A Community-Led Approach to Reparations at UChicago

To take steps towards reparative justice for the South Side, the University must support the Community Benefits Agreement Coalition.

Last April, the Maroon Editorial Board wrote a series titled How the University Can Better Serve the South Side. One editorial in particular, “To Repair Historic Harm, the University Must Endow South Siders With Capital and Control,” suggests that the University appoint a community board of South Side leaders to direct initiatives by the Office of Civic Engagement and establish a Center for Reparative Justice that would give funds from UChicago to a coalition of South Side organizers to serve their communities how they see fit.

We at UChicago Against Displacement (UCAD), too, believe that the South Side is owed reparations. The University exists as a legacy of chattel slavery. Moreover, it has been an active participant in segregation, redlining, and supporting developments that work to isolate the University from its neighbors and put Southsiders at risk of displacement from their homes. 

University President Paul Alivisatos began his first day in office with a statement about his intentions to the University community, one of which is to strengthen ties to South Side communities and understand how the University can be a better partner in community initiatives. On December 17, he and Provost Ka Yee Lee announced the formation of a Community Council, which is made up of a number of faculty members, staff, students, and community members charged with doing just that. 

While many groups are weighing in on the actions they would like to see the University take in the name of reparative justice, UCAD proposes a list of demands that we have formed under the advisement of leaders in the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition, a community organization that seeks to protect South Siders from displacement.

1.  Provide a $20 million annual fund for rental assistance and local schools

2.  Reaffirm agreements not to expand into Woodlawn and Washington Park

3.  Expand employer-assisted housing for low-income and working-class employees

4.  Provide $1 billion over 20 years ($50 million annually) in grant funding for long-term true affordable housing

5.  Pursue accountability around UChicago-owned land in Black communities and around the Obama Presidential Library and Center

6.  Engage with local schools to support STEM programs

UCAD’s relationship with the CBA Coalition began with the five-year campaign to establish UChicago Medicine’s trauma center, during which activists from various South Side community organizations such as Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and Southside Together Organizing for Power worked tirelessly to advocate for a trauma center after the only Level 1 trauma treatment location in the South Side closed its doors in 1991. Several of those involved with the campaign have since moved on to participate in the CBA Coalition to push for tenant and homeowner protections, job opportunities, and truly affordable housing developments. Currently, the City has only approved some protections and lots for affordable housing developments for residents in Woodlawn. South Shore, despite having the highest eviction rates in Chicago, is still fighting to have their demands met by the city. Meanwhile, construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) is already underway.

Clearly, the University has enormously influential power in the South Side. Our school led the effort to bring the OPC to the South Side, winning the bid over the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University, and the University of Hawaii. The CBA Coalition exists because of this bid. If the University of Chicago really cares to strengthen ties to the South Side, it would be well advised to support the CBA Coalition and the demands they have made.

UCAD and leaders from the CBA Coalition are partnering with the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture to host a virtual round-table event with community members and organizers from the South Side on February 9 at 6 p.m. to discuss the university’s history of displacement in the area and the South Side’s entitlement to reparations from the University. We encourage readers to attend the event and learn more about the CBA coalition, housing, and reparations.

Register for the event here and follow our Instagram @uchicago_against_displacement. If you’re interested in getting involved with the campaign, email uc.againstdisplacement@gmail.com.

UChicago Against Displacement is an on-campus student organization that works with community members and organizations to stop the University’s active displacement of South Side residents, as well as demand specific reparations from the University.