Admissions to Award a Tour Guide $500 for a Creative Way to Fight Perception of Violence

“Keep in mind that the audience is a high school student and his/her family.”

On the heels of Chicago’s deadliest year in nearly two decades—and a tweet about it from the President-elect—the admissions office is offering a cash reward for a tour guide who can come up with a creative way to dispel the “negative perception” among prospective students and their families that all of Chicago is unsafe. 

This is according to an e-mail sent Tuesday from Assistant Director of Admissions Colleen Belak to student tour guides. The tour guide who provided the e-mail to The Maroon asked to remain anonymous due to a confidentiality policy. 

“If you’ve paid attention to the national news (or Donald Trump’s tweets) over the last few months, you’ll notice that the city of Chicago is often painted with a broad brush as an ‘unsafe’ or ‘scary’ place to reside,” Belak wrote to the campus tour guide listhost. “Of course, certain realities should not be ignored, but at the end of the day most of us are proud Chicago residents with a deep love of the city.” 

“With that spirit in mind, we have an opportunity for you to win some money—$500 to be exact. If you are able to come up with a creative way to approach this negative perception, be it a video series, blog post, photo, or something else (and better) entirely… Keep in mind that the audience is a high school student and his/her family.” 

A section on the admissions website reads, “While Hyde Park is considered one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago, urban life demands street smarts.” The site lists a number of campus security and University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) resources. “The feeling of security is one thing that makes UChicago a great place to call home.” 

University administrators have worried about fear of crime keeping away prospective students since at least the 1970s, when a well-publicized crime wave appeared to have driven down enrollment of female students. 

According to Chicago Police Department’s CLEARMAP, Hyde Park is 52nd in incidents of violent crime of Chicago’s 77 community areas in the last year. The nearby Woodlawn and Washington Park neighborhoods rank 22nd and 27th respectively. The Hyde Park Herald recently reported that violent crime was down in Hyde Park in 2016. 

In July, the University announced that it was increasing the number of UCPD officers by 28 percent, citing community concerns about crime, particularly robberies, in the area. In October, The Maroon reported that there was a string of off-campus break-ins just north of campus where many students live.