Thank You, South Side
The south side of Chicago was undoubtedly my greatest teacher and inspiration during my time at the University of Chicago. College under any circumstances is a transformative time, but college on the south side of Chicago was uniquely transformative for me. It was simultaneously one of the most culturally vibrant places I’ve lived and one of the most bleak, segregated, and sad places I have had the privilege to call home.
I grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. I attended an elite private school. I was aware of injustice, racism, and problems with social mobility. I whole heartedly cared, but I hadn’t confronted what I preached until I moved to Chicago. Going to school at the University of Chicago was eye opening. It irked me that the campus needed to be policed by one of the largest private police forces in the world. There was a clear distinction between individuals based on whether they were a part of the university or not. Race served as a marker of socio economic status. I found myself grappling my own implicit biases and trying with all my strength to overcome them. As I moved off campus, I became mildly more interwoven with the community and continued to feel the divide. The disparity in resources, safety nets, and general opportunity between myself and the community were so vast.
I found myself acknowledging my privilege in a way I had not before. In what way was I more deserving of opportunity? In what way was I more deserving of safety? What was truly a reaction based on my personal safety or implicit bias? There were so many instances that illustrated the incredible divide, such as a trip to the neighborhood Wallgreens. As I was at the pharmacy, I noticed everyone in line could not afford their prescribed medication. One by one, I watched them make devastatingly difficult decisions about which illness they could afford to treat. I watched an oppressive system trounce their chances at health and success in a way I had never experienced.
I studied economics because I was inspired by the south side. I thought it would yield me solutions to problems of injustice, but by the time I graduated I realized that segregation and social mobility are not easy topics. I credit the south side for making me who I am. I always liked politics, but I had previously been fascinated by the strategic game surrounding it. My privileged life afforded me the opportunity to not be as personally affected by politics and government. After living on the south side, I understood politics impacted real peoples’ lives. I understood the positive and vast change government can create in peoples’ lives. I learned how we systematically stifle opportunity and that we had a choice to empower them instead. I learned that bad neighborhoods are rarely accidental and I could be a part of the solution.
My renewed my excitement for politics and public service, but for better reasons than my high school self. I now see politics as an avenue to create positive change and opportunities for communities. College is life changing for many people as we are given the opportunity to find passions and purpose. College on the south side shaped my passions and transformations. I moved out of Chicago after graduation, but the lessons I learned on the south side shape my experiences everywhere I go.