Midwestern college students frequently get away to the metropolis of Chicago and see Navy Pier, the Magnificent Mile, or any of the other attractions offered by the Windy City. Students in Anderson University’s Social Problems class also go to Chicago every semester for a weekend, but according to sociology Professor Lolly Bargerstock-Oyler, who leads the trip, “That’s not where we go, we go to the heart of Chicago.” Alexis Gentry, a junior criminal justice major from Brownsburg, Ind., said, “They take us places we wouldn’t usually see.”
The Social Problems class has made this trip every semester for approximately the past 30 years. “I took the trip when I was a student back in the ‘80s,” recalls Bargerstock-Oyler. The goal of the trip is not to provide Chicago with willing and ready workers to serve the community, but rather to provide the students with a better understanding of the social issues taught in the classroom. [Photo on left: Brooke Hynds, Jessica Reminaric, Dr. Scott, Abby Ingalls, Erica Moffitt, Mary-Lou McCracken and Meaghan Crump gather in the Chicago sun on a full day of observation and learning.]
On the morning of Oct. 29, students from the Social Problems class will begin their Friday by boarding vans destined for Chicago. Before that date, however, the students learn in class about the urban issues they will unquestionably be exposed to on their trip. Throughout the course of the weekend, their superficial understanding will change into a genuine and legitimate grasp on the hardships of drugs, unwanted pregnancies and violence that confront the urban population on a daily basis.
The van ride last year, according to Gentry, was a sleepy one until the small town Indiana students started to see the city and feel some excitement. Upon arrival Friday afternoon, the group met with the Chicago Center, which is a philanthropic agency that coordinated the group’s activities throughout the weekend. The Chicago Center works with approximately 30 liberal arts colleges to provide practicum opportunities in all majors, including urban teaching and urban social work in Chicago. The group was split into smaller sections, which were dispersed throughout the city. Once dispersed, the small groups had the chance to observe numerous ethnic communities including Irish, Latin and African-American areas.
At the end of the night, the group reconvened near Lincoln Park at the hostel where they stayed. A hostel is similar to dorm living, with multiple beds in each room and community bathrooms. Genders are separated, and the cost is much less than that of a hotel. “It was a very interesting experience. I encountered a Frenchman in a towel. I can’t even explain it,” Gentry said of her time in the hostel.
Saturday was a long day for the students because it was a full day of observation and learning. On this day the group visited the Rainbow PUSH Coalition (People United Serving Humanity). The class usually gets the opportunity to meet and visit the founder of the organization, Reverend Jesse Jackson. Later in the day the group ventured to Pilsen, which is a heavily populated Latin-American neighborhood. In this neighborhood, murals mark the buildings, underpasses and almost every flat surface. These masterful paintings serve as an outlet for the people to express their hardships.
Church on Sunday morning, said Bargerstock-Oyler, was another new experience as the group attended a service that removed the students from their comfort zone. In attending a church with a congregation exceeding 1,000 people of great cultural diversity, the group was forced to question, rethink and reform preexisting stereotypes. This reshaping of stereotypes was a direct result of the classy, warm and welcoming manner in which the people at the church received and greeted the students. As soon as the pastor released the congregation to go in peace, the Anderson University group loaded into the vans once more for the return trip home.
The extended future of the trip is up in the air because of affordability. Such an excursion is cost prohibitive, even though individual students raise funds and the sociology department plays a role in offsetting some of the cost. One suggestion, according to Bargerstock-Oyler, is the possibility of moving the trip to Indianapolis, but much of the luster of the trip would undeniably be lost. [Photo on right: The headquarters of the PUSH (People United Serving Humanity) coalition, which was founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson.]
Chicago’s influence and power are reflected on the students that make the trip. Many of the students return to the city for student teaching positions, internships or even as a permanent resident after school. The goal of the trip, in Bargerstock-Oyler’s words, is to “come from a perspective that we want to learn and understand, and understanding is essential to moving forward.” By the end of this trip, all of the students are moving forward with a greater understanding of the social problems taught in the classroom by seeing those concepts personified on the streets of Chicago.
— Kyle Beckman is a junior from Auburn, Ind., double-majoring in communication arts and business-information systems and minoring in political science. Beckman is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.