Fall 2019

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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Climate science pioneer Wallace Broecker memorialized at namesake symposium

By Zack Fishman
Medill Reports

The locked office of the late climate scientist Wallace “Wally” Broecker displays a wooden ship’s wheel, mounted on a window-paneled wall behind his former desk. The wheel overlooks the forested campus of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where Broecker conducted research for nearly 70 years. It originated from one of LDEO’s first vessels used for ocean chemistry testing in the 1960s, and the choice of its current home is no accident: The captain’s wheel is symbolic of Broecker’s leadership at the institution, says paleoclimatologist and LDEO professor Jerry McManus.

Office with desk, ship's wheel and large window
Broecker’s former office is on the second floor of the Gary C. Comer Geochemistry Building in Palisades, New York. LDEO administration hopes to re-open its doors for continued use while preserving Broecker’s memory, although it has not yet come to a decision. (Zack Fishman/MEDILL)

Broecker, who died in February at the age of 87, made significant contributions to the scientific understanding of the oceans, climate and climate change during his long academic career, mentoring several generations of students. Born in Oak Park in 1931 as the second of five children, he received his Ph.D. in geology at Columbia and became an assistant professor there in 1959. Since then, he pioneered the use of carbon isotopes and trace compounds to date and map the oceans, as well as introducing the concept of a “global conveyor” that connects the world’s oceans through heat-driven circulation. Broecker also popularized the phrase “global warming” in a 1975 paper and has been deemed the “grandfather of climate science” by many in the field.

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Art can be part of the scientific process, a climate scientist says

Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

Artists and designers can participate in the scientific method by talking with scientists, according to a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mika Tosca, who crosses worlds as a climate scientist and assistant professor at the SAIC, spoke at the annual meeting of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on November 7 about how artists can be involved in climate science. She said climate change is currently a “really unique problem.”

“It’s kind of this immediate existential crisis that we’re facing that we’re having a very difficult time communicating, visualizing and imagining,” she said. “Those are things that I think creative folks, like artists and designers, are really good at doing.”

Tosca teaches climate science to art students and said that artists want to be involved at the beginning of the scientific process. They are typically only involved at the end, when they help present and visualize scientific data.
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Mayor Lightfoot’s anti-violence budget sparks debate between non-profits and critics

By Arnab Mondal
Medill Reports

As he leaves his house every morning to go to his job, Kenneth Watkins’ mother wishes him a good day with a smile.

“She used to look so worried whenever I left the house,” Watkins said. “The only thing she used to say to me was ‘Stay safe.’ But she looks so happy and relieved now.”

Watkins works at Chicago Animal Care and Control, where he tends and trains pets in the shelter. “Spending the entire day with these animals puts my mind at ease,” he said. “I love being here, and I really want to change. I don’t want to go back to selling drugs.”

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How prisoners count: the politics of prison gerrymandering in Illinois

By Joel Jacobs
Medill Reports

In Illinois, each person’s vote is not counted equally. A single vote for a state representative in Cook County is likely to wield less influence than one in Randolph County downstate.

Why? Because Randolph County is located in Illinois House District 116, which is home to the Menard and Pinckneyville prisons. They hold about 4,500 inmates, half of whom were sentenced from Cook County, around 300 miles away.

These prisoners cannot vote, but they are counted as residents of the 116th District by the census, giving each voter in the district a bit more power. During the last round of redistricting, each Illinois House district was drawn to include approximately 109,000 people based on census counts, meaning that prisoners account for more than one in twenty-five residents of Illinois House District 116.

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Facebook groups establish community in one of Chicago’s newest neighborhoods

By Amy Sokolow
Medill Reports

Nicole Rohr Stephens moved back to Chicago from Alabama last year and almost immediately found out she was pregnant. The 34-year-old marketing manager had previously lived on the city’s North Side, but after relocating to the South Loop, she realized she had no idea where she would eventually send her unborn child to school. “When we moved back, we were joining like a completely different neighborhood, different vibe,” she said. “We didn’t know our neighbors; we didn’t know anything about the area.”

Stephens did what many people do today to solve a problem: she turned to Facebook. She first found a local dog walker and veterinarian on the “South Loop Dog and Pet Owners” Facebook group before turning to “South Loop Parent’s Group” for daycare recommendations. Stephens even began walking around the block after work with other pregnant women she met from that group. Now that they all have babies all around the same age, “that’s been kind of cool to like, you see everybody hitting the same milestones with their kids at the same time after we spend time walking together,” she said.

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Homeless women face heightened threats of violence on streets

The woman’s full name in this story is being withheld to protect her privacy.

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Jen struts through the Harold Washington Library Center, stopping only to drop a few fraying books into the return bin. She produces a deep guttural laugh as she steps outside into the brisk November air and lights a cigarette.

She is a mother to an adult son and two cats. She is a sister, a friend and an animal lover. She is working toward her associate degree at Harold Washington College.

The 54-year-old Chicago-area resident faced hardships in her life, molding her into the woman she is today. Recently, she faced a roughly yearlong bout of homelessness.

“I may be down, but I will never be out,” Jen said. “I’m like a cat. I will always bounce back. I didn’t let it break me. It didn’t break my spirit. I had dark days, but I got out of it.”

Jen is not alone in her experience as a woman experiencing homelessness. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, about 39.5% of all homeless individuals in Chicago identified as female in 2018. While women may be the minority, experts agree that women face greater threats of violence, harassment, assault and hygiene problems when living on the streets. Continue reading

Auto-voter registration in Illinois not complying with law, experts say

By Megan Sauer
Medill Reports

Jay Young  celebrated in 2017 when then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the automatic voter registration bill into law. Young, among several other nonprofit and voting rights advocates, thought Springfield’s approval signaled the end of a long, painstaking process that had required months of political appeasing and redrafting legislation.

“It felt like a big event and everyone in both houses seemed to get behind something this vital,” said Young, 47, the executive director of Common Cause Illinois, a pro-demoracy organization in Chicago. “The process, from that really high point to where we are today, has been really frustrating.”

Although lawmakers purposely built extensions into the bill to allow government agencies time to implement AVR by July 2018, over a year has passed since its initial deadline. As far as Young and other members of the Just Democracy coalition are concerned, the inclusive “spirit” of the AVR bill has not been implemented “anywhere in the state” of Illinois. Continue reading

CPS teachers take on second jobs to keep their ‘heads afloat’

By Zoe Collins Rath
Medill Reports

Tara Stamps is hunting for another job in either a hotel or an airport. The STEM teacher at Laura S. Ward Elementary School said she loves teaching but she needs another source of income because she will have to stretch $119 for another week.

“Cost of living in the city forces you to do creative budgeting or get a second job,” she said.

Stamps represents 1 in 6 teachers who work a second job, according to the Pew Research Center. The study found 18% of teachers had a second job during the 2015-16 school year and the second income during the school year made up an average 9% of their income.

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Single parents spend 90% of their incomes to pay for child care

By Esther Bower
Medill Reports

Valisha White knows there is no sacrifice too great for her two children, Harmony, 9, and Alandis, 5. White, a single parent in Uptown, said she strives to provide the most for her kids amid strapped finances and high child care prices.

“I just had to go get the kids new coats; after that, I had 74 cents in my account, but I’m glad I did it because my kids were warm,” White said.

White works a full-time job and uses state resources to help make ends meet. She always wanted her kids in early developmental programs, but that desire comes at a steep price.

White, 29, represents 33.5% of single-mother households in Chicago. According to research from Child Care Aware of America, single parents like White would pay 90.4% of their incomes to afford Illinois child care for two children.

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