Chicago leads a national-level push towards mental well-being within poetry slam circuits

The 2018 National Poetry Slam, in Chicago this week, is addressing longtime wellness problems plaguing the slam world

by Vangmayi Parakala
Medill Reports 

CHICAGO – On Monday afternoon, the conference room at the Palmer House Hilton was abuzz. Under the ornate ceiling décor were busy-but-excited-seeming groups of volunteers streaming in for their official check-in. The National Poetry Slam 2018 is to begin in four hours.

Many of these people — they were loud, happy and welcoming each other with hugs — were meeting for the first time. Already, the group was making the Palmer House Hilton their home. The hotel in Chicago’s Loop district is playing host to the five-day poetry festival-and-competition which will end with the National Poetry Slam finals on Saturday August 18.

Over heaped plates of falafel and hummus, rice and pita, the group coordinators were getting to know their volunteers, distributing name tags, and briefing them about the duties that lay ahead. Sitting to one far corner of the conference room were the Wellness Team volunteers – three of the total 40 expected to join the team through the week. This is the first time that mental and physical health is being given dedicated attention of this scale at a national poetry event.

Since its early days in the late ’80s and early ’90s, slam poetry has been criticized for encouraging a certain type of poetry. The format rewards verse that is easily consumable and drawn from heart-wrenching personal stories of grief and trauma. Picked at random from the audience, judges tend to score highly poems that are powerful, moving and emotionally compelling. This, coupled with slam poetry’s being a genre heavy with stories of everyday and marginalized voices, can mean that violence, abuse, or oppression of some kind are dominant themes.

Add to that the very stress of competitive events, and the need for on-site mental and physical healthcare becomes obvious.

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‘Renaissance Woman’ embraces new phase of life and gender identity at 75

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

Stefanie Clark describes her regular stints volunteering at the Art Institute of Chicago as a way she can give back to the community that kept her moving forward during a tumultuous time in her life.

“This is one of my things I look forward to the most,” said Clark, 75, her gray hair swept into a small bun as she greets people at the doors of the museum. Indeed, the former financier, whose business card and email signature bear her self-ascribed moniker “Renaissance Woman,” wears many hats.
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Chicago State athletic director; diligent basketball coaching search worth the wait

By Patrick Engel
Medill Reports

Chris Zorich knows the narrative that surrounded his three-month coaching search. He heard the criticism of his long hiring process and Chicago State’s lack of a men’s and women’s head basketball coach during the entire spring and summer evaluation periods. The first seven words he spoke while standing behind a podium Wednesday acknowledged it.

“This has been a long time coming,” Zorich said, grinning.

And he doesn’t care one bit about the criticism, because he says he’s found his ideal coaches.

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Take a look inside Chicago’s 29Rooms

By Katelyn Sabater
Medill Reports

Refinery29 finally brought the Instagram worthy, interactive exhibit to Chicago at 1522 W Hubbard St. After popping up in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, residents got to experience this year’s theme: Turn It Into Art.

Refinery29 is a media and entertainment company focused on women with a global audience of 425 million across all platforms. Their mission is to be a catalyst for women to feel, see, and claim their power through their storytelling.

“29Rooms is where you can experience Refinery 29’s imaginative spirit in real life,” says Executive Creative Director Piera Gelardi.

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Opinions Differ on How Merged Bayer-Monsanto Affects Some Seed Businesses

By Yanchun (Roxanne) Liu
Medill Reports

Academics and independent seed companies have divergent outlooks on whether the merger between agrichemical giants Monsanto Co. and Bayer AG will drive away potential customers from companies that sell organic seeds and seeds that aren’t non-genetically modified.

German drug maker Bayer said in a press release on June 7 that it completed its $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto, the St. Louis-based provider of genetically modified organism seeds and crop protection chemicals. The tie-up further consolidates the global agrichemical sector, after Dow Chemical Co. merged with DuPont Co. in August and China National Chemical Corp. purchased Swiss biotechnology company Syngenta AG in June 2017.

The new company is likely to continue Monsanto’s strategy of increasing the prices of GMO seeds with new genetics each year, but the price increase will not be as aggressive as it was five years ago because of declining crop prices, said Chris Shaw, a senior analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co., a New York-based equity research and trading firm. Prices have dropped and stayed at relatively low levels over the past few years, reducing farmers’ incomes and undermining seed companies’ ability to increase prices, Shaw said.

“If the price of GMO seeds rises as a result of the merger, that can sort of open up an opportunity for non-GMO seed producers to raise their prices a little bit, because their product will be more attractive if the rival product is more expensive,” said John Bovay, an assistant professor in agricultural economics at the University of Connecticut.

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As Chicago’s five-year housing plan expires, local organizers call for rent subsidies

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

Members of the Chicago Housing Justice League want increased access to safe, affordable housing and greater protection for people from the 30,000 evictions filed in Chicago every year. The league  calls for rent subsidies and local input to troubleshoot the problem.

The league and dozens of other housing organizations on Wednesday released recommendations for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, aiming to influence the city’s forthcoming five-year housing plan.

Recent Chicago housing developments are “glass boxes, looming down, of people that live self-contained lives trying to avoid interacting with anybody else, if they can help it,” said Frank Avellone, senior attorney and policy coordinator Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing. That’s the opposite of an effort to strengthen renter rights and improve eviction protection, he said.​ Continue reading

Eco-therapy initiative helps young refugees in Chicago

By Jessica Nieberg
Medill Reports

Clearing brush and trimming tree branches may be an Earth Day activity for some, but for Muntadher Al Maeeni, it’s a therapeutic experience. The teenage Iraqi refugee has been in the United States for more than two years, and he’s found community through a program called REACH, which trains youths like Muntadher to be leaders and gain confidence through outdoor activities.

Shana Wills runs the program which hopes to fill in the gap of resources that the disadvantaged and refugee teenagers need. “I watched a lot of boys fall into recruitment by gangs, become suicidal, become severely depressed,” she said.

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Big Ten Media Days review

By DeForest Mapp, Connor Yahn, Brianna Williams and Jake Riepma
Medill Reports

The annual Big Ten Media Days were held in downtown Chicago. Medill anchors and reporters, DeForest Mapp, Connor Yahn, Brianna Williams and Jake Riepma all give insight on what to expect for the 2018 football season, just weeks away.

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Duckworth: Administration ‘stonewalling’ efforts to visit shelter for immigrant children

By Lauren Robinson
Medill Reports

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) said Friday that the federal government is “stonewalling” her attempts to visit a Des Plaines facility that houses immigrant children taken from their families at the U.S. border.

Duckworth, flanked by American Civil Liberties Union staff at a news conference at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building, also accused President Donald Trump’s administration of missing a Thursday deadline to return those children to their guardians.

“How many court orders does the Trump administration need before it reunites these families?” she asked.
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Commentary: Legalized sports betting shows the Big Ten’s recent tradition of cutting corners

By Chris Kwiecinski
Medill Reports

The unthinkable happened to the Big Ten coaches on May 14, 2018: tradition was changed. The natural order was shattered. Comfort became the uncomfortable.

In reality, the U.S. Supreme Court just legalized sports gambling across the nation.

This was a metaphysical thorn in the sides of all 14 Big Ten coaches. It was also one of the first topics addressed on the first day of Big Ten Media Days, and it carried over across both July 23 and 24. But, that’s because it just cost coaches a competitive advantage.

“Avoid it like the plague,” Harbaugh said of what he told his players gambling. “Don’t walk away from that, run.”

It almost seemed like Harbaugh was talking to himself.

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