November 1, 2013

IOP alters program after insensitivity claims

After concerns that the program’s name was racially charged, the Institute of Politics (IOP) is rebranding its “Poultry and Politics” series that invites state and local politicians to engage with students.

The program will be renamed “Chicago Style,” with the first event scheduled for next Tuesday, according to IOP Executive Director Darren Reisberg.

In an interview with the Maroon, Reisberg said the program was originally modeled after the Harvard IOP’s “Pizza and Politics.” Keeping the alliteration, providing food to attract attendees, and inviting local politicians were important priorities, he said. When bringing it to Chicago, students suggested Harold’s Fried Chicken as a caterer for the event.

The program hosted Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston in the spring and Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns (A.B. ’95, A.M. ’98) on October 8.

But some students raised the concern that the name of the program could be offensive, according to fourth-year Clarence Okoh, a member of the IOP’s Student Advisory Council and last year’s president of the Organization of Black Students (OBS). Hairston and Burns are both black, though the inaugural guest for the program, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, is white.

“When I realized that this was the only event featuring African Americans on a regular basis, I was a little jarred. At the end of the day, the IOP has invested in reaching for students to become more engaged, but it was a little upsetting,” Okoh said. “Having an image of Will Burns and a piece of fried chicken isn’t the most inclusive and conscious thing to do.”

Third-year graduate student Nicole Bitler, a fellow member of the IOP’s Student Advisory Council, said that the program’s name was raised during a meeting earlier this quarter. The Advisory Council then determined that a rebranding effort was necessary in order for the program to continue.

The Advisory Council met several times to brainstorm how the program could be reestablished with a different name. Bitler emphasized that her committee within the Student Advisory Council, the Events and Marketing Committee, aims to involve more student input in the future.

The substance of the program will remain the same, Reisberg assured. He said that the change is only a rebranding effort.

“We’re still very focused on bringing in local and state politicians,” he said. “It’s just a name change.”

Okoh said he is satisfied with the way in which the issue was resolved.

“A concern is raised, addressed, and people can move on,” he said.

Next Tuesday’s “Chicago Style” will feature Debra Shore, commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.