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January 2011 Archives

January 3, 2011

Job satisfaction

A recent ranking highlights an obscure, but apparently well-satisfied, career path.

It always takes a little extra effort to explain what I do for a living. “I work for the University of Chicago,” I’ll say, to be quickly followed by, “No, I’m not faculty, or a researcher, or a doctor or nurse—I work in one of the administrative offices.” Technically speaking, the Department of Labor would classify many of the University’s staff, likely including myself, as “education administrators”, those workers who “set educational standards and goals and establish the policies and procedures required to achieve them. They also supervise managers, support staff, teachers, counselors, librarians, coaches, and other employees. They develop academic programs, monitor students’ educational progress, train and motivate teachers and other staff, manage career counseling and other student services, administer recordkeeping, prepare budgets, and perform many other duties. They also handle relations with parents, prospective and current students, employers, and the community.”

So it was nice to see my relatively obscure occupation highlighted in U.S. News & World Report’s recent list of “the 50 Best Careers of 2011,” a ranking that highlighted high-opportunity professions in the coming year based on job-growth projections, salary data, and other factors such as job satisfaction. It was that last factor—job satisfaction—that got "education administrator" added to the list. Although a few other lesser-known jobs such as "gaming manager" and "hydrologist" appear as well, the majority of the top 50 are more easily recognizable, such as "accountant" or "curator". Nearly half are in either the health-care or high-tech fields. Appropriately enough, the job-satisfaction data came from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC). Its 2007 study, “Job Satisfaction in the United States,” (pdf) lists the top 12 and bottom 12 professions in each of two categories, job satisfaction and “general happiness,” which would seem to beg the question of whether one affects the other.

Education administrator comes in fourth for job satisfaction, behind clergy, physical therapists, and firefighters. “Painter, sculptor, related” rounds out the top five. Those satisfied clergy and firefighters also top the list for general happiness, but my fellow education administrators and I, along with the physical therapists, painters, and sculptors, don’t even make the top 12. On the other hand, careers such as architecture and “transportation ticket and reservation agents” must attract inherently happy people, because they appear in the top five for general happiness without appearing in the top 12 for job satisfaction.

Some of the study’s findings are no surprise—many of the bottom professions in both categories are known for hard work and low wages, such as construction laborers and food preparers—while in other cases it seems that a small change can make a big difference. Considering a career in retail? Think Home Depot before H&M: hardware/building-supplies salespersons are the 11th happiest, but apparel clothing salespersons are the seventh least satisfied in their jobs. Good at fixing things? Think Toyota, not Toshiba: mechanics are the eighth happiest, but electronic repairers the tenth-least happy. In at least one field, a promotion can apparently make all the difference: “maids and housemen” are the eighth least happy, but their supervisors, “housekeepers and butlers,” are the 12th happiest.

Perhaps my colleagues and I should consider transferring to another field well represented here at the University; the “science technicians” who work in the many laboratories on campus may not have our job satisfaction, but they’re nonetheless the seventh happiest occupation. At least it would be easier to explain to people what we do for a living.

Kyle Gorden, AB'00

January 4, 2011

To dye for?

An interview with UChicago's own Tie-Dye Guy

I don’t know what I was expecting when I arranged to interview Rafael Menis, '11, a.k.a. “Tie-Dye Guy,” for the next issue of Core.

I knew Menis was a political-science major and philosophy minor. But for some reason I was not expecting—when I asked the obvious question, “Why?”—to hear that his unusual sartorial choice symbolized “support for the women’s-rights movement, the civil-rights movement, the anti-war movement in particular,” as well as “my right to freedom of expression under the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.”

Here are some more outtakes from my interview with Menis. And no, Dan Dry, I did not think to ask if he wore tie-dye underwear.

QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you wear tie-dye every day?
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do you find aesthetically pleasing about it?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI like the colors.
QandA_QDrop.jpgI’ve seen tie-dye done with a much more limited palette.
QandA_ADrop.jpgI usually like doing more rainbow patterns. I like having all the colors.
QandA_QDrop.jpgSo you make your clothing?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI make some of it. My mom made some of it. My friends helped me with some of the items that I own. I don’t think I’m wearing any of those right now.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIs it difficult? Can you make it in the dorm?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI can. I’ve held a few workshops to teach people in my dorm how to tie-dye things. It just requires access to the proper materials. A pot to hold water to soak the clothing. Clothes of a natural fabric—at least 50 percent cotton or wool or silk. Soda ash water mixture. And then you need to have the dyes.
QandA_QDrop.jpgAny particular dyes?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThey’re relatively dangerous. You should use them with gloves on. And they’re colorfast. Extremely so. Quite frankly, my clothes get holes in them before the dyes wear out.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do people think of your clothing?
QandA_ADrop.jpgSome people react positively: “Oh, this is great; I like what you’re wearing; it brightens my day to see you wearing this.” Some people are like, “Are you a clown?” Some people just move away.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhy? Is it threatening?
QandA_ADrop.jpgIt’s different, certainly.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you get any street harassment? Do people yell comments?
QandA_ADrop.jpgEh. Sometimes people will say, “Nice clothes,” or they’ll laugh, or they’ll call me a clown.
QandA_QDrop.jpgPretty limited repertoire of insults?
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do you do when that happens?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI smile.
QandA_QDrop.jpgNo one’s ever become violent, presumably?
QandA_ADrop.jpgOh, goodness gracious me, no.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you ever get tired of wearing tie-dye?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI like it. If I didn’t like it, I would probably wear something else.
QandA_QDrop.jpgCan you wear it to your job?
QandA_ADrop.jpgYes. I work in the Department of Civic Engagement. I work with the Neighborhood Schools Program and Chicago Public Schools-University of Chicago Internet Project. I fix computers.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDid you have to dress up for the job interview?
QandA_ADrop.jpgNo. I was dressed like this.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow about after graduation?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI want to apply to the Americorps Program in California. I assume that if I was applying to be a business consultant or something like that, reactions would be extremely hostile. But seeing as I’m acting in public service, I assume reactions will be less hostile, and seeing as I’m trying to work in California, possibly even positive.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIt’s kind of obvious, but I hadn’t really thought of your clothing as a manifestation of your political beliefs.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWere your parents radical?
QandA_ADrop.jpgNot particularly. My mother was wandering around. She spent some time raising goats. My stepdad was in the Army at the time. He actually was in Italy. He didn’t have to worry about Vietnam. He spent a lot of time playing music and eating pizza. He’s still a musician. He plays various woodwinds and teaches. My dad, I think, was still in school then. He died when I was quite young.
QandA_QDrop.jpgMaybe you stick out more in Chicago than in California, where you’re from?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI don’t get this sort of attention in California. If I’m wandering around the U of C Berkeley campus, I might hear comments like, “Oh, I left my tie-dye shirt back in my dormitory.”
QandA_QDrop.jpgAnd you never wanted to tie-dye a coat, the whole time you’ve been here?
QandA_ADrop.jpgNo. I thought about tie-dyeing a trenchcoat, but I never quite got around to it.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

Photo by Dan Dry.

January 6, 2011

The paper campus

apf2-00164University buildings that never were.

I'm fascinated with things that never were, particularly when it comes to architecture. And particularly architecture from places I'm familiar with—it's fun to play "what if." So when I realized that the University of Chicago Library's Archival Photographic Files had a veritable treasure trove of drawings and models of campus buildings that, for one reason or another, were never constructed, I decided to start an occasional series. In each post I'll delve into the archives to examine some of these buildings that never made it off the drawing board.

First up is the Administration Building. Plans for a dedicated building for the University administration appear to have existed for a while before the Admin Building that we all know and, uh, ignore went up in 1948.

One early proposal (right) was this high-rise Gothic tower, a distant cousin to Tribune Tower or the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning!

Judging by the buildings in the background, I'm guessing this would have been roughly where Goodspeed Hall is now. If so, this design might well predate the first classes at the University: Goodspeed was completed in 1892.


Sticking with the Gothic theme, this proposal (above) would have blended in nicely with the main quads. It isn't obvious from the rendering where this building would have gone, or even from exactly when it dates.


Architectural firm Holabird, Root, & Burgee proposed this design (above) after the Second World War, very close to what was actually built. It's notable for being perhaps the first infusion of modernism into the neo-Gothic main quads.


But this rendering isn't quite as built: note the differences with the final version (above).


Setting aside Admin, let's go to an old campus favorite—Harper Memorial Library. If you ignore the enormous central tower, this design (below left, top) bears some resemblance to the final product. Note that even at this stage, the third-floor reading room is in place.

I'm not sure why the architect or University settled on the now-iconic twin towers instead of a single spire, but I can't imagine Harper without them.


In the 1930s there was a proposal to give Harper more space for books by adding another tower for book stacks onto the side of the building. I'm not sure why this idea fell through, but again, I'm glad. There isn't much detail on this model, but one can only hope those upper stories wouldn't really have been windowless.

Do you have further insight into the history of either of these buildings? Leave a message in the comments.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

Photos courtesy of the Archival Photographic Files, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

January 12, 2011

The Craftsman cometh

From Wall Street to the woodshop, Richard Sennett wants to honor good work for its own sake.

In 2010 Richard Sennett's (AB’64) latest book, The Craftsman (Yale University Press, 2008), won Italy’s Mazzotti Literary Prize; he also received the Spinoza Prize for his contributions to debates on ethics and morality, and an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University.

A sociologist and essayist who studies labor, cities, and culture, Sennett divides his time between New York University and the London School of Economics. Trained at Juilliard as a classical musician, he has also written novels—so the man knows something about craft.

On a bitterly cold evening in December, Sennett packed the auditorium at the School of the Art Institute for a talk about craftsmanship, which he defined as “doing good work for its own sake.” At a time when recession and economic uncertainty make doing any work difficult, the topic seemed particularly apt.

Craftsmen can be male or female, said Sennett. They work as carpenters, orchestra conductors, lab technicians, or in any setting “in which sentiments and ideas can be investigated.” Master craftsmen, he believes, require roughly 10,000 hours of experience to attain a high level of skill. They take pride in their work and represent "the special human condition of being engaged.”

In a global, high-tech economy, Linux programmers who create free, open-source software are practicing “a public craft, the newest craft we have,” says Sennett. Linux systems draw highly skilled code writers to the Internet, where they exchange wares "in an electronic bazaar.” As with all quality craftsmanship, their work involves “an experimental rhythm of problem solving and problem finding … It’s always an attempt to see, ‘If I can do this, what can I do next?’” In contrast, the mediocre products of proprietary software companies like Microsoft represent "the anti-craft," says Sennett.

Sennett's talk and scholarship have analyzed the forces impeding craftsmanship, community, and creativity in the "new economy" in formation since the 1990s. Drawing on interviews that he and his students conducted with skilled laborers in several industries, he shared some findings:

  • In new-economy firms, workplace teams are common. But midlevel employees at many such firms allege that friendliness and cooperation are often faked to impress superiors. Team principles “evaporated the moment an actual problem arose,” replaced with the attitude of “save yourself.”
  • Older workers believe their service and experience don’t count for much; in fact, “as experience accumulates, it loses institutional value.” Sennett and his students asked their subjects the age at which people in their field began treating them as “over the hill.” In law, it was 50 to 52; in advertising, it was late 30s; in engineering, it was 31.
  • Back-office accountants who left jobs on Wall Street following the 2008 crash believed that “people at the top were uninterested in their skills and oftentimes were themselves incompetent at understanding what the back office was doing.” Skilled workers see craftsmanship as having “an inverse relationship to authority.” Hard work doesn't always bring financial reward and over the past generation, the wealth share of midlevel employees has stagnated while that of CEOs has ballooned.

The problem, says Sennett, “is not simply that people are getting rich off craftsmen,” but also that skilled workers see “an inverse relationship between competence and power.” In the United States especially, “we think of ourselves as a skills economy, but the value of the people who possess that skill has become marginalized.”

The solution, he believes, is to “think radically,” as the ancient Greeks and Marx did, about “changing our economy and our social mores so they are founded upon honoring the skills of the people who have them.”

Until that bright day comes, we can read his book.

Elizabeth Station

Photo by Thomas Struth.

January 14, 2011

The King speech


Watch a live webcast of the MLK Commemoration Service, featuring Judith Jamison’s keynote address, today at 3:30 p.m. CST. Learn more.

January 18, 2011

The paper campus: Alternate Rockefellers

Part two of our series on the unbuilt campus.

As part of my occasional series on proposals for University buildings that never came to fruition, I’ve dug up a few early proposals for one of campus’s most iconic buildings: Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Henry Ives Cobb designed the first buildings on the quadrangles and came up with the initial campus master plan. In this barely legible map from the University’s earliest days, there’s space reserved for a chapel at the intersection of 58th and University. Here’s an early Cobb design for a chapel (left) next to the completed Rockefeller Chapel:


The first thing to note about this design is that, while still Gothic, it’s a departure form the English academic Gothic that inspired the design of most of the other buildings on the quads. With its flying buttresses and ornate decoration, it’s much more like the French Rayonnant style.

Here’s another proposal from the early ‘20s by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, much more in the English Gothic mode:


At first glance, this appears to be much closer to the final design. Notice that this design, like the one by Cobb, features a crossing tower above the intersection of the transept and nave. By this time, the chapel’s location had been definitively moved to 59th Street. Note the surrounding buildings, proposed quarters for the Oriental Institute.

The University balked at the expense of Goodhue’s design. As a cost-saving measure, the architect proposed moving the tower to the side:


But wait—the tower is on the west side, not the east. After Goodhue’s untimely death, and some wavering on the part of the University, the final design moved the tower to the eastern side and includes a covered walkway connecting it with buildings to be constructed on University Avenue:


The walkway was never built. Only a small part of the secondary buildings were—today’s Oriental Institute.

Do you know anything more about how these designs were fleshed out? Let us know in the comments below. You might also be interested in part one of the Paper Campus series, on the Admin building and Harper Library.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

Photos courtesy of the Archival Photographic Files, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

January 20, 2011

Maroon Lens: Aleem Hossain


Maroon Lens is a monthly column about alumni filmmakers. First up: Aleem Hossain, AB'00, a UCLA film-school grad who has created a successful online police thriller, Central Division.

The four episodes in Central Division's first season are each no more than four minutes long, and the whole thing takes place in a dimly lit parking garage. And the very first episode ends with a body in the trunk of a car. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but the answers aren't really important—without trying to fit in too much complicated backstory, the filmmakers give us a sense of the two main characters' troubled relationship within the first couple minutes, and the suspense is palpable. Hossain, who's now working working on his first feature film, took some time to answer a few questions about Central Division, which was recently nominated for Best Thriller in the 2010 Indie Intertube Awards.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you come up with the idea for Central Division?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWhen I finished film school in 2004, I tried really hard to get financing for a traditional feature film. It's a long, slow, somewhat frustrating process. A few years went by, and I realized I hadn't directed anything recently. I'd been reading about a few early web shows and so I went out and made my first web series, just a pilot episode really, in 2008. It was a sci-fi show called It Ends Today. I had some success with it—it got me an agent, and the show was optioned by a production company. I was happy enough with the results artistically and career-wise that I decided I should do another web project. I wanted it to be something that was missing from the mainstream TV landscape.
I'd been asking myself, where have all the gritty cop shows gone? Homicide and NYPD Blue were long gone. The Shield and The Wire had ended their runs more recently. Southland had finished a somewhat disastrous (ratings-wise) first season. I've always loved cop shows, so I sat down and started writing. And I immediately started thinking about two actors in particular. Brian Silverman, who was in my UCLA thesis film and Clay Wilcox who was in some films some of my classmates had made. I didn't tell them I was writing for them—I just sprung the finished scripts on them—and they responded within minutes of getting my e-mails.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat about the cop genre drew you in?


QandA_ADrop.jpgThe good ones are all about the conflict between principles like truth, fairness, justice, and the realities of the world. It can be really hard to tell stories about stuff like that without being pedantic or boring. But an investigation has such a clear narrative drive that it grounds things. So you can really explore some murky philosophical ideas and confront some difficult topics while still hopefully engaging the viewers.

However, when you've spent much of your life watching cop shows and movies, it can be hard to make one that seems at least somewhat original. When I made Pinkerton, my UCLA thesis film, I knew that I wanted to do a movie about a cop out for revenge—but that storyline seemed so played-out. But then I read this article in the New Yorker where Adam Gopnik was talking about his kid's imaginary friend and I had this thought: what would my childhood imaginary friend think of me now? And even better—what would the childhood imaginary friend of a jaded violent cop have to say to him years later? That's where Pinkerton came from. When it came time to make Central Division, I was excited to experiment in a different way. I hadn't seen any cop dramas in the web-series format. So I gave that a try.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do you think is wrong with some of the cop shows on TV now?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI don't know if I really want to say that something is wrong with the CSI-type shows, but I can tell you what I don't like. I think they are gross, and they focus on the least dramatic part of criminal investigation: the use of science to gather evidence. I think forensics is a fascinating field, and I'm glad it exists in the real world. But in these shows it's used to arrive at absolute truth in this way that is both unrealistic and uninteresting. I'll take a scene in an interrogation room or a street corner over a lab every time. I'm also just not a fan of really visceral close-up shots of mutilated body organs.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat's your favorite cop show on TV now?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe best cop show currently on TV is Southland. I'm so glad TNT saved that show. If you watch the pilot episode of that show, you'll find everything I love about the genre: compelling and conflicted characters, ethical dilemmas, the struggle to pursue noble goals in a complicated world. And I really have to give the writers, directors, and actors credit—the level of realism in the show is outstanding.
QandA_QDrop.jpgBack to Central Division, what were the most challenging things about creating such short episodes?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe hardest thing is the cliffhangers. I have a love/hate relationship with them, to be honest. I don't know if this makes sense: the cliffhangers are the thing I am the most proud of in the show, but I also often wonder what the show would be like if I'd not used that narrative device at all. Cliffhangers are a big part of most web dramas. And one of the challenges I set for myself was to try and master that convention. It's just that I also have some misgivings about that part of the format.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was the crew for Central Division?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThere were only three main crew people besides myself, all of whom I knew from UCLA. Julie Kirkwood, the cinematographer, had shot a bunch of my classmates' films while I was at UCLA, including my wife's thesis film. And two of my other UCLA friends helped out in all different capacities—rigging lights, holding the boom pole, etc. In post-production, I did the editing, my brother did the main title logo, and a friend of mine did the music.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you get the word out about the show?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI think I earned a graduate degree in social networking while promoting Central Division. Twitter and Facebook were huge. I read articles on what time of day to post, how to word tweets, etc. I scoured the Internet for any blog that might want to cover my show and sent the blogger a press release e-mail along with a sneak preview link so they could see the show ahead of the release (which they seemed to appreciate and I think boosted the number of reviews I got). I sent query e-mails to every newspaper and news site I could think of—the traditional news sites ignored me, but the new media ones responded. I networked with other web-series creators. If I saw a show I really liked, I promoted it on my Twitter feed, and the creators often returned the favor. Everyone likes to talk about the amazing opportunities of Internet distribution: the size of the potential audience, how cheap it is. But there are huge downsides too. There's so much noise that it's hard to rise above the static. You can put your show up on a website, but that's very different from getting anybody you don't personally know to watch it.
I was somewhat lucky. I did well enough on my own that a distributor (Koldcast.tv) took notice and picked up the show. They brought in a whole new level of viewership. We got 40,000 views our first month. But in the end, the show never went viral. It never got millions of views. Thankfully, I never thought it would. It's a gritty cop drama—not exactly the bread and butter of the Internet. I'm thrilled at the number of viewers I got, though.
QandA_QDrop.jpgAre you planning to make a season 2?


QandA_ADrop.jpgI have the second-season storyline mapped out, but I'm not sure when I'm going to make it.
QandA_QDrop.jpgCan you tell us about the feature film you're working on?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI'm taking a lot of the lessons I learned from making low-budget Internet projects and trying to piece together an independent feature on nights and weekends. Many of the same people who worked on Central Division are working on it. It's much more experimental than Central Division. We're shooting very spontaneously. If we find a location we like, we work it into the story, etc. Central Division was a pretty commercial project in terms of it's genre and style. I like to switch things up, so this new project is less mainstream. It's an indie sci-fi drama. I hope to finish shooting it before the end of the year.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhen can we find out if Central Division wins the Indie Intertube Award?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe winners for that will be announced January 20 via a live web stream. There are some much bigger shows nominated—so I'm gonna stick with "It's an honor just to be nominated" and not get my hopes up.

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

Stills courtesy Aleem Hossain

January 21, 2011

Coffee, futon, art: done

A relaxing recline—and a little caffeine—brings a new perspective to Cascade.


"Do people come in and lie on the futon a lot?" I asked the Smart Museum barista making my latte last Thursday morning.

"Oh yeah," he said, "all the time."

With that, my colleague and I took our warm drinks, reclined on the leather bench, and stared up at Cascade, the black and white, ink-on-rice-paper work covering the museum cafe's back wall. Although we had only ten minutes to stare up at the splotches and waves, the experience was, as I'd imagined in the University of Chicago Magazine's Jan–Feb/11 Editor's Notes, cathartic.

Amy Braverman Puma

View from below: the wall curves up into the ceiling, so the futon provides the perfect vantage point to relax and absorb the work; my coworker, coffee in hand, takes in Bingyi's enormous painting.

January 24, 2011

Stand the test of mind

Writing down your anxieties before a big exam can mean a better grade, suggests new research from UChicago.

Tetchy testers take note: for students who get anxious about high-pressure tests, simply writing out their fears the night before can boost their grades by five percent, according to a study published in the January 14 Science.

Associate professor of psychology Sian Beilock, the study's coauthor, is an expert on "choking under pressure," the subject of her recent book. Gerardo Ramirez, the study's other author, is a graduate student of Beilock's. Both work in the Department of Psychology and the Committee on Education.

In the study, students who were asked to write their thoughts about the test for ten minutes the night beforehand did better than students who did not write (one control group was asked to sit quietly for ten minutes) or who wrote about unrelated thoughts. Anxious students who wrote about their fears averaged a B+ in one case, while the control group averaged a B-.

The technique is adapted from one used in treating depression, the article says, explaining that for depressed individuals, a few months of writing about a traumatic or fraught experience can unburden them, or, to use the technical term, "decrease rumination."

The theory with depression holds that anxiety and short-term performance both take place in the "working memory" part of the brain, and that anxiety disrupts the brain's focus. Writing about depression may reframe the emotional experience in a way that helps sufferers put it out of mind, and Beilock and Ramirez hypothesized that same logic might apply for chronically nervy test takers.

"This is a somewhat counterintuitive idea given that drawing attention to negative information typically makes it more rather than less salient in memory," they wrote. "However, if expressive writing helps to reduce rumination, then it should benefit high-stakes test performance, especially for students who tend to worry in testing situations."

The results of the study—which haven't yet been confirmed through repeat experiments—did garner attention in the media this past week: Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Toronto Star, BusinessWeek, Time, and CNN picked up on the story.

Now if only Beilock and Ramirez would study how to get rid of my thesis- and blog-post writing jitters.

Asher Klein, '11

Photo via iStockphoto

January 25, 2011


Questions for MLK Day keynote speaker Judith Jamison

Judith Jamison, outgoing artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and one of the great dancers of the 20th century, became a star by embracing her identity at a time when there were few African American performers on stage. The 67-year-old dance legend was the keynote speaker at the University's Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Service last Friday at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Jamison, whose aunt, Allie Brown, studied at UChicago in the 1930s, talked with UChiBLOGo about her connections to Chicago, her message for Martin Luther King Day, and the Alvin Ailey Barbie doll.

QandA_QDrop.jpgIn your very first professional dance performance, in The Three Marys, you came to Chicago.
QandA_ADrop.jpgI danced at the Chicago Opera House. I had been discovered in a dance class in Philadelphia, and I ended up guesting with American Ballet Theatre. What was my experience? I don’t know. I was in a fog. It’s only in retrospect that I think, my goodness, my life has been totally amazing.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHave you ever been discriminated against because you’re so tall [Jamison is 5’10”]? Female ballet dancers are usually much shorter.
QandA_ADrop.jpgI was always wondering why everyone else was so short. The teacher was always saying “Stretch, stretch, stretch longer.” I was already there.
I’ve only auditioned once in my life, and I was so bad. Three days later, Alvin Ailey called me and asked me to join his company. So I have no experiences of that kind of rejection. I don’t remember anyone telling me no. If they did tell me no, I didn’t hear it.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was it like, touring with the Alvin Ailey Company?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThere were times when, after we performed, we were not able to get a meal. But any places that wanted us, we would go. That’s why we’ve been around for 52 years, because we go to places that other dance companies won’t. Alvin said to bring the dance to the people, and that’s what we do.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you remember the day when King was killed?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe were performing at Lincoln University. Alvin had to make an announcement to the audience. There were a lot of tears.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow does it feel, being the keynote speaker for the MLK commemoration service? Is speaking similar to dancing in any way?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI’m honored. It keeps being explained to me that the speakers in years past were politicians, or judges, or activists in the Civil Rights era. Our activism was our dancing. Our activism was our bodies—to take the culture wherever we could.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you have any advice to the nation, in honor of MLK Day?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe president said it beautifully the other day: it’s not about our differences, but about our similarities. See the humanness inside each other.
QandA_QDrop.jpgAny advice for young people?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWhatever you’re doing, go for it 150,000 percent. Stick to it beyond what you think you can do.
QandA_QDrop.jpgI have to ask you about the Ailey Barbie doll. You designed that?
QandA_ADrop.jpgYes. It commemorated the 50th anniversary of the company. She wears the costume for Revelations (a signature Ailey work). I wanted a dancer that was my color. Most dolls are very fair-skinned, but I wanted this one to have a rich complexion. I wanted her to have a full mouth and full nose. And I wanted her to have short hair. But they said little girls like to play with hair, so I had to add hair.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

Photo by Andrew Eccles

January 27, 2011

Love thy neighbor

Rhodes Scholar Stephanie Bell, AB'08, pens an open letter against an Iowa state rep trying to ban gay marriage.

In middle school, Stephanie Bell, AB'08, babysat for the children of Kim Pearson, the recently elected state representative for Iowa's 42nd district. Bell, who's in Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, took to the Internet this weekend to argue against a Pearson-sponsored amendment to Iowa's Constitution to ban gay marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.

Bell wrote the letter Saturday on her blog, Post.Culture.Shock. Detailing how the manners she learned growing up in Des Moines drove her to give back to society—including doing HIV/AIDS advocacy work while studying abroad in South Africa—Bell sought to let Pearson see one person her amendment would disenfranchise, as Bell might put it.

Bell's tone is mostly friendly and neighborly—she and Pearson didn't keep up their relationship after Bell left middle school, when she babysat Pearson's kids. Yet at times the letter is firm: "What deeply worries and outrages me is that I shouldn’t have to justify having equal rights because I’ve spent so much time giving back to all of the communities that I’ve lived in. It shouldn’t be relevant that the people we’re depriving of their rights are police officers, fire fighters, and school teachers. No other group has to justify their rights by pointing to all that they’ve contributed to the world."

The Rhodes Scholar, working on her M.Phil of Development Studies at Oxford, came out to her mother at the end of high school and her father in college, she writes.

An editorial in the Des Moines Register stood against the amendment. "Republicans in the Legislature were expected to roll out a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Iowa. They weren't expected to roll over so many other rights in the process, however." The amendment will end civil unions and domestic partnerships for same sex couples.

The op-ed notes that the amendment, which would apply to the first article of Iowa's Bill of Rights, would be the first to subtract a group's rights in the state's history. It is sponsored by 56 Iowa House Republicans and would nullify a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that struck down a previous ban on gay marriage. Iowa is one of five U.S. states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Bell's letter drew dozens of supportive comments by Sunday night, after it was posted on Web aggregator Reddit."Stephanie, you don't know me," one reader wrote. "I'm not gay and I don't live in Iowa. But I read this and thought, 'This woman is my new hero.' Bravo."

Asher Klein, '11

Brand new start


A former English major steps into the indie-folk spotlight.

“I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve always written songs. But it took me a little while to get serious about doing it,” says Haroula (Spyropoulos) Rose, AB’02, MAT’02. Her debut album, These Open Roads, features 11 original indie-folk compositions.

Recently named one of the top 100 unsigned artists by Music Connection magazine, Rose—who sings and plays guitar—released her album independently this month. Fans can download the songs on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, and Bandcamp and they can buy the record. Really?

“I’m a big nerd, so I’m also putting it out on vinyl,” says Rose. “I like collecting records and listening to them, and I just think this kind of music lends itself to sounding better on vinyl [than it does digitally].”

But the digital versions of her tunes sound pretty good too. One spare but thoughtful track, “Brand New Start,” is available as a free download. A Los Angeles Times review praised the songwriting chops that underlie Rose’s gentle guitar playing and her “girlish but graceful” voice.

As a UChicago student, Rose sang with the a cappella group Unaccompanied Women and earned degrees in English and teaching. After graduation she landed a Fulbright to study in Spain and later headed to film school in Los Angeles, where she lives. She’s working on several animated videos to go with her songs.

If you're in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, February 1, you can catch Rose's album release show at the Hotel Café, beginning at 8 p.m. Her artist residency continues there with performances on February 8 and 15 and March 1. Next up, Rose plans shows on the East Coast, in Chicago, and in Austin—balancing rehearsals, gigs, and writing with attending to the business side of her career.

Elizabeth Station

Images courtesy Haroula Rose.

January 31, 2011

The paper campus: Quads from an alternate universe

Part three of our occasional series on the unbuilt buildings of campus

Welcome to another edition of the Paper Campus, in which I scour the University of Chicago Library photo archives for information on campus-building designs that, for one reason or another, remained on the drawing board. For this week are alternate designs for three of the science buildings on the main quads: Jones Laboratory, Searle Chemistry Laboratory, and Eckhart Hall. (Not to be confused with the William Eckhardt Research Center.)

First up: Eckhart. The little fenced yards on this design remind me more of an English country estate than an academic building.


Now to Jones Lab. An early design had a handsome crenelated tower at the corner. Here's a view from the quads.


And, here's a view of the same design from Ellis:


And, here's the building as constructed in 1929:


Note that the architects planned arcades connecting Jones to future construction on either side. As it happened, the area for the south arcade was left as open space, and Searle Labs was built abutting Jones, leaving no room for one on the north.

And speaking of Searle, here's an early take on that more modern building.


I actually like this one better than the building as built. It has more natural light, and I dig the textile blocks over the entrances. But like Hawk Harrelson says, "Right size, wrong shape."

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

Photos courtesy of the Archival Photographic Files, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

About January 2011

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in January 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

February 2011 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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