The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Aaron Bros Sidebar

UChicago’s Place in the Chicago Migrant Crisis: From Articulation to Action

The University has a history of supporting immigrants. Why isn’t it doing something tangible now?
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Eva McCord

As the city of Chicago rushes to build intake centers for incoming migrants as well as house and feed them, both UChicago and the thousands of students it brings to Hyde Park must understand themselves to be part of this crisis. Given UChicago’s reputation for prioritizing the life of the mind, it can often lie complacently within an academic bubble, removing itself from local politics and activism. In the past, UChicago has articulated its support for immigrants both inside of its student population and on a national scale, particularly in offering aid to undocumented students and supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. However, as the issue of immigration is no longer just materially within its student community or abstractly affecting the United States, but instead concretely imminent in Chicago, the University’s mere written claims are insufficient without the backing of significant aid.

The Chicago migrant crisis is not UChicago’s first brush with displacement. The University’s historic expansion into Hyde Park and refusal to accommodate community needs have created rifts between the institution and its neighbors in ways that have become harder to bridge with time. Whether we are looking at low-income Hyde Park residents or the current migrant crisis, it is true that UChicago, as a private educational institution, has no automatic legal obligation to act or provide aid. However, UChicago has repeatedly issued statements on its position in both cases of local gentrification and national immigration, acknowledged its place in the gentrification of Hyde Park, and expressed support for undocumented students. In 2017, former president Robert J. Zimmer wrote a letter to President Trump stressing the importance of welcoming immigrants into our country. Given these statements and the urgent nature of Chicago’s migrant crisis, the University has a moral and ethical obligation to stand by its commitment to its neighbors.

For better or for worse, institutions like UChicago are scrutinized in the public sphere. Elite universities play a large role in shaping American politics, economies, and public perceptions, as seen in the fallout from Harvard-MIT-UPenn’s controversial antisemitism hearing. UChicago’s procured statements pledging to welcome and support undocumented students is not therefore only an ideological position—rather, they plant UChicago as a stakeholder within a wider political struggle. Importantly, the University also benefits from these statements: they bring talented students to the University’s College and graduate schools and uphold UChicago’s image as an intellectual and inclusive beacon of higher education. The University thus has, to whatever degree possible, an obligation to tangibly stand by its word. It cannot simply expect to pay mere lip service while reaping its benefits. Having taken a stance on immigration issues, UChicago also must take decisive action in times of immediate need, and today’s migrant crisis, taking place in UChicago’s backyard, is undeniably one of these instances.

So what can UChicago actually do? In a utopian society, UChicago might radically stick to its proclaimed values on immigration: open its doors, clean up Stony Island or the abandoned Breckinridge House, and house and support migrants in any other underused properties on its 217 acres. But these solutions may take too much time to ultimately create resources that are better serviced through equipped and already existing organizations; they are not realistic for the University, nor for the migrants who require immediate aid and housing. Instead, urgent crises like these necessitate immediate solutions that funnel resources directly to those who can make the biggest institutional differences, such as the City of Chicago itself. Chicago has pledged at least $138 million towards caring for migrants in 2023, most of which was outsourced to private firms to house and feed migrants and staff shelters. For 2024, the city has set aside $150 million, a number that Mayor Johnson acknowledged will not be enough to care for the only growing number of migrants. Perhaps this is the junction where UChicago can easily and immediately step in: by offering resources towards the city’s solutions or the many organizations that provide food, warm clothing, and shelter to those in need.

At the end of the day, UChicago does not have to do anything. But the University’s current inaction ultimately further distances itself from Chicago’s issues while harming the populations it claims to support. The current crisis is not merely political; it consists of real, struggling people who need aid. As an institution whose purported goal is to change the world for the better, UChicago has an ethical responsibility to take care of the communities in its proximity, including the migrants and asylum seekers who have become our new neighbors.

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About the Contributor
Eva McCord, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Eva McCord is a second-year in the College and 2022 ICPA First-Place Reporter who, contrary to her knowledge (or lack thereof) on which colored Sox is the correct one to cheer for, is pretty good at writing about sports. When she isn’t covering the latest chess tournament or on the field, Eva is either making edits on her latest Viewpoints column, collaborating with other columnists as an illustrator, or tweaking a tote bag design as The Maroon’s merch designer. In a past life, Eva was the 2021 Michigan Journalist of the Year, interned with the Detroit Free Press and USA Today as a 2020 Free Spirit & Journalism Scholar, and served as a guest speaker for Journalism Education Today.
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