to open a connection to the University and soften the Midway’s uninviting immensity. “The community wanted a bridge,” Malunda says. “They wanted activities on the Midway to reach across to Woodlawn.” An ice rink opened in February 2001, and the plan also envisions a children’s garden and a playground. Last September city and University officials unveiled a one-acre memorial garden just west of the Midway honoring longtime Chicago professor and Woodlawn resident Allison Davis, PhD’42.
As University Police outreach officer, Sergeant JoCathy Roberts appears at condo-board meetings, schools, libraries, and police-beat meetings.
Beyond campus planning, the work of Malunda, Webber, and his staff touches other spheres of neighborhood life: jobs, housing, schools, redevelopment. The Neighborhood Schools Program hires U of C students to work in elementary and high-school classrooms. Business-diversity and workforce-development initiatives help steer opportunities to locals. This month Webber announced a $1 million investment in the Community Investment Corporation, a nonprofit lending group whose programs rescue and rehab affordable housing. “There’s a broad consensus that Woodlawn needs to be a community of choice, and a community of choice for people of different economic backgrounds,” Webber says. “We’re particularly concerned about the preservation of affordable housing, now that the market is working.” He believes he’s seen the end of Woodlawn’s deterioration. “The decades between 1950 and 1990,” he says, “were a period of precipitous decline in Chicago; it was the largest 40-year decline of any American city. But particularly in East Woodlawn, there is revitalization, and that’s a pattern we expect to continue.”
FIVE YEARS AGO, WHEN DOROTHY PYTEL was pregnant with her oldest son and her husband Peter was beginning a pathology residency at the Hospitals, the couple moved into a spacious, wide-windowed apartment at 61st Street and Woodlawn Avenue. Out their northward living-room window sprawls the Brickyard Garden, a collection of community vegetable plots and flowerbeds organized in 1975, when an apartment building burned to the ground and neighbors got tired of seeing abandoned cars on the empty lot. It’s one of a half-dozen community gardens to take root on vacant properties within a few blocks of each other. “They put a fence around it and kind of repossessed the land,” says Pytel, who has become the Brickyard Garden’s principal overseer, securing several grants and launching a summer program for children. “There’s so little going on here after school gets out that the kids don’t have anything to do. They end up just hanging out on the street.”
Last spring a busload of Hospitals volunteers helped Brickyard gardeners build a pergola and some raised beds. Both University transplants and longtime Woodlawn residents tend the 20 or so plots, and a few original gardeners have bequeathed their spaces to children and grandchildren. “Some years are weedier than others,” says Pytel, “and our biggest harvest still seems to be bricks [from the burned building], but in the spring the garden is beautiful. And I’ve gotten to know so many neighbors.” Mostly they trade stories, growing tips, and garden plans—in the works this year are a pair of rain barrels—but sometimes talk turns to politics. At both the Brickyard Garden and the community meetings Pytel attends, people often want to know, she says, “what’s up the University’s sleeve.” She’s starting to notice a change in the U of C’s projected attitude toward Woodlawn. For one thing, an employer-assisted housing program launched in 2003 offers University staff $7,500 grants to help them buy homes in outlying neighborhoods like Woodlawn. During her house search five years ago, Pytel says, “we didn’t exactly feel encouraged; people thought it was unsafe here.”
AT 82, SARA SPURLARK LOOKS LIKE SHE STOPPED aging 15 years ago: sharp eyes, smooth skin, and a straight, slender neck. In 1947, when she moved her books and clothes into International House, Woodlawn was a white neighborhood. So were Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, and South Shore. Spurlark’s father had arrived at the University from South Carolina in 1912. “He lived in a dorm too,” she says. A black man, he couldn’t live anywhere else. “When I got here, that was all about to change.” In 1948 the Supreme Court ended restrictive housing covenants, and a black doctor promptly bought a house in Kenwood. South Side integration lurched into motion. Within a decade the University was elbow-deep in urban renewal, buying up and tearing down swaths of abandoned properties. “That’s something for which the University of Chicago has been both blessed and cursed,” says Spurlark, who still lives in Hyde Park. “The intentions were good, but because urban renewal had never been done, they made a lot of mistakes. ... While places like Woodlawn were degenerating, the University made Hyde Park and South Kenwood more desirable. It ignored the collar communities. That kind of thing generates hard feelings.”
And long memories. Over the years, Spurlark sometimes endured residents’ resentment. After 22 years as a public-school principal, in 1989 she helped launch the U of C’s Center for Urban School Improvement (USI, originally the Center for School Improvement). Her first assignment took her to Fiske Elementary, at 61st Street and Ingleside Avenue, where she faced residents convinced—wrongly, Spurlark says—that University scholars had profited from research at the school and then declined to share the spoils. “When are we going to get our money?” she remembers one man asking at a meeting she’d convened to explain “what we thought we brought to the table and to emphasize that we wanted to be the school’s partner.” Since those early tensions, “there’s been enough consciousness raised,” she says. “There have been enough frank discussions where people say, ‘What you did was not bad; how you did it was not good.’ If things are done in ways that make people feel respected, you can do almost anything.”
Last September Spurlark retired as USI’s director of leadership development, having helped shape the center’s myriad initiatives. Boldest of all, she says, was starting two charter elementary schools: North Kenwood-Oakland, which opened in 1998, and Donohue on 37th Street, where classes started last fall. A charter high school is slated for Woodlawn in 2006, and USI has formed relationships with all seven public elementary schools in the neighborhood. Classroom teachers, tutors, and literacy coordinators train on campus, while students and faculty at the School of Social Service Administration help address “nonacademic barriers to learning” such as poverty, hunger, and stressful home lives, says USI Executive Director Timothy Knowles. Principals and teachers can apply for extra guidance, and USI sponsors monthly workshops and two-week intensive labs. Researchers from the center also generate classroom tools like early-grade literacy assignments and digital systems to track student progress. “This is not esoteric social-science research,” Knowles says. “We’re creating tools that derive from the problems of classroom practice.” The way Knowles sees it, producing useful implements is essential, especially given the University’s uncomfortable history with Woodlawn. “The only way to transcend the idea of ‘here comes the ivory tower to tell us what to do’ is to deliver results, whether you’re training teachers or teaching kids.”
ONE NIGHT IN 1980, AN APARTMENT BUILDING two doors down from Mattie Butler’s 65th Street home caught fire. Coming 15 years after arsonists began torching well-insured Woodlawn properties, the fire was part of a long, eviscerating neighborhood calamity, but this time 13 children died—“kids I knew when they were in the womb,” Butler says. She remembers a fireman rushing from the building, his back in flames as he cradled a baby that was already dead. “All these years later I still get emotional and angry.” She’d been living in Woodlawn since 1964, when her older brother Jerry “The Iceman” Butler, a newly prosperous R&B singer (later a Cook County commissioner), bought a three-flat near Stony Island Avenue and moved his family out of Cabrini Green. “He didn’t know white flight was going on,” Butler says. “As soon as we got here, the stuff hit the fan, and then it was worse than Cabrini.”
Within months of the 1980 fire, Butler founded Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN), an organization dedicated to finding jobs, improving education, and preserving affordable housing for residents. Over the years WECAN’s causes have pitted Butler against city officials, state legislators, other Woodlawn leaders, and U of C administrators. “The student body has always had a good relationship with this organization,” she insists, adding, “Our relationship with the University’s Office of Community Affairs has become more meaningful this year than ever before. They’re listening now; there’s a dialogue. You feel like there’s hope for working together.”
Not that Butler has retired her bullhorn. Woodlawn’s problems persist, and the University, she says, has a responsibility to help fix them. Foremost on her mind are rising rents—without low-income tax breaks, “this place will be gentrified out of its skull”—and failing schools. University Police patrols in Woodlawn also make Butler a little uneasy, especially given periodic Chicago Maroon reports of campus officers allegedly harassing black students. “Any time you’ve got more police protection, that’s a good thing,” She says. “However, when you become a target...”
Calling the University a “giant on the move,” she urges changes that Webber and Knowles argue are under way: affordable-housing development, assistance for existing public schools, jobs for Woodlawn residents, and a more welcoming demeanor. “The University needs to expand its definition of community,” she says. “Right now it’s limited, and the boundaries are the property the University owns and operates. If they expand to all the areas they’re affecting, treat those areas with honor and respect, people would trust them more. That trust would come back.”
THE BAD OLD DAYS ARE GONE. That much Leon Finney Jr., chair and CEO of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) and founding pastor at Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, can say for sure. Unbuttoning his suit jacket and leaning into the polished expanse of a leather armchair, Finney recalls Woodlawn’s dark age in the 1960s: slumlords, white flight, failing businesses, and surging street crime.
The University, Finney says, didn’t help matters. Landlocked and acquisitive—and looking to secure its southern boundary in a deteriorating South Side—it wanted to reshape Woodlawn into an urban-renewal landscape. Empty storefronts and run-down apartment houses were to make room for a dormitory, parking lots, an applied-research park. That’s when TWO (in those nascent days it was called the Temporary Woodlawn Organization) went to war—and won. The wrecking ball stopped swinging, and in 1964 TWO leaders exacted a written promise from University administrators: the campus would not extend south of 61st Street. “There was a real insensitivity to the issues of land and land use back then,” Finney says. “That was what catalyzed the formation of TWO in the first place, what provoked open warfare. Forty-five years later, the University is still living that down.”
Cofounded by Bishop Arthur Brazier, whose Apostolic Church of God on 63rd Street claims an active membership of more than 18,000, TWO began as a militant protest organization. Power and the passing years have mellowed its rhetoric and widened its calling. Today the group functions as a social-service agency, child-care provider, real-estate developer, property manager, and housing advocate. Since the early 1970s the organization has worked with University administrators (who emphasize their “junior partner” status) on projects such as Jackson Park Terrace, a low-income high-rise at 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue constructed and later renovated by the Community Development Corporation (TWO’s real-estate arm) with financial help and a long-term lease from the University. In 1987 collaboration helped spawn the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation (WPIC), whose board includes higher-ups from both groups: Finney, Brazier, Webber, and Nimocks. A few years ago, a WPIC project to enliven eight empty blocks of 63rd Street with 233 homes (one-fifth affordable housing) began. Last May WPIC, TWO, and the University—with input from local residents and funding from the MacArthur Foundation—published a “quality-of-life” plan calling for, among other things, a business district along Cottage Grove Avenue, a playground in west Woodlawn, an expanded employment center, and a neighborhood arts council.
Some Woodlawn activists—not least Butler—claim that TWO has matured beyond the interests of ordinary residents, trading scrappy vigor for settled power. Brazier has heard this complaint before. “People say we’ve sold out—sold out to what?” he says. “What we did was not make permanent enemies with a powerful institution that can do a lot to help Woodlawn. ... Why struggle with a university willing and prepared to make that cordial relationship?” Besides, Finney says, TWO and University officials don’t always agree. Finney’s not sold on the charter schools, which siphon vital resources—money and influence—he’d like to see spent on existing schools and affordable housing. “Woodlawn schools are in desperate shape.”
GERALD WISE, PASTOR OF FIRST Presbyterian Church, worries more than he used to about Woodlawn’s poor, but he’s certain the University isn’t the enemy. “I used to be considered a radical,” he says. “Now I’m a realist.” From First Presbyterian’s pulpit at 64th Street and Kimbark Avenue, Wise has monitored 19 years of Woodlawn history. Two decades before he became the church’s pastor, however, he was an occasional student at the Divinity School and a disciple of community organizer Saul Alinsky, PhB’30. When TWO was founded in 1961, Wise was there. “Saul Alinsky thought it was something we should see,” he says. These days the church’s rambling corridors and classrooms house 90 children in day care, preschool, and after-school programs. Each week worshippers prepare 150 food baskets and 200 hot meals for the hungry. “People are in need,” Wise says, and he has a wary eye on Woodlawn’s quickening home sales and condo conversions. Vacant lots are disappearing, a welcome auspice, “but once again, poorer residents are being crowded out. I see no problem with development—God bless them, come, come—but how do you get the government to do what it should do: look after the poor?” He believes it’s up to city officials to protect those suddenly faced with prohibitive rents and unpayable property taxes, but the U of C ought to help. “It can leverage power to hold the government accountable,” Wise says. “The science of sociology was developed right here at the University, for goodness sakes.”
Even more crucial and concrete than clout, however, are jobs. “No sense talking about housing if there aren’t any jobs,” he says. The U of C provides many for Woodlawn residents—at its Hospitals, kitchens, janitor’s closets, and cashier windows—and the campus’s southward expansion promises more. “The thing that is going to save Woodlawn,” Wise says, “is jobs.”
AS A WOODLAWN NATIVE AND ACTIVIST and a Chicago alum, Joe Strickland, AM’02, straddles two worlds. His brother still lives in the Drexel Avenue house his grandmother bought in the late 1950s, but little else remains of the neighborhood he remembers. “When I grew up in Woodlawn, there were rec centers, a YMCA, theaters, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, grocery stores—everything a community needed,” he says. “By the time I reached high school, all that was changing. Businesses were leaving.” Strickland spent the 1990s working in Boston, and when he returned in 2000, “pretty much all the buildings were gone, and those that weren’t gone were boarded up.” Figuring he could help, he enrolled in the School of Social Service Administration and with seven classmates launched Metropolitan Area Group for Igniting Civilization (MAGIC). The organization made a mission out of Woodlawn’s faltering and frustrated kids. Today MAGIC runs a handful of programs teaching students—and often their parents—entrepreneurship, Web design, and community organizing. During summer-long paid apprenticeships, kids produce artwork that’s publicly displayed. Some teenagers conceive and manage their own programs; the group’s oldest project, called United Sisters of Civilization, asks high-school girls to recruit adult lecturers and organize a ten-week schedule of seminars covering topics like financial literacy, math and science, critical thinking, nutritional health, etiquette, cultural awareness, and violence prevention. “It was as if young people were an afterthought in Woodlawn,” Strickland says. “There was so much focus on issues like housing that even education didn’t seem like a priority. We saw gaps that needed to be filled.”
University Hospitals gave MAGIC one of its first grants, and Strickland receives support—financial and otherwise—from the Office of Community Affairs. “They’ve been very helpful, but more importantly, they’ve been helpful in a way that doesn’t co-opt what we do,” he says. “A lot of times we might disagree with the University, but we haven’t been penalized for being outspoken.” For instance, Strickland isn’t so sure about some affordable-housing projects supported by the Office of Community Affairs. “First, ‘affordable housing’ is relative,” he says. “I know University graduates who can’t afford it. And these developments should include space for young people. It’s not attainable housing if large families can’t live together. That’s how poor people survive, by combining three or four paychecks to pay one rent.” He’d also like to see an admissions quota for Woodlawn residents. “I don’t want lower standards. But I’m sure we could find people to meet the qualifications.” Chicago would benefit from the arrangement too, he says, by gaining a more organic connection to the neighborhood. “If Tamara goes to the University of Chicago, then everyone on her block has a tie to the University.”
He credits President Don Randel with fostering much of the University’s recent openness. “Actually, it’s kind of scary he’s leaving,” he says, echoing a sentiment shared by other local activists. More and more Strickland sees Chicago officials reaching across the Midway, and Woodlawn residents, he says, ought to reach back. “In the past, people saw the University as a colonial power, but those days are gone. Don Randel made sure of that. Now if the University doesn’t seem to care, it’s because it doesn’t know. They’re listening; talk to them. Communicate.”
WHEN HE WAS A KID, WALLACE GOODE JR. and his friends played ball in the middle of the block. It kept them safe, he says, from lurking gang members. Somebody suspicious would round one corner and Goode and his buddies would bolt toward the other. “We’d be running through gangways, people’s basements, people’s garages, everywhere.” Goode’s home—and nearly his whole universe— was on Minerva Avenue and 66th Street, one of the few neutral blocks in 1960s Woodlawn. Steps away stood “100 percent gang territory,” he says. “Your world was very small in those days. Because of the gangs, you mostly stayed on your block.” Yet Woodlawn maintained thriving businesses for years—Goode got his first job at a shoe store on 63rd Street—and a lively nightlife. “It was a vibrant African American community where you could find doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and people on welfare all living on the same block.” After he left for Elmhurst College in 1970, an exodus of black middle-class residents decimated and impoverished the neighborhood.
Last August Goode returned. As the new director of the University Community Service Center, associate dean of students, and a Woodlawn homeowner, he marvels at the zeal with which University officials now try to engage longtime black residents. He remembers “looking across the Midway at 15 years old and feeling like the University was so far away.” He’d acquired a taste for scholarly pursuits thanks to U of C students who tutored him and his fifth-grade classmates, and by the time he was in high school Goode had begun sneaking on campus to try and blend in. University police were never fooled, and he remembers one night in particular when an officer “very clearly said, ‘You don’t belong here.’”
The gulf between campus and neighborhood is narrowing, Goode says. Looking beyond community affairs, school improvement, and campus policing, he counts among the University’s outreach efforts the Oriental Institute’s winter exhibit of Nubian photography, Court Theatre’s symposium on August Wilson’s Fences, and a Smart Museum campaign to expand neighborhood family membership. Goode’s office, which annually helps 2,500 students volunteer in the surrounding communities, is compiling an Orientation Week video to offer incoming students a glimpse of neighborhoods like Woodlawn. “Not enough of them know Woodlawn is there or what it is,” he says. “But the question I keep asking is, ‘Why?’ Why such hyped-up attention now?” His theories range from the “altruistic to the pragmatic,” but he’s not sure it matters to Woodlawn residents. “They’re saying, ‘It’s about time.’”
STANDING AT HIS OFFICE WINDOW on the Administration Building’s fifth floor and looking out across the quads, with their cloisters and spires and filigreed arches, University President Don Randel can’t help but think of the Middle Ages. “Universities were first founded when the streets were dangerous places,” he says. “Gothic architecture was founded under these circumstances too, and by its nature it looks inward. ... The idea of retreat, of keeping apart from the outside world, is in the DNA of a university going back hundreds of years.” But never has it been more imperative for the U of C to overcome its isolationist heritage, and Randel hopes the outreach will continue after his departure. Woodlawn, he says, presents “the mother of all interdisciplinary problems”: a fragmented population in need of housing, schools, parks, safe streets, jobs, money, and grocery stores. “And we have to get it right this time. Otherwise, it’ll be 50 years before we get another chance.”