NEWS

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November 8, 2005

Outside media eyes “straight thuggin’” party

About a dozen news sources from Chicago and nationwide have been following the aftershock of the October 14 “straight thuggin’” party over the past week, making the University community no longer alone in discussing the event.

The first outside coverage of the party was in the November 2 issue of the Chicago Tribune. The reporter, Jodi Cohen, said that she learned about the event when she was forwarded an e-mail that President Don Randel had sent to the University community calling for a campus discussion.

“The party became less of an insular incident when the University campus began talking about the deeper issues that arose from the event,” Cohen said.

After the Tribune article, several local news stations picked up the story on the same day, including NBC 5 Chicago, ABC Chicago, FOX News, and CBS 2 Chicago. Several news stations published pictures from the party.

The faces in the pictures were blurred out in all cases, except for the CBS 2 6 p.m. news, and on its website between 6 and 9 p.m.

Media representatives swarmed the University campus on Friday, interviewing students, faculty members, and administrators.

“There has been substantial press coverage in a wide range of media since the Tribune article. I have been the primary spokesperson for the University on local news stories on CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox,” said Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University.

Klass mentioned that he was interviewed for Northwestern University’s radio station and MTV.com, and that a high school newspaper writer from Texas sent an e-mail about a similar incident at the high school.

News coverage of the party continued throughout the weekend. On Friday, November 4, the Tribune ran an editorial on the party entitled “Bad Idea.”

Joseph C. Phillips, an actor and performer, wrote an editorial about the party in the Chicago Defender, a historically black Chicago newspaper. In his article, Phillips stated that the students who held the party “are guilty only of buying images sold to them by black producers and performers. If we find those images offensive or mean-spirited, perhaps we need to have a conversation with those that peddle them to the masses.”

Several online news sites, including eurweb.com, thebosh.com, and newsmax.com, also wrote about the party. In his editorial on thebosh.com, Henry Cruz commented on the role of hip-hop culture and the socio-cultural implications of the incident.

“You get the feeling that the parties have less to do with embracing the culture, and instead making a joke out it,” Cruz said. While press coverage has focused heavily on the role of hip-hop music in the incident, many think that this blurs the importance of what occurred.

“This has nothing to do with hip hop. The party itself is just a detail that reflects much larger issues,” said Kristiana Colón, a second-year in the College who spoke with Fox News about the party.

Even those students who agreed to speak extensively with the media are unsure of its effect on the ongoing campus dialogue. “The media hasn’t really added anything new to the discourse,” Colón said.

The Tribune article mentioned that community organizations, such as the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC), would be discussing the issue. Yet at the board’s monthly meeting, very few members knew that the item was on the agenda for discussion.

George Rumsey, HPKCC secretary and president of the Board, began the discussion by describing the incident to others in the room.

“No one has ever accused University of Chicago students of having good taste,” Rumsey said.

The meeting also touched upon more serious aspects of the events, noting that it was important for the University to inform the entire community when such issues arise.

“This is an issue that is important to maintaining the health and friendliness of a community like Hyde Park-Kenwood. We as a community need to be better informed about these issues,” Rumsey said.

Rumsey handed the board members a copy of an e-mail sent by Randel, which called for a campus-wide discussion about race. He also passed around lyrics to a rap song entitled “Straight Thuggin’” by the rappers Cain and Able.

Rumsey said he hoped that “the University does not overlook staff members in thinking about this issue.”

The Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference was founded in 1949 as an organization dedicated to urban renewal, safety, and neighborhood revitalization. At the time, Hyde Park was rapidly changing from a predominantly white neighborhood to a largely black population.

Most members of the HPKCC board said they agreed with the University’s actions, and seemed more concerned with issues of safety on campus and in Hyde Park. Some stated that they would try to attend Tuesday’s campus meeting.

Others, however, said they disagreed with the University’s actions in response to the party.

“There are simply no adequate University codes to adequately address something like this. Overall the community has had a lackluster, weak response. If you don’t understand the importance of this issue, than we can’t move forward as a community,” Colón said.

Klass said he has encountered a variety of opinions about the University’s actions. “Regardless of their opinion on whether or not our response was calibrated appropriately, most agree that turning this into a conversational/educational opportunity is a good outcome and the right thing to do,” he said.

The heavy media attention does not seem to have had any measurable effect on the image of the University as a whole, according to Klass.

“This is a big, complex enterprise and people experience the institution based on their own interaction with the piece(s) of it that impact(s) their lives most directly,” Klass wrote in an e-mail. “That means that people are unlikely to think about the University as a whole in response to this story, but as it is filtered through their own experiences.”

One statistic that continually appeared in almost every piece of coverage on the party was the low proportion of black students, approximately 4.1 percent, in the College.

This figure was disputed by University officials. “While the number of students in the College that self-identifies as African-American is certainly low and definitely lower than we’d like, it is, unfortunately, not that much lower than most of our peers whose African-American undergraduate populations run from about where we are to as much as three points higher than our own,” Klass said.

Klass also noted that 28 percent of undergraduates identify themselves as African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American, or multiracial. “We also have an additional 13 percent unspecified and 8 percent international, many of whom are students of color,” Klass said.

Some of the most progressive efforts to improve community relations have occurred during Randel’s presidency. A successful charter school was created, which will soon be joined by another, as a part of the University’s Center for Urban School Improvement.

In the last several years, the University has launched the Collegiate Scholars Program, which aims to prepare Chicago public school students for elite academic institutions.

“The encouraging news is found in the substantial investment that the University is making to increase the pool of qualified minority students through our work in K-12 public education and the national leadership position we’ve taken in that arena,” Klass said.

It is unclear whether or not members of the press will continue to follow the story. For some, the role of the media depends on the actions of the University.