What I’ve learned: Sarah Hay

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

At 32 years old, Sarah Hay has become an accomplished ballerina and actress. As a child, she danced at the prestigious School of American Ballet. She later trained at American Ballet Theatre, and at the age of 22, she joined the Semperoper Ballett in Germany. In 2010, she made her acting debut as one of the corps de ballet members in the movie, “Black Swan.” Six years later, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, Satellite Award and Critics’ Choice Television Award for her role as Claire Robbins in the Starz mini-series “Flesh and Bone.”

Today, Hay is still dancing, but not professionally. Rather she’s dancing for the joy and the happiness it gives her. She’s currently living in Los Angeles, where she’s also developing her own films and working on TV projects. Hay shares a few things she’s learned since her early years and start of her professional career.
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Q&A: “Stop listening to haters,” says the youngest Muslim to be elected

By Arnab Mondal
Medill Reports

Bushra Amiwala, the daughter of two Pakistani immigrants, became the youngest Muslim elected official in the country at the age of 21 in 2019.

She was a DePaul University freshman when she ran for a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2017. She lost in the Democratic primary but decided to run again for the Skokie School District’s Board of Education in 2019, which she won.

In this interview, Amiwala discusses the challenges she’s had to face as a Muslim American woman, as well as the prevalent issues in her constituency.

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Amidst pandemic, rural New York teachers struggle to access high-speed internet

By Sidnee King and Emine Yücel
Medill Reports

On a snowy day in mid-March, Sandra Wilkins had a meltdown in the parking lot of the Saranac Lake Free Library. Bundled in hats and mittens and cramped in a grey 2009 Honda Accord, Wilkins and her two children were racing to finish the day’s work while they still had reliable internet access. It had been weeks of sitting in the parking lot for WiFi, and Wilkins became overwhelmed as she helped her son and daughter with their online classes, all while trying to support her own students.

“I remember thinking this is not a professional work environment, and not conducive to my children’s learning,” Wilkins said. “I’m just trying to do my job and be a mom at the same time.”

Weeks later, they’ve traded their winter coats for t-shirts and sunglasses. The family still sits outside of the library three times a week, wondering how long they can sustain working from their car. Wilkins said she never expected the pandemic would keep her out of the classroom for so long.

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Kitchens are cooking up a recipe for mental illness

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

It’s Saturday evening, and the tables are set. Servers are dressed in their finest suits. Chef Ryan McCaskey, owner of Acadia, a two-star Michelin restaurant, and his staff have spent all day prepping for tonight’s service. Every little detail has been planned out. Guests are greeted with a welcome drink, something to warm them up in the Chicago cold. Tonight, it’s a warm apple toddy, fused with thyme and brown butter. They sip while walking down the hallway from the entrance to the dining room.

“I literally timed how much liquid was in the cup and how long it takes to go from one point to the next, and by the time they sit down, where they are in that drink. They should be done with whatever is in that cup. Then service begins,” said McCaskey. He labeled this type of mentality as the “artist brain.” “It’s a creative mind that is searching for something that is close to perfection, but is not always attainable,” he explained.

Marissa Doctor, physician and leader of a local mental health support group for individuals in the service industry, described how this way of thinking can lead to depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders. “It’s horrific for mental health because you’re trying to obtain a goal that’s impossible. And it’s not like a goal over a long period of time, it’s a goal every day you step through the door,” she said.

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Muslims in Chicago say that Trump’s statements have painted a target on their backs

By Arnab Mondal
Medill Reports

As Dilara Sayeed, a 51-year old Muslim in Chicago, entered an office building for a meeting, she had an experience which she had thought almost unthinkable a few years ago.

Besides her office attire, Sayeed was also wearing a colorful hijab, a symbol of her faith. Sayeed is a social activist, an educator and a Harvard alumna. She also ran for election in the Illinois House of Representatives to represent District 5 in 2018. As such, her work and achievements, rather than her religion, had been at the forefront of most interactions.

As Sayeed got into the elevator, however she was confronted by an elderly white woman, a complete stranger, who said she would go to hell for wearing the hijab.

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No more undercover food critics

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

It’s 2006 and Jeff Ruby, food critic for Chicago magazine, is being interviewed by the History Channel. In attempts to keep an undercover profile, like most food critics do, Ruby shaves his beard for the first time in 10 years and dyes his natural red hair jet black. To make himself even more unrecognizable, he decides to wear a baseball cap and glasses. Over a decade later, Ruby says the History Channel still airs his segment periodically, usually late at night. Despite his elaborate efforts, he almost always gets a text from a friend suspecting it’s him.

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Indian Americans in Chicago come together against the new citizenship bill in India

By Arnab Mondal
Medill Reports

The Indian community in Chicago has come out in support of Muslims after India passed a new citizenship bill last December that discriminates against the religious minority group.

India has been rocked by protests since Dec. 12, when the government passed a law that accelerated citizenship for foreign-born non-Muslim religious minorities from the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at the time that he wanted to protect non-Muslims, who were being persecuted in those Muslim-majority nations, but many Indians fear the move would discriminate against Muslims and chip away at the country’s secular constitution.

Critics have charged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, was acting on its anti-Muslim agenda.

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Where are they now: Catching up with former Olympic figure skater Rachael Flatt

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

In early 2014, Olympic figure skater Rachael Flatt sat in her hotel lobby in Boston. She was surrounded by friends, family and former competitors, all scarfing down cannoli from one of Flatt’s favorite little hot spots in the city, Mike’s Pastry. With glasses of champagne raised, they toasted to Flatt, her final performance at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships and her retirement.

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Startups show resilience as the pandemic continues

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in late March, Matt Morfopoulos wasn’t too worried.

As co-founder and chief marketing officer of the Oklahoma text message communications startup Respond Flow, Morfopoulos knew that his business model would survive a socially-distant world because of its emphasis on remote marketing.

However, not every startup was expected to be so lucky.

Four out of 10 of startups had only enough cash on hand to sustain operations for three more months, according to research company Startup Genome’s April 21 global report on the impact of COVID-19 on the worldwide startup environment. This is up from less than three in 10 companies with only three months of runway in December.

Nearly two months after the report was released, it appears to be flat out wrong, said David Beazley, a managing partner with venture capital firm Purple Arch Ventures, which invests in startups within Northwestern University’s alumni network. He estimated that a maximum of a quarter of startups might actually be facing financial failure before the summer is over.

Startup Genome did not respond to a request for comment.

The startup and venture capital industries have taken many steps to ensure as many businesses as possible remain successful during the pandemic, Beazley said. This means focusing on startups that are capable of surviving in a post-COVID world where digital and touchless technologies will have an advantage.

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Women’s professional sports leagues utilize social media to continue pre-pandemic growth

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stands against the blue backdrop of a team-themed blanket, staring into a camera to address nearly 1,000 fans sitting in front of their screens on the other end of a Zoom call on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

It’s the annual unveiling of the new team’s jerseys, called a, “Kit Launch,” and it was supposed to be the largest ever jersey unveiling event, where 250 fans would gather at Pinstripes on Chicago’s riverfront raising their signature cocktails to toast what should’ve been the start of the most exciting season of the National Women’s Soccer League yet. While the in-person event would’ve been more fun, the online version of it attracted more fans from across the country.

The room for growth in women’s sports exceeds men’s. Before the pandemic’s impact, Deloitte projected that the rise of women’s sports in 2020 would dominate the sports industry and that “sponsors should consider getting involved now to capitalize on the new opportunities and avenues for engagement that this growth area may create.”

On March 12, that dream of a record-breaking season came to a halt when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, making the NBA the first domino to fall in what was a chain of professional sports postponements and cancellations. The pandemic’s impact was especially disheartening for women’s professional sports, where teams were anxious to continue their pre-pandemic growth.

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