Redline Shuttle debate misses larger issues

By Phoebe Maltz

Two principal takes on the new Red Line Shuttle have surfaced in Viewpoints: the shuttle is either a sinister, possibly racist, means of setting the University further apart from the community, or it is an innocuous example of the privilege U of C students may as well accept that they are paying for. Neither acknowledges that the problem posed by the shuttle has nothing to do with the shuttle itself. The earnest-looking movement to open the shuttle to the non-University-affiliated is the epitome of fashionable college protest—an easy way to look good while avoiding larger issues. College students who smugly share their shuttle with “community members” are hardly at the forefront of any sort of social revolution. By focusing the fight against “the man” on the shuttle bus, students are ignoring the possibility that some of the said community members deserve and desire not just a ride from Garfield but a Chicago education. (Better to take the #55 to campus with the hopes of a degree than to take the shuttle only to be let off the bus with nowhere to go.)

Rather than discussing the fine points of whether the University should revamp the #55, keep the bus stop at Garfield well lit, or offer chauffeured limos to all U of C ID carriers, concerned anti-shuttle folks ought to examine the kind of educational system that has given those who attend elite colleges reason to feel guilty. Has affirmative action, done on the basis of race and not socioeconomic factors, actually leveled the playing field? Among privileged white or Asian applicants, are the smartest getting in, or merely those whose applications were best packaged to look most well balanced and polished, or with the best connected parents? Should there even be private education? Should standardized tests be eliminated, or should they be the sole determining factor in college admissions, eliminating not only affirmative action but also legacy, access to AP classes, educated parents, and well-funded extra-curriculars? Some of these critiques could be called conservative, others liberal. None, however, have anything to do with how one gets from the Red Line to campus.

On the other end of the spectrum from the anti-shuttle protesters are those who believe Chicago students shouldn’t feel guilty about their privileged status and should just accept the shuttle as another perk. While it is true that the shuttle is merely a manifestation of greater inequalities and thus does not need to be the cause of as much angst as it seems to be, the irrelevance of the shuttle itself is no reason not to strive for fairness in education, which is, as I have pointed out, at the root of the shuttle-induced “self-loathing.” A willingness to question why one is at the University of Chicago while others are not, while it may cause a sense of guilt, is a worthwhile use of the analytical skills acquired at Chicago, and innovation here is something U of Cers should be optimistic about.

The shuttle, while in my opinion unnecessary, isn’t racist and thus should not be criticized on those grounds. As with showing IDs to get into dorms, showing IDs on the shuttle is in fact an anti-racist measure, instituted so as to avoid racial profiling that would lead to all blacks being considered “community members” and all whites assumed to be associated with the University. If the shuttle were excluding black students or letting on only white community members, then it could safely be called racist. Any shuttle-related option, from keeping it as U of C only to eliminating it altogether, is unlikely to promote or reverse social progress or to change the sense of injustice many Chicago students experience when comparing their lives and prospects with those who, for whatever reasons, do not have a University of Chicago affiliation.