September 25, 2014

O-Issue 2014: Nonacademic Institutes--More than a roof

“Cloisters, ancient libraries…I was confusing learning with the smell of cold stone,” reminisces the history teacher from playwright Alan Bennett’s acclaimed History Boys. Wise as this character is, it’s an admittedly easy mix-up to make: Amid all the ivory and the cobblestones, one tends to forget that an education has no bounds.

Do yourself a favor: Take a wander out of the library. Go on, really push the limits; wander on over to UChicago’s three “non-academic” institutes on campus: the Institute of Politics, the University Community Service Center, and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Under the umbrella of Campus and Student Life, all three of these separately housed organizations seek to apply and create meaning from academia, outside of pure academia itself.

Institute of Politics (IOP)

Founded in January 2012 by Barack Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod (A.B. ’76), the IOP is the campus gateway to the world of all things politics, public policy, and public services.

Located at 5707 South Woodlawn Avenue, the IOP was created as a nonpartisan institute that seeks to broaden student interest in politics through three distinct programs: a speaker series, internship opportunities, and a fellows program.

In its speaker series, the Institute brings to campus a wide range of specialists, ranging from political officials to journalists, to discuss current events and issues. In the past year, the Institute hosted lectures by Vice President Joe Biden, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, environmental activist and former vice president Al Gore, and many other political movers and shakers.

In addition to the speaker series, the IOP also offers students an opportunity to apply for a variety of internships related to politics, including some within the Institute. While some of these internships take place in the summer, there are also opportunities to intern throughout the academic year. In its first year, the IOP offered students 163 internships in various career fields and locations, ranging from CNN to the UChicago Crime Lab, and summer programming events for students based in Washington, D.C.

The third central pillar of the IOP is the fellows program. This program brings professionals to the University for a full academic quarter. Throughout their 10-week stay in Hyde Park, fellows hold weekly seminars for students, each centered on a certain political theme or issue. Past fellows have included former House Representative Vin Weber, political strategist David Muir, and former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele.

However, the Institute of Politics has not been free of controversy in the past year. Last May, during a fellows seminar co-hosted by Ana Marie Cox, a political columnist for The Guardian, and guest speaker Dan Savage, columnist and founder of the It Gets Better Foundation, Savage came under fire for using a transphobic slur at the event. Students who found the slur to be offensive responded by drawing up a petition, which called for a formal apology from the IOP, along with a commitment to ban transphobic slurs from future IOP events. The IOP chose not to release a formal apology regarding the matter, as per the request of the petition’s 1,100 signatories. But the institute did release a statement affirming its ongoing commitment to pluralistic discourse.


University Community Service Center (UCSC)

The UCSC was launched as a student-run organization in 1992, and has since sought to service Hyde Park and other surrounding communities through volunteer work. This non-academic center matches students with a myriad of volunteer and community immersion opportunities.

There is a diverse assortment of volunteer options for students, often tailored to one’s specific interests. These options include, but are not limited to, student-run groups, campus-wide days of service, internships at nonprofit organizations, and community-building programs. The UCSC also promotes a volunteer referral program that seeks to connect students to short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities throughout Chicago.

In addition to fostering individual volunteerism, the UCSC runs many community service–oriented programs. This includes programs such as Summer Links (a 10-week internship program at a host site over the summer quarter) and Chicago Bound (a weeklong pre-O-Week program that promotes community building and civic engagement to incoming students).

Since its 1992 inception, the Center has grown in size and mission. Former UCSC Director and current First Lady Michelle Obama was one of the principal drivers of this growth in the mid-1990s.

Last academic year, the Center came under fire after a announcing a slew of changes to its Summer Links internship program. Past participants and student leaders of the program charged the new UCSC administration with neglecting to involve student input in the changes.

Around that time, some students and employees defected from the organization outright, alleging that changes to the Summer Links program spoke to larger shifts in the organization’s central mission. Proposed changes to Summer Links included reducing the program by a week, doubling housing costs, and adding for-profit internship sites. Students riled by these proposals created a petition that garnered over 1,000 signatures and called for a restoration of the essential aspects of the program.

Despite student outrage, the bulk of planned changes were still made to Summer Links. However, the spat did spark the founding of the new UCSC Advisory Board.

Last May, the UCSC chose to name an advisory board composed of students, faculty members, community partners, alumni, and campus colleagues in order to promote and support the UCSC, to serve as ambassadors for the office, and to oversee the Center’s operationalization of its mission statement.

Students looking to get involved with the Community Service Center this fall should tie up their laces.

“Plans are underway to offer student-led neighborhood explorations every Saturday in fall quarter,” says UCSC Director and Associate Dean of Students Amy Chan. “Tours led by partner organizations such as Forgotten Chicago, Pocket Guide to Hell, and the Bronzeville Historical Society will also be offered, along with annual events such as the Saturday, October 4 South Side History Bike Tour and Jane’s Walks in the spring quarter.”

Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA)

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs is an organization that seeks to foster “intentionally diverse and inclusive communities” through special program emphasis on black, Asian-American, Latina/o, Native-American, and multiracial student experiences at the University.

OMSA was founded in 1986 as the Coordinating Council for Minority Issues (CCMI), as a result of suggestions by students, faculty, and staff. However, the name was later changed to OMSA on July 1, 2007 to better reflect the overarching mission and work of the Office.

The Office provides students with various academic and cultural resources, including grants, funding opportunities, and an in-house resource library, among many others. In addition, students can participate in a wide variety of programs specifically tailored to the multicultural community, such as the Multiracial Affinity Group and mentoring programs such as Chicago Multicultural Connection (CMC).

There are also more than 40 multicultural recognized student organizations (RSOs) for both undergraduate and graduate students to participate in during their time at the University.

OMSA is located at 5710 South Woodlawn Avenue, and is jointly homed with the Office of LGBTQ Student Life. The building is the main hub for events and resources specifically tailored to LGBTQ students and students of color.