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February 2011 Archives

February 1, 2011

Elegy and exhortation

A year ago a tremblement de terre violently shook Haiti, the world, and Gina Athena Ulysse.

Ulysse, a Haitian native who spent the last week of January as artist-in-residence at the University’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture, commemorated the tragedy with a Court Theatre performance of her dramatic monologue, Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me and the World.

Weaving personal and Haitian history into songs and stories, the hour-long piece brought attention to Haiti’s troubled past and uncertain future. Lists of historic dates, events and statistics flew through the theater, hurled by this fiery woman with bright, orange hair. Breathless stories were unfolded and haunting voodoo chants were cast about the room.

An associate professor of anthropology, African-American studies, and feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University, Ulysse was born in Petion-Ville, Haiti, and as a teenager joined the Haitian Diaspora, migrating to the United States with her family. She gathers information for her works using “ethnographic collectables,” observing firsthand the subject’s behavior and culture. For this project she used her own stories and a capella songs, written over 20 years ago, as data. She was amazed to discover that these writings were still very relevant to Haiti’s present situation.

When the house lights rose at the performance’s end, she announced that she was really more than 31 years old, as her last song suggested, and began taking question from the 50 audience members for almost an hour. When asked what could be done to help Haiti she praised the work of the University of Chicago’s Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti for working to rebuild more than buildings. She feels that many NGOs are only working to solve Haiti’s immediate problems and are not addressing the larger issues that have been over looked for more than a century. She told the audience that she places her hopes on “progressive organizations” in Haiti, who are now struggling for money and manpower as they compete with the giant global relief organizations. Organization she suggests may just constitute another form of colonization.

The evening began in darkness with the chant of “Ready or not. Here I come. You can’t hide. I’m gonna find you and make you want me,” coming from a blackened area somewhere off stage. The night ended with the room aglow in light as she sang one last song.

Lisa Genesen

February 2, 2011


The blizzard that swept through Chicago's worst effects are over, and some UChicago students—for whom classes were cancelled today—found playful ways to enjoy the storm's bountiful snowfall.

Here are some scenes from earlier today on campus, shared by Jillian Schrager on Flickr:

February 7, 2011

Sotomayor holds court

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visits the Law School.

On a break from the Supreme Court's busy docket, Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to the Law School last Monday to speak to students, lunch with professors, and teach a class.

The court's second newest justice gave a surprisingly in-depth glimpse into her decision-making process and her short career on the bench, sharing anecdotes that were funny or poignant and sounded like good advice for the hundred or so students in attendance at the Glen A. Lloyd Auditorium.

During her hour-long conversation with moderator David Strauss, a constitutional-law professor who has argued 18 cases before the Supreme Court, Sotomayor discussed her first day as a district court judge in 1992, in the Southern District of New York. "My knees were knocking. Have you ever had your knees knock so you can hear them? Mine were."

She also shared what guides her decisions on the nation's highest court, a tidbit that garnered attention for its insight into the Judge's mindset. Sotomayor said she tries to be flexible making her decisions, balancing legislative history, briefs, oral arguments, and her colleagues' opinions.

Law students took away some life lessons:

  • When you're arguing before the Supreme Court, Sotomayor said, "it’s not [the place] for lawyers to be Clarence Darrow and to swing a jury," she said. Make your case in writing, and prepare good answers for justices' questions at the hearing.
  • Keep your integrity as a lawyer, because judges have long memories.
  • And if you want to clerk for Justice Sotomayor, be passionate about one thing, not capable at everything. "I don’t look at the kid who has a thousand things on their list," she said.

Unlike the newest justice, Elena Kagan, Sotomayor has no direct relationship with the Law School or the University of Chicago, although Dean of the Law School Michael Schill mentioned in introducing her that she once worked for a law firm run by the father of Law School professor Bernard Harcourt. At the end of the talk, Schill presented Sotomayor with a UChicago Law School softball sweatshirt, complete with her name emblazoned on the back.

After her conversation with Strauss, she took questions from the audience. One student asked her to tell a story about a personal failure, reasoning that great people were often motivated by some momentary lapse. The question invited laughter from the audience and from Strauss as Sotomayor sighed, gazing offstage for comic effect.

"It is so unbelievably difficult to answer that question," she said, "for the following reason: I have spent most of my life...running to make sure I don’t fall down, and when I do I pick myself up and keep running. Everything I’ve undertaken, I’ve had my knees knocking and my stomach churning.

"I can’t tell you how difficult my first year on the district court bench was," she continued, because she had to combat her fears as well as absorb tons of new information. She recalled "having a lawyer tell me after I ruled on a case, 'I’ve been a practicing lawyer for 39 years, and I’ve never seen a judge do that!'"

The comment worried her until a colleague told Sotomayor, "'You should have told him you don’t follow the mistakes of other people,'" which drew more laughs. "That’s a little quick for me, but it did teach me a lesson about not jumping too quickly to criticize myself."

Asher Klein, '11

February 10, 2011


This is the story of an affair that never happened.

Last Thursday Rebecca Steinmetz, AM’09, was scheduled to give a workshop, Flirting for Nerds, at Ida Noyes Hall. Steinmetz, who earned a degree in gender studies from DePaul before studying social work at UChicago, is an educator and therapist specializing in relationship, sex, and gender issues.

I had been looking forward to the workshop for weeks. For the blog, I thought I might craft lists of what nerds should and shouldn’t do. I imagined a service journalism-type headline: “Five things you should never do if you’re looking for love!”

Then came the Snowpocalypse. More than 20 inches of snow were dumped on the city. The University canceled classes on Wednesday, and then again on Thursday.

In the morning I e-mailed Steinmetz. “Even though Flirting for Nerds is canceled tonight, I’d still like to interview you and write a blog about it,” I wrote. “Do you have any time to talk on the phone today? Thanks!”

It was a cheery message, I thought. Direct, but friendly.

She did not respond.

Was it the exclamation point? Was that too much?

I left her alone over the weekend. I stayed busy—went out with a friend on Saturday, gave myself a pedicure, got some things done around the house.

On Monday, I e-mailed her again. “Just following up on my e-mail message from last week… Any chance we could do an interview tomorrow morning? Or tonight, if tomorrow morning doesn’t work?”

It sounded desperate, I realize now. I made myself too available.

Once again, she didn’t respond.

I know, I know. It was my fault. I drove her away.

And now Valentine’s Day is less than a week away. I have no attention-grabbing headline. No lists of secret knowledge to impart. No greater understanding of how to connect with other human beings.

I, along with all the other nerds of UChicago, have been left out in the cold.

Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93

Note: Steimetz will be on campus next Thursday for the rescheduled workshop. For more details, see the ORSCA Facebook page for the event.

February 15, 2011

From Egypt, with hope

A young economist learns a few things at Chicago, but even more on the streets of Cairo.

Nearly two years ago, while working on a story about an exchange program that brings Egyptian students to UChicago, I met a remarkable young man named Mahmoud Khairy. A student from Cairo University, he had come to Chicago to study economics for the spring quarter. Mahmoud was intense, intelligent, energetic, fun—and determined to seize every opportunity available to him, from classes with Nobel laureates to bike rides along Lake Michigan.

He also had a clear idea about what he wanted to take back to Cairo from his U.S. experience. In Egypt, a rising sector of academics and professionals had begun to call for economic and financial reform. “By studying here, I now have a more solid academic and professional background and I can join this movement,” he told me. “This new direction needs more push.”

After our interview, Mahmoud and I walked across campus together because we both wanted to keep talking. He asked me what newspapers I read and recommended his favorite sources for online news about Egypt and the Arab world. It was May, and he paused to admire the bright green grass and blooming flowers. He urged me to visit Cairo someday, and he kept in touch by e-mail when he returned.

As events unfolded in Egypt these past few weeks, many of us in Chicago wondered how Mahmoud was faring. Had he joined in the protests or watched from the sidelines? Given the outcome, was he optimistic or pessimistic about the future? The answer came a couple of days ago in an e-mail that I’ll never delete:

Subject: The Egyptian revolution
Dear all,
A lot of things I want to share and I can't find the words. After 18 days in Tahrir Square we finally wrote our own destiny. I was there almost every day at the square, we were beaten by the police sticks and smoked with tear gas, when the thugs attacked and held a weapon in the civil resistance to protect our homes and public institutions from criminals. This truly was an incredible time in my life, what I've learned in the past two weeks is more than I've learned in my whole life.
I saw the power of human will when we are united. I saw people's differences dissolve for the common good. I prayed on Friday under the protection of Christians from the police. And I stood in a human shield around a nearby church to protect it from possible attacks.
In the last two weeks not a single murder case, robbery, harassment, or even dispute has happened in entire Egypt. We discovered that this regime was the worst thing in us. For the first time in my life I can taste freedom, something that is taken as granted for most of countries around the world.
As I said there are a lot of feelings now and later I will share the details of my experience. But I'm pretty sure that the whole world will not be the same. A beautiful world will be built here and we will build a different kind of civilization that will last for another 7,000 years.
Here and here you will find the links for two short videos that are really worth watching and can give you a clue of what happened in Egypt.
Best wishes,
Mahmoud A. Khairy

Elizabeth Station

Photo courtesy Flickr user Mashahed / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

February 18, 2011

Let a thousand Regensteins bloom

Part four in our series on the campus that never was.

Welcome to another installment of the Paper Campus, in which I dig through the U of C Library's archives to find alternative and rejected designs for campus buildings. Today, I've got a doozy for you--one of my favorite spots on campus, the Joseph Regenstein Library. (For the record, I freely admit that my fondness for the Reg comes mostly from its contents, not its severe, brutalist architecture.)

Many of the early proposals for the library assumed a location at the open end of the quads, at 58th and University. (Faithful Paper Campus readers will remember that site as the original proposed location for what became Rockefeller Chapel as well.) It's also interesting to note that the chosen site wasn't right up against University Avenue (in the way that the Admin Building fronts Ellis Avenue), but appears to be closer to the center of the quads. Hmmm.

Let's start with this ultramodern design:


Look, I like modernism as much as the next guy—actually, probably more than the next guy—but this is just awful. There's no way this ever would have looked right. I can't even be certain that it would have had windows.

To cleanse our palate, have a look at these old-school Gothic proposals. Judging by the similarities in the renderings, I suspect they were done by the same architectural firm:



These buildings would have fit in seamlessly with the older structures on the quads. But collegiate Gothic was out of fashion in the '50s and '60s, so a Gothic Reg never had a chance.

Now here's an extremely boring design:


I'm falling asleep just looking at it.

This proposal tries to blend a little Gothic with some modern sensibility:


Now here's a proposal from Walter Netsch. Look familiar-ish?


This is obviously the design the University selected to proceed with, although at some point they decided to move the library to the site of old Stagg Field. Whether this was prompted by concerns about the layout of the quads or simply the realization that they could build a bigger building on 57th Street is unclear.

Here's Netsch's brutalist design moved to north of the quads:


Change the central windows and some of the massing on the east side, and it's pretty darned close to the Reg as built. Compare this rendering with this photo taken from the same vantage point:


Does anyone know anything else about these rejected designs or the Reg's genesis? Feel free to share in the comments.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

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

February 22, 2011

Bleak to chic

MODA’s bloggers share sunny fashion tips for an unforgiving winter.

As a teenager growing up in Connecticut, I wore the latest fashions and did so winter weather be damned. “Dancing shoes on ice—sure that’s a good idea, punkin?” my mom would call out as I teetered down the slick front steps in patent-leather Mary Janes.

College first-year Cathay Zhao is a girl after my own heart. Writing for MODA, a UChicago fashion organization that sponsors an annual runway show, Zhao outlines how winter fashionistas can look polished when temperatures plummet. Titled “What to Wear When Hell Freezes Over,” the entry offers some ingenious suggestions like layering leggings over tights to create insulation and maintain a sleek look.

Look out Anna Wintour—here comes Chicago style.

Katherine Muhlenkamp

February 23, 2011

A rocket's maroon glare, bursting with flair

Two new engineering-focused RSOs launch a 7-foot, 6-inch rocket on the University's main quads.

Friday was brisk, sunny, and a little windy, a welcome change from the last few frigid weeks, and no, not ideal rocket-launching weather but, hey, what are you gonna do? The Facebook page you made this week brought the 150 or so excited students and administrators standing around the center of the main quad, which is cordoned off for safety reasons that will soon prove academic, and are you gonna let a little wind stop you? Can you not launch your rocket?


At the center of campus stands the projectile attracting all the attention, though it's not quite the beauty the Facebook page described, "a 7'6" tall rocket powered by a cluster of three engines" evoked. (I was thinking a small-scale version of those Cold War monsters with the benign names, like Atlas or Titan.)

It is a tall and thin black pipe with a red-stripped snub nose, standing on a small platform supported by bags of rock salt. A small-by-comparison girl wearing a big backpack holds the rocket upright as 12:25 p.m. and lift-off ticks closer.

The fledgling Engineering Society is responsible for the launch, along with the months-older Student Organization of Aeronautics and Robotics and funding in part from Student Government. A boy from the Engineering Society stands near the rocket and says over the entirely appropriate PA system, "See? There is engineering at the University of Chicago."

The crowd is eager—besides the annual Polar Bear Run, the quad hasn't seen anything this crazy in recent memory—though not all for the best reasons; someone in the crowd told a friend, "The mere fact that something could go wrong makes me want to stay." But the group's organizers had assured people, via the event's Facebook page, that safety precautions had been taken. "This is an official ORCSA event planned in coordination with the Facilities and Safety offices. There will be a safety officer at the launch. Rocket altitude is within FAA limits and descent is controlled by a parachute system. Nobody is going to die, we swear."

The student holding the rocket steps away, and it slumps towards the administration building. The audience laughs. She sets it upright again, and it slumps the other way, prompting more laughter. But apparently it's fine, and the launch-pad is clear. All eyes are on the rocket.

A cry goes up, and the huge ring of people picks up the countdown.

"7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!—"

Nothing. The expectant audience breathes out, with a chuckle.

Foom ssssssseeoohhhh! Smoke puffs out over the concrete as the rocket jumps up into the air. It arcs up, fizzing and listing and now over the crowd—will it hit someone? It's three stories up! As high as Rosenwald! How high will it go? And, it—sputters, and coughs, and oh well, dips down into a tree 25 yards from where it launched, splitting in half on one of the branches. A little parachute deploys and the lower half drifts the twenty feet back to terra firma.

Watch the video on Facebook

Everyone claps and the crowd heads off, while the students in the group congratulate each other by the launch-pad. One of the group, Arindrima Datta, '14, tells me the launch was fine, but two of the engines failed. Lexi Goldberger, '14, says the group expected the rocket would fly up five or 600 feet, but estimated that it reached "150, maybe 100 feet."

They tell me the rocket has no name, though "UCHI ES SOAR" is written on the side to commemorate the school, the Engineering Society, and the Aeronautics and Robotics RSO. They also say it was built based on a design from the internet in the basement of Pierce Hall over 3 or 4 meetings, that the Physics Department pitched in with a power generator to ignite the rockets, and that the groups have big plans in store, despite the fact that they are two and five months old, respectively.

Already being planned are a homemade cyclotron (as in a particle accelerator), a 3D-printer, something having to do with (undoubtedly awesome) robotics, a hoverboard project that is Goldberger's own, and a moon buggy that the Engineering Society will enter into a NASA-sponsored competition.

The students in the two RSOs seem to be mostly first-years and excited about engineering at the U of C. Though the school has no official engineering program, that didn't sway Datta from attending; she said she "came to Chicago knowing that you can do anything and start any RSO."

Asher Klein, '11

February 25, 2011

Hey, peeps, chick it out


Can you top this chick and bunny art? Test the waters in our Peeps Diorama Contest, back by popular demand.

Laura Wunder, AB’85, tasted sweet victory in 2009 with her diorama “Peeps at the Point.” Her competition proved sticky, as entrants included the minutest of details in Nobel Prize ceremonies, UChicago film scenes, and naked polar-bear runs. See the entries, for laughs or for inspiration, on the Magazine’s Flickr set. This spring we bring back our Peeps Diorama Contest. The rules:

  1. Make a diorama using Peeps. All shapes of the sprinkled-sugar and marshmallow confections are accepted.
  2. The Peeps should portray a Maroon moment—a campus scene, a local hero, or a book, phrase, film, or production with a University connection. Originality counts.
  3. Send a high-resolution JPEG of your finished product to uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu, with “Peeps Diorama Contest” in the subject line. All entries must arrive by midnight Sunday, April 3 April 10.
  4. Include your name, degree/graduation year or other UChicago affiliation, contact information, and a brief description of your scene. Puns and wordplay welcome.

Just Born candy company will send prizes to the winners, as judged by the Magazine staff. First prize: a $100 gift certificate to the Peeps & Company store, presented in a gift box with Peeps and other Just Born candies. Second place receives a $50 gift certificate to the online store, also in a gift box. Just Born has permission to post winning dioramas.

After you’ve spent hours on your installation, make sure it shows well to the judges. Longtime Magazine photographer Dan Dry offers tips on how to shoot your diorama—lighting, background, zooming, positioning, and editing.

Amy Braverman Puma

"Peeps at the Point" by Laura Wunder

February 28, 2011

Swimming in an imaginary pool

Part five of our ongoing series on campus buildings that never were.

Welcome to yet another edition of the Paper Campus, in which I mine the University of Chicago Library's photo archives for glimpses of the way campus could have turned out, but didn't. Today, I'm presenting a slew of never-built athletic buildings.

First up is Bartlett Gymnasium. Yes, children, once upon a time, Bartlett was a gym (with a pool in the basement, no less). Here's an early concept for the building:


It's about the same size and shape as the final design, but the details are quite different. I suspect the University rejected this design in favor of the one we know today to provide a larger floor space for the gym proper. (Note that the windows are different heights on different sides of the building; I'm guessing the right side was the basketball court, and the left side had smaller athletic facilities.)

Around the time the design for Bartlett had been finalized, there came about this proposal for dual gyms. If you look closely, you'll see that the left building is the "real" Bartlett:


Why two buildings? My guess is men's and women's gymnasia. Recall that Ida Noyes Hall was built in part to provide women with their own gym, pool, and athletic field. Needless to say, neither that second gym nor the flanking buildings were ever built.

Speaking of pools, at some point the University realized that "We've got a pool in the basement of our turn-of-the-century gym!" didn't look as good in a prospective student brochure as it once did. As we can see from the picture below, building a natatorium was considered a high priority in the 1960s, before Stagg Field was demolished to make way for the Reg:


The area next to the new Stagg Field is precisely where a new gym and natatorium would eventually go, except that it took four decades to finally build them. No student housing ever turned up there, either, unless the desk clerks at Ratner are sleeping in the locker rooms.

Here's an undated (but probably 1970s or '80s) concept for a new natatorium, which cleverly connects Bartlett with the Henry Crown Field House:


Judging by its lack of windows, I wonder if architects intended it to double as a bomb shelter, or perhaps store spent nuclear fuel. God forbid people in the pool look out at the buildings across University Avenue.

The University must have liked the concept of connected athletics buildings. Here's another take on a natatorium for the same site:


I like this design much better, especially the skylights above what I presume is the pool.

For those who prefer their buildings forbidding and windowless at ground level, there's this proposal, sited in the field between Henry Crown and Pierce Hall:


Between the mausoleum-like architecture and the missed opportunity to connect the older gyms together, I'd say this proposal is a waste of a perfectly good open field.

Do you know anything else about these rejected designs? Tell us in the comments.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

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

About February 2011

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

January 2011 is the previous archive.

March 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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