Public Affairs

Japanese politician fights for gender equality

By Sarah Foster
Medill Reports

Tokyo—There would be nothing special about the night of Oct. 22.

There would be no front-page stories to commemorate her, no newspaper headlines to honor her. No confetti would fall from the ceiling; no balloons would bounce to the floor.

Instead, she would spend her night alone, sitting somberly in a single-room hotel. She would wait for the results to pour in, to confirm what she’d already known.

Noelle Takahashi knows what they’re looking for.

Most of the time, it’s not someone like her.

Continue reading

Black girls perceived, often treated as older and less innocent, study finds

By Giulia Petroni
Medill Reports

In the summer of 2012, a 15-year-old black girl was arrested by police for using her student MetroCard in Harlem, New York. Officers questioned her age – they thought she was too old to use a card valid only for youths under 19 – and kept her in costudy until they got her birth certificate.

After being treated at a hospital for the damage caused by handcuffs on her wrists, Alexis Sumpter said she would have never gone to the same station again.

African-American females are perceived less innocent and more adult-like than white females, reveals the report “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood” published last year by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.

“This is the evidence of what we call adultification,” said Thalia Gonzales, professor at Occidental College and co-author of the research.

Continue reading

Your Senator Filled Out An NCAA Bracket – You’ll Never Guess Who They Picked

By Brian Baker
Medill Reports

Shortly before the NCAA Tournament tipped off last Thursday, Virginia U.S. Senator Mark Warner sent a tweet that included a picture of his bracket. “Just filled out my #MarchMadness bracket. @UVA’s going all the way,” it read. The University of Virginia did not go all the way.

Millions of Americans participated in the annual ritual of filling out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament last week. By the weekend, many were ripping them up.

On ESPN’s website alone, 17.3 million brackets were submitted. The reasoning behind selections can vary from school mascots to favorite team colors. For politicians, who are increasingly joining in on the bracket fun, the rationale seems clear: pick the school from your home state.

Senator John McCain, from Arizona, picked the University of Arizona. Former President George H.W. Bush, who lives in Texas, picked Texas A&M. Indiana Senator Todd Young picked Purdue University. Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto picked Nevada.

Continue reading

Self-aware: Virtual Cyberslug knows how to fight for survival

Erik Alcantar
Medill Reports

“Cyberslug,” a virtual ocean predator, sets itself apart from other artificial intelligence creations with one distinct quality – simple self-awareness.

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report  online in the journal eNeuro that this artificially intelligent virtual slug behaves very similarly to the living creature it is designed to mimic – the sea slug Pleurobranchaea californica.

For the sea slug, and thus the Cyberslug, being self-aware means  making decisions based on smell, memory and hunger.

“The actual sea slug, Pleurobranchaea, on which Cyberslug is modeled, is quite simple in its brain, body and behavior,” project lead scientist Rhanor Gillette said. “Its only social behaviors are cannibalism and copulation.”

Gillette, UI emeritus professor of molecular and integrative physiology, has headed the project in development for nearly two decades.

Continue reading

Election night dims early for State Sen. Daniel Biss

By Elizabeth Beyer
Medill Reports

The crowd of roughly 350 staffers, volunteers and supporters of State Sen. Daniel Biss (9th) shifted from joyful to somber in just two hours after the polls closed across Illinois earlier this evening.

Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic gubernatorial primary race with more than 45 percent of the vote, nearly matching the 50 percent vote count that Biss and Chris Kennedy captured combined.

A supporter of State Sen. Daniel Biss listens as he delivers his concession speech on election night.

Biss shot ahead shortly after polls closed with less than 1 percent of the precincts reporting, but the race quickly turned in favor of Pritzker. The State Senator lost both the gubernatorial primary and his current senate seat this evening. His senate seat was up for re-election this year and Biss was only able to enter one political contest.

But Biss, who ran as the “middle-class candidate” among the front-runners, offered hope and gratitude in his concession speech.

“In so many ways, what we did was a success. We saw a broken system here in Illinois, a system where big money and political machines have way too much power,” Biss said during his concession speech. “We knew the solution to that, more than any one policy, was to fight for our democracy.”

The crowd listens to State Sen. Daniel Biss’ concession speech following his defeat in the primary for the Illinois gubernatorial race.

Nora Handler, a 62-year-old campaign volunteer for Biss said the State Senator’s record of supporting policy issues for people with disabilities motivated her to join Get Out the Vote efforts in support of the candidate.

“I’ve seen him on the streets fighting for budget cut issues and wage issues for people who support people with disabilities, long before he ran for governor.” said Handler. The state senator and former University of Chicago math professor has held office in Illinois since 2011 .

The race heated up quickly between Biss and Pritzker, from the first televised forum when Pritzker called into question the State Senator’s voting record in support of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, to the last gubernatorial forum, where Biss called the billionaire’s campaign a fraud.

Pritzker is estimated to have spent nearly $70 million to win the primary. Wealthy businessman Chris Kennedy is the son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

[Photo at top: Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss (9th) and gubernatorial primary candidate pauses for the applause before delivering his concession speech on election night. He was joined on stage by his running mate State Rep. Litesa Wallace (67th), his family, and supporters.]

West Side substance abusers find an oasis for free treatment

By Yunyi (Jessie) Liu
Medill Reports

Nichelle Groves hesitated for a while before entering the door near the intersection of Lake Street and Sacramento Boulevard. Since her insurance wouldn’t cover any more inpatient hospital care after a month, Groves followed a recommendation to the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, though she didn’t really believe she could get help here to overcome drug abuse.

Now, more the a year later, she knows she went to the right place.

Continue reading

Pain management remains vexing in opioid epidemic

By Juliette Rocheleau
Medill Reports

When Hercules faced the Hydra of Lerna, he learned the hard way that cutting off one of its many heads would only result in two more growing in its place. As the U.S. attempts to battle its own Hydra in the form of the opioid abuse crisis, victory remains similarly elusive.

Though the opioid crisis has grown to encompass thousands of Americans struggling with heroin addiction, one root of the epidemic can be traced to the prevalence of highly addictive legal pharmacological substances. However, measures put in place to control the growing epidemic are having adverse affects on people struggling with pain management, and unconventional treatments are gaining more attention.

Continue reading

Pilsen Garden looks to grow beyond stalled plans for the El Paseo Trail

By Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

As the weather warms, greenery already can be seen in some of the garden plots. (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)

The raised plant beds that dot the wood chip-covered pathways of Pilsen’s El Paseo Community Garden begin sprouting vegetation in early spring.. These community and volunteer-run growing stations are not merely an aesthetic choice but  a necessity.

Years of lead smelting and other industrial usage has left the soil of the Sangamon Corridor – a section of land running south from 16th Street along Sangamon Street to 21st – inundated with various heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. The El Paseo garden’s use of raised beds responds to their proximity along the corridor and  prevents the leaching of toxins from the soil to the growing vegetation.

The El Paseo Community Garden’s raised beds were  installed to prevent plantings from leeching up any toxins that may still be present in the soil. (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)

“That’s why we have raised beds,” said Antonio Acevedo, community garden co-director. “There are some areas that did not have to be remediated, since they were below the EPA’s safety levels. However, we take safety precautions like using agricultural cloth barriers, wood chips and raised beds with fresh soil for edible plants and food.  There is no danger with the food grown. The possible danger is if the soil in the ground is disturbed (in the unremediated areas) and ingested”

BNSF railway no longer utilizes the tracks along its Sangamon right-of-way; Loewenthal Metals Corporation had ceased lead and zinc smelting at their former industrial site on Cullerton Street in the 1950’s before a fire razed the facility. Land restoration gained little attention in Pilsen until 2016 when the city broke ground on the El Paseo Trail, a bike path that would lead from Pilsen to Little Village along the abandoned BNSF right-of-way which the railroad still owns.

Continue reading

Debates continue on the Obama Presidential Center’s impact on Woodlawn’s economic future

By Jinman Li
Medill Reports

What’s not to like about the proposed Obama Presidential Center?

It’s a 19-acre complex of museum, library, plaza and athletic center, which was announced in May 2015 to be built in Chicago, the winner over several competing cities. The former president and first lady Michelle Obama selected the historic Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side as the center’s location, adjacent to the eastern edge of the University of Chicago campus where Obama used to teach.

Despite promised multi-billion dollar benefits, more than one year after Jackson Park was chosen in July 2016, debates continue on the center’s impact on South Side neighborhoods.

Continue reading

Amid national crisis, Walter Payton College Prep sets safety example

By Robbie Weinstein
Medill Reports

As schools nationwide face questions about their security measures, one Chicago public high school might be a model.

Walter Payton College Prep, a magnet school on the city’s north side, has hundreds of students come in and out of its doors every day. Despite the school’s well-kept exterior, Payton’s extensive security measures are the first thing to jump out.

Anyone entering the building must be buzzed in by security; the doors are locked. Just inside the entrance sits the security desk and a metal detector, where Head of Security Judith Watkins monitors the entrance and cameras across the school. Students must scan ID cards at the desk to enter; the desk computer shows their photos and where they’re supposed to be. Officers roam the halls and outside the building at all times.

Although security officers don’t carry firearms, Watkins is confident in Walter Payton’s measures. Even entering the building is a challenge.

“If I don’t know who you are, you don’t get in.”

Continue reading