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The staff of the Northwestern Undergraduate Research

Journal would like to express our appreciation for all

those who recognize and contribute to our endeavors.

Without their support, we would be unable to produce

this edition of the Journal.

We would like to thank Morton Schapiro, President of

Northwestern University, along with Provost Kathleen

Hagerty and Associate Provost for Undergraduate

Education Miriam Sherin for their generous patronage.

We are especially appreciative of our late faculty adviser,

Allen Taflove of the Electrical and Computer Engineering

Department, for his unwavering dedication to the NURJ

as a whole. His direction and guidance has allowed us

to create the best version of the Journal as possible.

Cover by Abby Hsiao and Sarah Tani.

Published June 2021.

ISSN 2689-1034


MASTHEAD

vol. 16 | 2020–2021

EDITORS-IN-CHIEF

Maia Brown & Shreya Sriram

FACULTY ADVISER

Allen Taflove

MANAGING EDITORS

Leslie Bonilla, Sung Yeon Sally Hong,

Niva Razin

ART DIRECTOR

Sarah Tani

DIRECTOR OF OUTREACH

Joy Zheng

DEVELOPMENT DIRECTORS

Kevin Bai, John Cao

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Samantha Smith

EDITORS

Catherine Campusano, Rachel Chiu,

Clare Hardiman, Hannah Jiang,

Vibhusha Kolli, Andrew Laeuger,

Grace Lee, Jada Morgan, Prerita Pandya,

Joni Rosenberg, Clare Zhang, Joy Zhao,

Kallista Zhuang

DESIGNERS

Kelly Cloonan, Abby Hsiao, Siying Luo,

Nancy Qian, Bryan Sanchez, Anthony Tam,

Fiona Wang, Catherine Wu

ASSOCIATE DIRECTORS OF OUTREACH

Khaled Abughoush, Alex Solivan

DEVELOPMENT TEAM

Clarissa Brill-Forman, Jenna Greenzaid, Katie He,

Soumya Jhaveri, Tiffany Lou, Eleanor Pope, Carrie Zeng


TABLE OF CONTENTS

04

Letters and Dedication

Opening letters and dedication in honor of Faculty Adviser Allen Taflove

08

Social Policy

Opinions in Flux: An Exploration of the Perceptions of Concussions in

Youth Sports

28

24 Feature

Student Researcher Madeline Baxter on Researching Public Health

and Race

African American Studies

What is Political Ontology

42 Feature

Professor Jesús Escobar on Studying Art During the COVID-19 Pandemic

44 Sociology

Networking for Gender Justice: Women’s Arts Organizations as Facilitators

of Gender Equity in the Arts Industry

60 Feature

Professor Patricia Moreno on Therapy-Related Research During the

COVID-19 Pandemic

62 Anthropology

Swimming Upstream: Decreasing Salmon Populations in the Columbia River

Basin Through Infrastructure and Its Impacts on Indigenous Welfare

76 Feature

Dr. Robert L. Murphy on Vaccine Development

80 Psychology

Stories of Regret in Late Midlife and Their Relation to Psychosocial Adaptation

92 Feature

A Brief History of the Dearborn Observatory

95

Legal Studies

“Territory Folks Should Stick Together”: The Role of the Law

and the “Other” in Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!


Feature

Graduate Student Ryan Serrano on His Academic Journey

110

Performance Studies, Art History

Knowledge and Wonder’s Place, Policy, and Publics: Kerry James

Marshall and the Henry E. Legler Library’s Percent-for-Art Commission

114

American Studies

A Reckoning with Medicine’s Past

129

Feature

Professor Beth Redbird on the CoronaData U.S. Project

133

Sociology

Designing Equity: Stakeholders’ Perceptions of an Equity Initiative in

a California School District

136

Feature

Portrait of the Child Language Lab

153

Sociology

Developments or Division? The Role Large Public Investment

Projects Play in Gentrification: A Case Study on Chicago’s 606

Bloomingdale Bike Trail

Anthropology

Hungry Thirsty Roots: Imagining and Constructing Ethnic Otherness

in 1800s England

164

Feature

Student Researcher Morgan Gass on Work Study Labs

177

188

Psychology

Knowing What You Want: Sexual Self-Insight and Attachment Style in

Romantic Relationships

Feature

2020 Research Award Winners

192

205

Contributors

Biographies and Interviews of Thesis Contributors

208


LETTER FROM THE

ADVISER

Welcome to Volume 16 (the 2020-21 issue) of the Northwestern Undergraduate Research

Journal! NURJ is an annual student-produced print and web-based publication funded by the

Offices of the President and the Associate Provost.

We are very grateful to President Morty Schapiro and Associate Provost Miriam Sherin for

their continuing generous support, especially during these challenging times.

During the past three years, NURJ has been led by an extraordinary group of student Editors

whose dynamism and vision has been breathtaking. Using the successful print edition of

NURJ as the foundation, our Editors have greatly expanded the reach of NURJ to generate a

multiplicity of online and print publications, far beyond what was conceived at the beginning of

this journal in 2003. The NURJ staff now exceeds 70 undergraduate students.

Our NURJ Editors have even taken a leading role in organizing a new national organization of

undergraduate collegiate publications, the Society of Undergraduate Humanities Publications

(SUHP). From January 7-10, 2021, NURJ hosted the 2nd Annual SUHP Conference. This

conference took place entirely on Zoom with feature panels open to any student, anywhere,

interested in research journalism. Panels organized by our Editors included noted academics

and professionals having deep and diverse experiences in research publication and using

research and journalism to catalyze change in their communities.

Please note that all of these developments originated with our Editors, not me. The wonderful

growth of NURJ has been completely organic!

As readers of NURJ Volume 16 and as online visitors to thenurj.com, you will experience the

results of the Editors’ year-long efforts: excellent Northwestern undergraduate student research

published in a professional manner.

This is my final “From the Adviser” letter, since after 37 years on Northwestern faculty’s and

18 years as NURJ’s founding faculty adviser, I am retiring. I relinquish the adviser role with the

assurance that the dynamism of NURJ and its excellent positive impact upon the Northwestern

community and beyond will continue.

Best regards,

Allen Taflove, Professor

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

McCormick School of Engineering

Northwestern University


LETTER FROM THE

EDITORS

Dear readers:

The NURJ started the 2020–2021 academic year riding a wave of immense growth from

the previous year. Our work in the fall began with an online publication highlighting

undergraduate research in global health — apt for the current climate. With it, the goal was

clear for the next three quarters: to shatter any glass ceiling set for student publications. In

addition to adding a multimedia component to the recently established NURJ Online, we saw

the creation of the NURJ Talks podcast, NURJ Archives Special Edition, and both The 1851

Project online and Of Many Strands print collaborations with The Yale Historical Review. We

also expanded the reach of our social media and hosted events for the broader undergraduate

research community, including the Society of Undergraduate Humanities Publications

international conference. We continued projects close to our heart, such as NURJ x EXPO and

NURJ x CAURS. These were made possible by our long-time partnership with the Office of

Undergraduate Research (OUR) and our newest Northwestern collaborators at the University

Archives and Libraries.

Even in such tumultuous times, the intellect and vigor that each of the 70 NURJ members

brings to the table continues to be apparent. The journal you currently hold in your hands

is a product of their, and our, commitment to uplifting some of the brightest voices of

undergraduate research in the nation. Here, we present a selection of honors and departmentrecommended

senior theses from 10 different fields, many sharing ever-pertinent themes

of equity and justice. This volume also includes nine feature stories that reflect the diversity

of research at Northwestern. In addition to this publication, we invite you to explore

Northwestern University’s archives through the NURJ Archives Special Edition. You can also

learn more about Northwestern and Yale’s histories of racial (in)justice through the Of Many

Strands collaboration (available in print and online at thenurj.com).

As always, we would like to thank President Morton Schapiro and Associate Provost Miriam

Sherin for their generous sponsorship and continued guidance. We would also like to thank

Dean Sarah Pritchard, Dr. Peter Civetta, Dr. Megan Wood, Liz Hamilton, Chris Diaz, and

numerous other faculty, staff, and student researchers at Northwestern University for all their

support. Lastly, we want to extend our deepest gratitude to our exceptional faculty adviser

Professor Taflove. Since he founded the Journal 18 years ago, Professor Taflove has guided

scores of NURJ journalists in the pursuit of scholastic excellence. We would not be where we

are today without his guidance, wisdom, or generosity. Although Maia will be graduating this

Spring 2021, Shreya will return as Editor-in-Chief alongside Jenna Greenzaid, who is certain to

continue elevating the NURJ and with it, undergraduate research.

Sincerely,

Maia Brown and Shreya Sriram

Editors-in-Chief



This — and every — edition of the NURJ would not have been possible without the guidance

of our beloved, late faculty adviser, Dr. Allen Taflove. Professor Taflove passed away in April

2021 after 18 years of leading the NURJ with unparalleled wisdom, kindness, and grace.

Professor Taflove was unwavering in his passion for and dedication to both Northwestern and

research. After receiving his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from N.U., he became

a professor at the University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In his 37 years of teaching, he pioneered numerous approaches, methods, and algorithms

in computational electrodynamics. He was also recognized by the Institute of Electrical and

Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Amateur Radio Hall of Fame, among many others.

He was an author of more than 27 articles or chapters in books and 152 journal papers. His

book, “Computational Electrodynamics: The Finite-Difference Time-Domain Method,” is the

seventh-most cited book in physics.

Professor Taflove recognized the ups and downs but overwhelmingly “great good fortune”

of his prolific career. In April 2020, he told the NURJ that, “I would call myself extremely

fortunate to have attained tenure at Northwestern University, which has allowed me to …

pursue long-term advancements in solving Maxwell’s equations and supercomputers, even

when initially that was thought to be silly and unproductive. I have lived to see the day when

these techniques are used everywhere.”

But above all, Professor Taflove will be remembered for his immeasurable care and compassion

for students. In addition to advising budding journalists at the NURJ, he advised 24 doctoral

students, five postdoctoral fellows, and many generations of undergraduate students.

“These former students were a huge, huge highlight of my career,” he recalled. “I would

have told a 26-year-old Allen [that] … you will leave a legacy, not only in research, but also

of students who you have mentored and instructed who will go on and start to instruct and

mentor their own students.”

Professor Taflove’s wonderful mentorship was pivotal to the NURJ from the very beginning.

He was the one who proposed the establishment of the NURJ to the Office of the President,

which has funded our organization ever since. As the organization continues to grow, we will

fondly remember Professor Taflove as an incredible source of sagacity, support, and guidance.

We were incredibly lucky to have had him advise and mentor us for years, and will work to

hold his memory with the NURJ for years to come.

With gratitude,

The students of the NURJ


Department of Social Policy

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Diane Schanzenbach, Ph.D.

Opinions in Flux:

An Exploration of the

Perceptions of Concussions

in Youth Sports

by Andrew Wayne

8

Introduction

In 2015, it was estimated that over 1.23

million youth ages 6 to 12 regularly

participated in tackle football in the

United States. 1 A dangerous narrative

emerges,given that the annual concussion

rates among football players ages 5 to 14

are just above 5%. 2 Thus, youth football

has become a breeding ground for head

trauma. While many see football as a

particularly contact-intensive and violent

sport, concussion-related issues are not

limited to football. Indeed, there are

many sports played by myriad youth that

involve the head as a point of contact,

such as rugby, soccer, mixed martial arts,

and baseball. Recent statistics indicate that

in youth football roughly 3–5% of players

per season suffer a concussion — the rates

are virtually identical in other sports,

such as soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and flag

football. 3 In the U.S. alone approximately

1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related

concussions occur each year across all age

groups. 4 Sports and recreational activities

comprise a significant portion of annual

concussions; at the high school level alone,

organized sports are responsible for over

62,000 concussions annually. 5

The proliferation and rampant nature

of concussions in youth sporting

leagues show that this injury is an issue

that reaches far beyond football and professional

leagues. The abundance and

increasing evidence of risk and both shortand

long-term health consequences seen

in youth sports raises questions about the

decision-making processes that go into enrolling

a child in youth sports. The present

study asks:

1 Farrey, T. (2016, April 17). Youth football participation increases in 2015; teen involvement down, data shows. Retrieved from

http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/15210245/slight-one-year-increase-number-youth-playing-football-data-shows

2 Kurs, L. (2018, December 13). New Findings on Concussion in Football’s Youngest Players. Retrieved from https://pulse.seattlechildrens.org/new-findings-on-concussion-in-footballs-youngest-players/

3 LaBella, C. (2019, April 01). Youth Tackle Football: Perception and Reality. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.

org/content/early/2019/03/28/peds.2019-0519

4 Sandel, Natalie & Henry, Luke & French, Jonathan & Lovell, Mark. (2014). Parent Perceptions of Their Adolescent Athlete’s

Concussion: A Preliminary Retrospective Study. Applied neuropsychology. Child. 4. 1-6. 10.1080/21622965.2013.850692.

5 Guilmette TJ, Malia LA, McQuiggan MD. Concussion understanding and management among New England high school football

coaches. Brain Inj. 2007;21(10):1039-1047.


The proliferation and rampant nature of

concussions in youth sporting leagues show that

this injury is an issue that reaches far beyond

football and professional leagues.

(1) How has the emergence and

proliferation of popular arenas for youth

sports shaped instances of and narratives

surrounding head trauma?

(2) How do parents frame and understand

their child’s involvement in a sport that

could potentially result in head trauma?

(3) How and to what extent do parents

process and operationalize the medical

knowledge and messaging from the healthcare

industry?

Methods

Data was collected using an online survey

of parents of children who participate

in youth sports (see Appendix). These

parents were chosen to be survey takers

because of their proximity to the issues

investigated and their authority over their

child’s activities. The survey captured the

depth and breadth of parents’ perspectives

regarding their child’s involvement in a

sport. It also allowed for textual answers

T Figure 1. Sports represented in survey.

that enabled the research team to avoid

limiting participants’ responses to a set

of predetermined answers. The survey

covered topics such as the parent’s beliefs

about concussions generally, the risk associated

with their child’s sport, whether the

sport is safe or can be made safe, the safety

of different sports, and how they are or

are not using medical data released by the

healthcare industry. The survey also asked

about their child’s specific concussion

treatment and recovery and their plans

for sending their child back into the sport

when applicable.

The research team collected 115

surveys to better understand the decisionmaking

process associated with youth

participation in sports. To identify and

recruit potential participants, the research

team sent surveys to select patient and

employee populations at Lurie Children’s

Hospital (LCH), a large academic, freestanding

pediatric hospital in Chicago,

9


S Figure 2. Concussion occurrence among respondents’ children.

Illinois. The research team also contacted

various Chicagoland and national sporting

leagues that have connections to LCH for

assistance with disseminating the survey to

relevant populations.

Results

Participants

We collected 115 surveys. Of the 115 surveys,

59 respondents identified as female

and 56 respondents identified as male.

Seventy of the 115 respondents indicated

that they have one child, 27 indicated that

they have two children, 13 indicated that

they have three children, four indicated

that they have four children, and one

indicated that they have six children. The

115 surveys captured 186 children in total

with an average age of approximately 11.8

years. The youngest and oldest children

represented by this survey were 5 and 29.

The survey included 18 sports: baseball,

tee-ball, softball, football, hockey, field

hockey, soccer, track & field, volleyball,

basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, wrestling,

competitive cheerleading, lacrosse,

dance, and figure skating (Figure 1).

Analysis

When asked about concussion history, 29

respondents indicated that their child had

suffered a diagnosed concussion as a direct

result of a sport that they played, and 86

respondents answered that their child had

not suffered a concussion as a result of

playing organized sports (Figure 2).

Thus, approximately one-quarter

(25.22%) of all respondents captured by

the survey have a child that suffered a

diagnosed concussion as a result of participating

in organized sports. Out of the

29 participants who have a child with a

history of concussion, 20 answered that

the concussion occurred within the past

12 months. Hence, roughly 17.39% of respondents’

children suffered a concussion

within the last season of play. This rate of

concussion per season was far higher than

estimates from the medical industry. Recent

statistics indicate that in youth football

and many other youth sports, roughly

3–5% of players per season suffer a concussion.

6 The rate of concussions uncovered

from the study is particularly worrisome as

many concussions go unreported. Experts

at the University of Pittsburgh Medical

Center argue that 50% of all concussions go

6 LaBella, C. (2019, April 01). Youth Tackle Football: Perception and Reality. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.

org/content/early/2019/03/28/peds.2019-0519

10


S Figure 3. Mechanism of concussion occurrence among respondents’ children.

undetected and thus unreported. 7 Concussion

rates appear to be much higher in the

contemporary world compared to figures

distributed by the medical industry.

Respondents with a child who suffered

a diagnosed concussion as a result

of participating in organized sports were

asked in the survey about the mechanism

of injury (Figure 3). Nine respondents indicated

that the concussion was the result

of a collision during a game. Five indicated

the concussion was due to a collision

during practice. Four indicated that the

concussion was caused by a fall during a

game. Another four indicated that the concussion

was due to the subject being struck

by an object during practice. Three indicated

that the concussion was the result

of a fall during practice. Three others indicated

that the concussion was due to the

subject being struck by an object during a

game. Lastly, one concussion was labeled

as “other.”

Overall, 17 concussions occurred in

a game setting, while 12 occurred during

a practice for the sport. When comparing

statistics on practice and concussion rates

from the survey, an increase in practices

per week appears to be positively correlated

with the occurrence of concussions. For

respondents with a child who suffered

a diagnosed concussion as a result of

participating in organized sports, the child

who suffered the concussion went to, on

average, 3.69 practices per week. Children

who did not suffer a concussion went to

approximately 2.80 practices per week.

The p-value between the two practice

groups was less than 0.0001, confirming

the difference in responses between groups

is statistically significant. Playing any

organized sport carries risk of concussion.

However, leagues with multiple practices

per week may act as a mechanism enabling

additional concussions and driving up

the rate of concussions in youth sports.

This finding has also been shown in

other studies. According to the American

Academy of Pediatrics, 62% of sportsrelated

child injuries occur during practice. 8

Given that concussions are more prevalent

with higher numbers of practices per week

and that 178 out of 186, or 95.69%, of

respondents’ children attend at least one

7 UPMC Staff. (2019). Concussion Statistics and Facts | UPMC | Pittsburgh. Retrieved from https://www.upmc.com/services/

sports-medicine/services/concussion/facts-statistics

8 National SAFE KIDS Campaign, & American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019, April 17). Sports Injury Statistics. Retrieved from

https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=sports-injury-statistics-90-P02787

11


S Figure 4. Parents report which sport they believe has the highest concussion rate.

practice per week, incorporating additional

practices has a clear risk in relation to

concussion rates.

Despite the impacts that concussions

may have later in life, parents in this study

seemed unlikely to take extreme action

when their child suffered a concussion.

Respondents with a child who suffered a

diagnosed concussion as a result of participating

in organized sports were asked how

their child’s concussion(s) has impacted

their decision to let their child continue the

sport. The question was answered with a

numerical value between zero and 10, with

zero representing no effect on continued

participation in the sport, five representing

some thought about discontinuing participation

in the sport, and 10 representing

a definitive decision to discontinue the

sport. The average response from parents

was 4.31, with a standard deviation of 2.12.

That is, 95% of the data was centered between

0.07 and 8.55. Despite first-hand exposure

to the symptoms and the potential

long-term effects of concussions, no parent

reported intending to remove their child

from the sport in which they were injured.

This finding may be explained by a subsequent

question in the survey. Respondents

were asked about the effect of their child’s

wants and/or desires on the child’s selection

of and/or participation in sports. This

question was answered using a numerical

scale between zero and 10, with zero representing

no effect, and 10 representing

the ultimate driving factor in the decision

regarding sport participation. The average

recorded response to this question was 8.07

with a standard deviation of 0.96. Thus,

95% of the data was between 6.15 and 9.99

and 99.7% of the data is in the upper half

of the numerical scale used to answer the

question. This highlights how influential

children are in driving decisions regarding

sport participation, potentially explaining

why some parents may not make extreme

decisions about their child’s participation

in sports following a concussion.

Misconceptions about the risk of

concussion in various sports exist among

parents who have children actively participating

in organized sports. In the survey,

parents were asked what sport they

believed has the highest concussion rate;

92 parents answered football, eight answered

soccer, six answered hockey, three

answered baseball, three answered basketball,

and three answered “other” (Figure 4).

12


“An increase in

practices per week

appears to be

positively correlated

with the occurrence

of concussions.”

Contemporary data indicate that ice

hockey has the highest concussion rate, at

0.91 concussions per 1000 athlete-exposures

for females and 0.41 concussions per

1000 athlete-exposures for males. 9 These

values of 0.91 and 0.41 are higher than the

concussion rate for sports like football,

which has a concussion rate of 0.37 per

1000 athlete-exposures. Thus, six out of

115 participants — or 5.21% of all participants

— were able to identify the correct

answer. Approximately 95% of participants

answered the question incorrectly, showing

how misconceptions regarding sport

concussion rates have become entrenched

in contemporary society. Misconceptions

and incorrect narratives around youth

sports can lead to increased injury rates

and long-term health consequences.

Respondents were asked to rate the

safety of their child’s primary sport compared

to other youth sports in terms of

concussions. This question was answered

with a numerical value between zero and

10 with Zero representing that the primary

sport the child plays is the safest option

available, and 10 representing that the

sport the child plays is the riskiest option

available. Parents with a child who suffered

a diagnosed concussion differed from other

respondents in a multitude of ways. For

example, parents of children who suffered

a concussion recorded an average value of

5.82, while parents of children who did not

suffer a concussion had an average value of

2.90 (Table 1). When a two-tailed test was

applied to compare the means of the two

groups, the p-value was less than 0.0001,

confirming the difference in responses

between groups is statistically significant.

This indicates that parents of children who

suffered a concussion perceive a higher

risk of concussion from their child’s participation

in a primary youth sport than

parents of children who did not experience

a concussion.

Another question asks about the effects

of four factors on the parent’s decision

involving their child’s/children’s participation

in and/or selection of a sport. These

four factors were popular media, social

media, the child’s wants/desires, and the

safety of the sport. These questions were

answered with a numerical value between

zero and 10, with zero representeing no effect

and 10 representing an ultimate driving

factor in the decision regarding sport participation.

The responses to this question

highlight a significant divide between parents

who have a child who suffered a concussion

and parents who do not (Table 1).

For the first factor, popular media

(i.e., news, journals, online news), parents

of children who suffered a concussion recorded

an average response of 4.43, while

parents of children who did not suffer a

concussion recorded an average response

of 1.86. A two-tailed test revealed a p-value

less than 0.0001, showing the difference

in responses between groups is statistically

significant. Parents of children who suffered

a concussion appear to place a higher

value on the information obtained from

9 Hootman, J. M., Dick, R., & Agel, J. (2007). Epidemiology of collegiate injuries for 15 sports: Summary and recommendations for

injury prevention initiatives. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1941297/

13


popular media when selecting a sport than

parents of children who did not experience

a concussion.

For the second factor, social media,

parents of children who suffered a concussion

recorded an average response of

4.85, while parents of children who did not

suffer a concussion recorded an average

response of 2.83. The p-value comparing

the means of the two groups was less than

0.0001, confirming the gap in responses

between groups is statistically significant.

Parents of children who suffered a concussion

appear to place a higher value on the

information obtained from social media, in

addition to popular media, when selecting

a sport than parents of children who did

not experience a concussion.

The third factor evaluated by parents

was the effect of the child’s wants and desires

on the sport selection process. Parents

of children who suffered a concussion recorded

an average response of 6.78, while

parents of children who did not suffer a

concussion recorded an average response

of 8.38. When a two-tailed test was applied

to compare the means of the two groups,

the p-value was less than 0.0001, confirming

the difference in responses between

groups is statistically significant. Parents of

children who suffered a concussion appear

to value their child’s desires less in the sport

selection process than parents of children

who did not experience a concussion.

The last factor evaluated by parents

was the effect of perceived safety on sport

selection. Parents of children who suffered

a concussion recorded an average response

of 6.26, while parents of children who did

not suffer a concussion recorded an average

response of 4.07. A two-tailed test and

a p-value of less than 0.0001 confirmed the

difference in responses between groups is

statistically significant. Parents of children

who suffered a concussion appear to value

the perceived safety of a sport more in

the sport selection process than parents of

children who did not experience a concussion.

Overall, this survey shows that many

differences exist in how a parent navigates

the sport selection process when comparing

parents of children who did not experi-

T Table 1. Parent evaluation of various factors related to sport safety compared by child’s concussion history.

Questions (Scale 0-10)

Parents of children who

suffered a concussion

Parents of children who

did not suffer a concussion

Two-tailed t-test

Perceived safety of primary

sport

μ = 5.82 μ = 2.90 p < 0.0001

Effect of popular media on

sport participation

μ = 4.43 μ = 1.86 p < 0.0001

Effect of social media on

sport participation

μ = 4.85 μ = 2.83 p < 0.0001

Effect of child’s desires on

sport participation

μ =6.78 μ = 8.38 p < 0.0001

Effect of perceived safety on

sport selection

μ = 6.26 μ =4.07 p < 0.0001

14


“Misconceptions

and incorrect

narratives around

youth sports can

lead to increased

injury rates and

long-term health

consequences.”

ence a concussion and parents of children

who did suffer a concussion.

An additional finding of this study

is that there is a large difference between

male and female parents in the way in

which they select sports for their children.

When asked about the impact of four different

factors — popular media, social media,

the child’s wants/desires, and the safety

of the sport — males and females provided

far different responses. These questions

were answered with a numerical value between

zero and 10, with zero represening

no effect and 10 representing an ultimate

driving factor in the decision regarding

sport participation. The responses to this

question highlight a significant divide between

male and female parents (Table 2).

For the first factor, popular media,

female respondents recorded an average

response of 5.16, while males recorded an

average response of 3.44. When a twotailed

test was applied to compare the

means of the two groups, the p-value was

less than 0.0001, confirming the difference

in responses between groups is statistically

significant. This finding signifies that female

respondents place a higher value on

the information obtained from popular

media when selecting a sport for their child

than male respondents.

The second factor that parents were

asked to evaluate was social media. When

evaluating the effect of social media on the

sport selection process, females recorded

an average value of 4.71, while males

recorded an average value of 1.56. The

p-value between males and females for this

question was less than 0.0001, confirming

the difference in responses between

groups is statistically significant. This finding

suggests that male survey respondents

rarely use information from social media

to aid in selecting a sport for their child,

while female survey respondents rely on

it to some extent. Interestingly, despite

the widespread use of social media today,

popular media still has a greater impact on

the decision-making of parents regarding

sports selection for their children.

The third factor in this question is

the effect of the child’s wants and desires.

Female parents recorded an average value

of 8.05, while male parents recorded an

average value of 7.81. For both males and

females, the child’s wants and desires seem

to be a driving factor in the sports selection

process, and the average response for this

question is the highest numerically, for

both males and females, of the four factors.

Lastly, the fourth factor gauges the

effect of the perceived safety of the sport.

For female respondents, the average value

was 6.06, while males recorded an average

value of 3.92. The p-value between males

and females for this question was less

than 0.0001, confirming the difference in

responses between groups is statistically

significant. When parents select a sport

for their child, it seems that female respondents

value the perceived safety of the

sport more than their male counterparts.

15


Questions (Scale 0-10) Male Female Two-tailed t-test

Effect of popular media on

sport participation

μ = 3.44 μ = 5.16 p < 0.0001

Effect of social media on

sport participation

μ = 1.56 μ = 4.71 p < 0.0001

Effect of child’s desires on

sport participation

μ = 7.81 μ = 8.05 p = 0.4862

Perceived safety of primary

sport

μ =3.92 μ = 6.06 p < 0.0001

S Table 2. Parent evaluation of various factors related to sport safety compared by parent gender.

Discussion

This study of parents of children in youth

sports has highlighted new information

about how parents perceive sport safety,

what information parents use to make

decisions about their child’s participation

in youth sports, and how these factors

differ by the parent’s gender. Specifically,

the results of the survey outline many

key findings about the perception of concussions

in contemporary youth sports.

When divided into different groups and

compared against one another, parents

seemed to hold vastly different ideas regarding

concussions and sport selection.

When compared by their gender or the

concussion history of their children,

parents displayed statistically significant

differences in factors, such as social/popular

media influence when deciding a sport,

perception of the safety of different sports,

and how much their child’s wants and

desires affect the sport selection process.

This study also shows an alarming disconnect

between concussion rate estimates

from the medical industry and real-world

rates. Recent statistics indicate that in

many youth sports approximately 3–5%

of players per season suffer a concussion. 10

The survey population reflected a much

higher rate with 17.39% of respondents reporting

a child who suffered a concussion

within the last season of play. This study

also demonstrated a correlation between

increased numbers of practices per week

and concussion occurrences. Finally, the

survey showed that many parents are not

aware of the concussion rates across various

youth sports.

While the results are promising, the

study has limitations. Concussions and

parent perceptions are global issues, and

this study was only able to capture under

200 children in the Chicagoland area. The

survey data may also not be more representative

of a larger population because the

sample was partially recruited through the

connections between LCH and sporting

leagues and is, therefore, not truly random.

Additionally, parent opinion is a fluid variable

that can change substantially at any

given moment. These surveys only captured

parents’ opinions at one point in time.

However, the greatest limitation of

10 LaBella, C. (2019, April 01). Youth Tackle Football: Perception and Reality. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.

org/content/early/2019/03/28/peds.2019-0519

16


“This study also shows an alarming disconnect between

concussion rate estimates from the medical industry and

real-world rates.”

this study is the sample collection procedure.

Due to the study method employed,

the team was unable to capture information

about parents who removed their

children from sports due to concussions.

As the team only surveyed parents who

have a child who actively participates in

sports, parents who removed their children

from sports due to concussion could

not be assessed. Furthermore, children

drop out of sports for a multitude of other

reasons, such as their performance in the

sport, their lack of desire to continue, or

costs associated with the sport. This study

was unable to capture these parents who

no longer have children participating in

sports. Finally, the high rate of concussions

found in this study may reflect selection

bias. It is possible that parents of children

with recent concussions were more inclined

to complete the survey.

Conclusion

There is still much to learn regarding

traumatic brain injuries and associated

conditions, such as chronic traumatic

encephalopathy. In addition, concussions

are difficult to diagnose, as many of the

symptoms can be invisible or connect to a

plethora of other illnesses. 11 Compounding

the issue further is the fact that an objective

test to diagnose concussions does not exist.

Instead, medical professionals must rely on

symptoms and patient history to make the

diagnosis. 12 The lack of general knowledge

on concussions leads to misinformation

and false narratives. These misconceptions

and incorrect narratives regarding youth

sports can lead to increased injury rates

and long-term health consequences.

Further research regarding education

and evaluation could reduce these misconceptions.

Providing parents with contemporary

statistics regarding concussion rates

and examining how misconceptions persist

could allow for more information on how

parents of athletes digest information and

select and/or avoid various sports. Further

research could also examine how concussion

rates are impacted by additional training

and knowledge on concussion symptoms

and recognition among coaches and

parents. Lastly, additional research could

estimate the effects of concussion-related

legislation and how adherence to current

legislation affects youth sport participation

and concussion rates. Regardless of the exact

approach used, it is clear that additional

reliable information is needed in order

for parents to make the most informed

decisions regarding participation in youth

sports and associated concussion risk. ■

11 American Association of Neurological Surgeons. (2019). Sports-related Head Injury. Retrieved from https://www.aans.org/

Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Sports-related-Head-Injury

12 Choe, M. C., MD, & Giza, C. C., MD. (2015). Diagnosis and Management of Acute Concussion. Seminars in Neurology, 35(1),

29-41. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/840665_4.

17


Appendix

Data Collection Instrument

IRB 2019-3043 - Parental Opinion on Concussions in Youth Sports

PI: Dr. Cynthia LaBella

Research Coordinators/Primary Contacts:

1. Andrew Wayne, Orthopaedics, andrewwayne2020@u.northwestern.edu

2. Sina Malekian, Department of Surgery, smalekian@luriechildrens.org

3. Carly Strohbach, Department of Surgery, cstrohbach@luriechildrens.org

4. Jamie Burgess, Department of Surgery, jburgess@luriechildrens.org

5. Gina Johnson, Department of Surgery, ginajohnson2020@u.northwestern.edu

Survey Questions to be Asked

1. Please indicate your preferred gender identity

a. Answered via a textbox that the participant will fill

2. How many children do you have?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. 1

ii. 2

iii. 3

iv. 4

v. 5 or more

3. Please list the age (s) of your child/children. What was the purpose of this training? What did it focus on?

a. Answered via a textbox that the participant will fill

4. What sport (s) do/does your child/children play? (Please select more than one if applicable.)

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Basketball

ii. Baseball/tee-ball/softball

iii. Football

iv. Soccer

v. Volleyball

vi. Track & field

vii. Hockey/field hockey

viii. Tennis

ix. Golf

x. Other (please list)

5. Please identify the primary sport your child/children plays. (For “primary sport” please identify the sport that your child/you

put the most effort or time into.)

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Basketball

ii. Baseball/tee-ball/softball

iii. Football

iv. Soccer

v. Volleyball

vi. Track & field

vii. Hockey/field hockey

viii. Tennis

ix. Golf

x. Other (please list)

6. How long has your child/children played in their primary sport? Please list the number of years or months

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. 0-3 Months

ii. 3-6 Months

iii. 6-9 months

iv. 9-12 Months

v. 1-3 Years

vi. 3-5 Years

vii. 5-7 Years

viii. 7+ Years

7. Identify the closest match to your child’s future expectations in their primary sport

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Playing for exercise

ii. Playing for recreational purposes

18


iii. Playing to make social connections

iv. Aiming to play/currently playing at a high school level

v. Aiming to play at the university level

vi. Aiming to play professionally

8. Has your child/have any of your children suffered a concussion, that was diagnosed by a medical professional, as a result of the

sport (s) they play? A concussion is defined as: an injury to the brain or spinal cord due to jarring from a blow, fall, or other

impact that results in a temporary impairment of brain function.

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Yes

ii. No

9. What was the treatment plan prescribed for the head injury/injuries suffered? (Medication, time out of the sport/school, etc.)

Please describe the treatment plans for each head injury suffered

a. Answered via a textbox that the participant will fill

10. How long ago did the head injury occur? (If multiple head injuries occurred, please select the most recent head injury.)

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. In the last 3 months

ii. 3-6 months ago

iii. 6-12 months ago

iv. 1-2 years ago

v. 2+ years ago

11. How long did your child experience symptoms following the head injury?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. 1-7 days post injury

ii. 7-14 days post injury

iii. 2-6 weeks post injury

iv. 6-12 weeks post injury

v. 12+ weeks post injury

12. What specifically caused the head injury?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. A fall in game

ii. A fall in game

iii. A collision in practice

iv. A collision in game

v. Being struck by an object in game

vi. Being struck by an object in practice

vii. Other (please list)

13. How have your child’s injury/injuries impacted your child’s participation in their primary sport?

a. Answered on a sliding scale from 0 to 4 with the labels:

i. 0: No change in participation in the sport

ii. 1: Slight decrease in participation in the sport

iii. 2: Moderate decrease in participation in the sport

iv. 3: Significant decrease in participation in the sport

v. 100: Discontinued participation in the sport

14. How have your child’s injury/injuries impacted your decision to let your child participate in their primary sport?

a. Answered on a sliding scale from 0 to 10 with the labels:

i. 0 - No effect on continued participation in the sport

ii. 5 - Some thought about discontinuing participation in the sport

iii. 10 - definitive decision on discontinuing the sport

15. Do you believe the primary sport your child plays is safe for youth?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Yes

ii. No

16. What changes could make the primary sport your child plays safer in terms of head trauma? (You may select more than one

option.)

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Rule Changes (i.e. removing elements of contact)

ii. Additional training for coaches/supervisors

iii. Presence of an athletic trainer at each game/practice

iv. Redesign of equipment

v. Redesign of concussion screening equipment

vi. Better coaching of proper techniques

vii. Safer actions conducted by the players

viii. Other (Please List)

17. What factor, in your eyes, is the biggest roadblock to implementing changes to improve the safety in the primary sport your

child plays?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Cost

ii. Difference of opinion from involved parties

iii. Resistance to change from involved parties

iv. Time

19


v. Lack of other resources

vi. Difficulty enforcing changes

vii. Other (please list)

18. For all the sports your child plays combined, how many practices do they attend per week?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. 0 Practices Per Week

ii. 1 Practice Per Week

iii. 2 Practices Per Week

iv. 3 Practices Per Week

v. 4 Practices Per Week

vi. 5 Practices Per Week

vii. 6 Practices Per Week

viii. 7+ Practices Per Week

19. What specifically do you think contributes the most to head injury in the primary sport your child plays?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Nature of the sport

ii. How the game is played

iii. How practices are run

iv. Lack of supervision of coaches

v. Lack of training/knowledge on head injury amongst players and coaches

vi. Faulty equipment

vii. Rules of the game

viii. Other (Please List)

20. In comparison to other youth sports, how safe do you believe the primary sport your child plays is in terms of concussions?

a. Answered on a sliding scale from 0 to 10 with the labels:

i. 0- The primary sport my child plays is the SAFEST opinion available

ii. 5- The primary sport my child plays is about average in terms of safety

iii. 10 - The primary sport my child plays is the RISKIEST sport available to youth

21. How much of an effect have the following factors had on your decision involving your child’s/children’s participation and/or

selection in sport?

a. Answered via 2 sliding scales from 0-10:

i. The first scale asks: please indicate the extent of the effect popular media (i.e. news, Facebook, Twitter) has had on

your child’s selection and/or participation in sport

ii. The second scale asks: Please indicate the extent of the effect social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) has had on your

child selection and/or participation in sport

iii. The third scale asks: please indicate the extent of the effect the desire/wants of your child/children has had on your

child’s selection and/or participation in sport

iv. Please indicate the extent of the effect the safety of the sport has had on your child’s selection and/or participation

in sport

b. The 2 scales have the labels:

iii. 0 - My child’s participation and/or selection in sports was not impacted at all by this factor

iv. 5 - My child’s participation and/or selection in sports was somewhat impacted by this factor

v. 10 - My child’s participation and/or selection in sports was impacted greatly by this factor

22. Which sport (amongst youth) do you believe has the highest concussion rate?

a. Answered via multiple choice selections:

i. Basketball

ii. Baseball/tee-ball/softball

iii. Football

iv. Soccer

v. Volleyball

vi. Track & field

vii. Hockey/field hockey

viii. Tennis

ix. Golf

x. Other (please list)

20


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A. J., MS, ATC, Pitney, W., Ed.D.,

ATC, FNATA, & Wright, P. M.,

Ph.D. (2018). An Examination of

Concussion Legislation in the United

States. Internet Journal of Allied Health

Sciences and Practice, 16(2), 6th ser.

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nova.edu/ijahsp

Rowson, S., & Duma, S. M. (2011, May

07). Development of the STAR Evaluation

System for Football Helmets:

Integrating Player Head Impact

Exposure and Risk of Concussion.

Retrieved from https://link.springer.

com/article/10.1007/s10439-011-

0322-5

Rueb, E. S. (2019, March 01). Massachusetts

Bill Would Ban Tackle Football

Until After Seventh Grade. Retrieved

from https://www.nytimes.

com/2019/03/01/sports/youth-tackle-football-ban.html

Sandel, Natalie & Henry, Luke &

French, Jonathan & Lovell, Mark.

(2014). Parent Perceptions of Their

Adolescent Athlete’s Concussion:

A Preliminary Retrospective Study.

Applied neuropsychology. Child. 4.

1-6. 10.1080/21622965.2013.850692.

Schutt Sports. (2019). Retrieved from

https://www.schuttsports.com/

football.html

Shepherd Center Staff. (2018).

Leading Causes and Statistics

for Traumatic Brain Injuries.

Retrieved from https://www.

myshepherdconnection.org/abi/

Introduction-to-Brain-Injury/Statistics-and-Causes

Skiver, K. (2017, August 21). The safest

helmet in football: What’s inside the

NFL’s newest headgear. Retrieved

from https://www.cbssports.com/

nfl/news/the-safest-helmet-in-football-whats-inside-the-nfls-newestheadgear/

Solomon, J., & Farrey, T. (2018, October

26). 10 Charts that Show Progress,

Challenges to Fix Youth Sports.

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com/services/sports-medicine/services/concussion/facts-statistics

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23


Q

&

A

Being the Change

We Wish to See:

Madeline Baxter

By Rachel Chiu and Jada Morgan

Madeline Baxter is a third-year undergraduate pursuing majors

in global health and in learning and organizational change as

well as a minor in business institutions. Baxter is passionate

about social impact work and learning about the healthcare

system and its intersections with the social determinants of

health. The Journal sat down with Baxter to learn more about

her experience with social justice research.

24 FEATURE


[This interview has been edited for clarity

and brevity.]

Why did you decide to pursue

research specifically addressing

social justice work?

A lot of my interests right now revolve

around global health. I’m greatly

influenced by the content of the courses

in the global health department as well

as my experiences as a Black woman. It

feels very superficial to say, “I have all this

knowledge, but I’m just going to sit with

it and wait for four years and then maybe

decide to do something about it.” I have a

really hard time learning about disparities

and not doing anything to actively mitigate

those disparities.

However, I don’t know that doing social

justice work has ever been my ultimate life

goal. It’s always been something that I’ve

been passionate about in order to give back

to the community from which I’ve come.

It’s just who I am, what I care about doing,

and what I want to do with the education

that I’m getting right now.

Give us an overview of your

research experience.

For nine months in 2020, I worked with

the Northwestern Global Health Institute

in their Department of Education. I

worked on producing a descriptive analysis

which is a type of statistical modeling. I

helped translate qualitative data and make

it quantitative in order to advocate for

more funding and really show the success

of the Institute. It was really exciting to

be a part of something so tangible and see

immediate effects of it all.

Right now, I’m getting ready to work with

the Chicago Public Health Department

“I have a really

hard time learning

about disparities

and not doing

anything to actively

mitigate those

disparities.”

(CPHD). I’m helping them lead some

research in East Garfield Park, which

is a neighborhood of Chicago with the

worst African American female maternal

mortality statistics. We’re researching in

the area more and helping to support the

community and citizens.

How has it been working on

these large, multifaceted projects

as an undergraduate?

I was the only undergraduate with the

Global Health Institute for the first

six months. That was definitely really

difficult because we went through the

shift with COVID-19; it was really tough

to get the lay of the land. I had a hard

time understanding how the organization

was run and what was expected of me. I

was never meeting anybody face-to-face

besides my boss, so trying to find my

place in the organization was definitely

more difficult.

How did you go about

finding these social justice

research opportunities?

I spent a lot of time researching different

organizations in Chicago and began coldemailing

people. For example, to get in

FEATURE

25


“What I contribute

in the long run is a

sense of optimism

[by] being a new

person who says,

‘I care about this

work; I’m willing to

do whatever it takes

to help [make] it

happen.’”

touch with the brilliant woman who I’m

working for right now, I messaged her

on LinkedIn. She’s the medical director of

the CPHD, and she got back to me almost

immediately. We were able to coordinate

a time to talk, and seeing as our interests

aligned, they put me in their HR system —

the rest is history.

What do you think these

organizations really value about

undergraduate students and

specifically you? What do you think

you contribute in the long run?

I would hope that what I contribute in

the long run is a sense of optimism [by]

being a new person that says, “I care about

this work; I’m willing to do whatever it

takes to help [make] it happen.” There’s

so much work that needs to be done,

especially in the context of Chicago.

It’s really hard to take part in all that

work by yourself; I hope to equalize

the burden they’re carrying right now

to start to work against these disparities.

I’ve been trying to act on the things

that I find the most important and help

alleviate the racial, economic, and health

disparities that we spend so much time

talking about in the classroom.

What is the most rewarding

aspect of doing handson

social justice work?

The biggest things that I’ve gained are

the out-of-the-classroom knowledge

and the mentors. I can learn more about

these disparities and how to work against

them while also gaining connections with

people who care about me getting the right

experience and education. My supervisors

in both of those research positions have

really been ahead of the game in terms of

being women in the global health field.

They’ve helped lead me through the process

and also connect me with the right people.

How has getting involved in this

type of research during your

undergraduate years impacted

your desire to get involved in

research after you graduate?

Getting involved in social justice research

has shown me what I don’t want to do as

well as the research that I’d be interested

in doing in the future. My first experience

with the Global Health Institute was a lot

of data analysis. I realized that it’s one thing

to learn about global health disparities in

classrooms and another to just write down

numbers pertaining to grants. Those

are two very different things in terms of

quantifying the work.

My current research interests are in

quantifying the disparities along racial

lines in cities like Chicago and other urban

26 FEATURE


areas. I’m interested in breaking that down

further and understanding the function

of the neighborhood and where these

arbitrary neighborhood lines are as well

as how that impacts people for the rest of

their lives. I’d like to focus on interacting

with the individuals that these disparities

impact and working hands-on with

these communities rather than simply

quantifying the research on the back end.

Do you have any advice for

undergraduates who want to

get involved in the field but

are intimidated by the amount

of opportunities or needing

to reach out to independent

organizations on their own?

My biggest advice is always to just ask. The

worst thing that can happen is that they

don’t email you back. In terms of mitigating

that fear and intimidation, I think that

there’s so much work to be done, and social

justice workers and researchers are really

excited to see young people who care so

much and have the tactical skills to impact

the work.

How do you balance social

justice research work with onthe-ground

activism work?

In terms of balancing them, I spend more

time on the research right now than on

on-the-ground activism just because

that’s how I am. Currently, it’s really hard

to engage in activism because it’s hard to

meet people as a result of the COVID-19

pandemic, so I think my answer is skewed

in terms of what facilities I have access to.

Both research and activism actionably

impact the world and make it a better

place. I think as long as we’re intentional

in the way in which we walk through life

and interact with people, we can create

the positive change that we want to make.

Madeline Baxter’s success in finding and pursuing research demonstrates

how important it is that students continue to seek out opportunities

to gain knowledge and create tangible change in our communities.

Baxter encourages students to be bold in reaching out to individuals

in the professional world who share their research interests, as they

are waiting for undergraduates to share their insights as much as

the undergraduates are hoping to learn from the professionals in

the field. Through participating in social justice research, one can

develop valuable skills and connections that will carry throughout the

remainder of one’s professional career. ■

FEATURE

27


Department of African American Studies

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Marquis Bey, Ph.D.

What is Political Ontology

by John Sweeney

Preface

As I have progressed in this paper, I have

asked myself, and been pushed to seriously

think by my partner, about the ethicality

of writing such a large work on matters of

incredible violence to which I am not subject.

I especially need to take into account

how my discussions of race are entering

predominantly Black discourses, since my

presence in these spaces may contribute

violence toward Black people. 1 As my partner

has reminded me, it is white fragility

that orders me to remain silent on these

questions, and so I take inspiration from

her and Jennifer Nash, in her elaboration

of bravery, to address this directly.

As Barbara Christian, in her groundbreaking

article “The Race for Theory,”

asks white academics and herself, “For

whom are we doing what we are doing

when we do literary criticism?” 2 I write for

my partner, because the theory that I encounter

that does not broadly engage with

Black theory excludes her and her experience.

I cannot leave that be, so I must act,

even if I may not have an impact.

I also recognize that I have privilege

as a white cisgender straight male in this

racial cisheteropatriarchy, and when I

speak, I am not giving space for those

who are actually subjected to these systems

to speak. Additionally, there is the

great risk of liberal intentions that are in

reality voyeurism, which will always lead

to an unempathetic engagement, as the

theory turns into another game. If I am

guilty of this, I deserve to be called on it.

I hope to move through this entire paper

in an ethical manner — that is, with

humility, respect, deep engagement, intention

toward dialogue, and realizing

that I am no one’s savior and that this is

not an intellectual exercise. I write about

violence because this violence continues,

and I cannot turn away.

1 While this is not the purpose of this paper, extremely important work on the intramural dimensions

of race and ideology within the Black community and with other people of color has been created. See

Michelle (2020).

2 See Christain (1988, pg 77).

28


The terms of political ontology are opened up by

a robust engagement between different traditions

that all maintain a certain critical attitude towards

the current political ontology.

Introduction

This paper aims to enter into a complex

and ongoing conversation among critical

theorists regarding Black sociality, antiblackness,

and political ontology. 3 Black

studies has participated in an “ontological

turn,” often expressed in the afropessimist

versus Black optimist debates. This paper

will first engage with Black nihilist and

afropessimist works to tease out what

is actually being discussed. Then, it will

engage their work in conversations with

progressive critical theorists — particularly

Oliver Marchart, Fred Moten, and Enrique

Dussel — to open up the philosophical

terrain of political ontology.

This paper critically analyzes the

work of political ontology produced in

recent years, and it heeds a warning from

one of Calvin Warren’s recent articles:

Most Black studies “neglect the ontological

dimension of antiblackness, in order to

provide resolution and resolvability of the

tension between blackness and being.” 4 In

order to avoid this pitfall, this paper sets

out to center the ontological dimension

of antiblackness, in the post-Heideggerian

sense that Warren has in mind. It is more

than possible that this paper sets out to do

much more than one paper can coherently

accomplish, but I believe these moving

parts are all essential and mutually sup-

porting. This paper argues that the terms of

political ontology are opened up by a robust

engagement between different traditions

that all maintain a certain critical attitude

towards the current political ontology.

To begin, since this is a work of political

ontology that hopes to make the topic

more accessible and decipher some of the

jargon, we shall start with a brief overview

of the afropessimists Frank Wilderson and

Jared Sexton. Unfortunately, this deciphering

will not be simple, as, “‘Ontology’

as an analytical category is used in different

ways by different authors.” 5 We could

easily add metaphysics, race, and gender

to that description.

Brief Overview of Wilderson

and Sexton

This section will unpack some of the

grammar Warren and afropessimists use

for those of us who do not have as much

familiarity with it.

First, we can begin by noting that the

similarities Wilderson and Sexton bring

as afropessimists are the focus on social

death, the centering on the political production

of ontology, the orientation to fully

be with antiblackness, and the emphasis

on world-ending practices as the only

3 I am profoundly influenced by the work of scholar Christina Sharpe, and I follow her notations of

Black, blackness, and antiblackness. See Sharpe (2016).

4 See Warren (2017c, pg 272).

5 See Burman (2016, pg 7).

29


solution. On social death, they are very

impacted by the work of sociologist Orlando

Patterson, notably quite the conservative.

Patterson developed his notion

of social death to define the position of

enslavement, which has three factors to it:

(1) natal alienation, which means removal

from the community in which one is born;

(2) general dishonor, which refers to quite

literally a status of constant disrespect and

devaluement; and (3) permanent violence

and domination. 6 Wilderson and Sexton

argue that social death is the constitutive

feature of blackness, and is the crucial foil

to the ontological production of the Human

in modernity. This leaves Wilderson

and Sexton to separate gender and other

categories, such as class, out from race.

They label race as the most fundamental

category. 7 As Warren succinctly puts

it, Wilderson and Sexton “would argue

for the non-ontology of blackness. For Afro-Pessimists,

the grammar of bio-futurity

and political programs will do very little

to bring blacks into the fold of humanity;

in fact, this grammar is the source of black

suffering and dread.” 8 The abjection of

Blackness preconditions and foils the Human

for afropessimists.

Afropessimists also focus on the political

production of ontology, which is

what we should understand the concept of

political ontology to be doing. That is, to

use the prefix “political” is to mark the contingent,

9 contested, and historical nature

of that which we are labelling ontology.

Warren again helpfully puts it, “Afro-pessimists

demystify ontology, stripping it of

its assumed ‘purity’ in the Western tradition,

and expose ontology as the product of

political processes.” 10 The dominant order

presents itself as natural, but afropessimists

point out that it is naturalized through politics.

Thirdly, afropessimists insist on fully

confronting the whole terror of antiblackness.

As Sexton writes, “For the immediate

question facing such judgment is:

resistance or survival in the face of what,

precisely?” 11 This intense focus on thematizing

the structures of abjection through

antiblackness has misled some into believing

afropessimists do not believe in Black

social life. However, this is a mischaracterization,

as Sexton explains, “Nothing

in afro-pessimism suggests that there is

no black (social) life, only that black life

is not social life in the universe formed by

the codes of state and … the modern world

system.” 12 In the dominant world system,

which has been constituted by colonialism,

13 antiblackness does not recognize Black

life as social life at all.

Lastly, afropessimists explicitly contend

that in a world sutured by antiblack-

6 See Patterson (1982, pg 13).

7 See Wilderson (2010, pg 23).

8 See Warren (2017a, pg 220). Afropessimists sometimes use language like “the non-ontology of blackness.”

While I of course got the gist, at another level I felt this is a very different usage of the concept of

ontology than even other places in their work. I would say that “non-ontology” can be roughly translated

as non-being, as imposed by the being of whiteness.

9 I want to clarify that when I say contingent, I do not mean it in contradiction with afropessimists who

say anti-Blackness is non-contingent and necessary in a world that is invested in the Human. Rather I

simply mean that this ontology is not ‘natural’ or divine, and instead the product of human struggle.

10 See Warren (2017a, pg 223).

11 See Sexton (2016a, pg 19).

12 See Sexton (2016b, 29); also see Ziyad (2016) for real world application of this perspective. Thank you,

Dr. Marquis Bey for sending me this.

13 See, Silva (2016).

30


ness, only world-destroying measures are

fundamentally worth pursuing. As Wilderson

writes: “Frantz Fanon came closest to

the only image of sowing and harvesting

that befits this book. Quoting Aimé Césaire,

he urged his readers to start ‘the end

of the world,’ the ‘only thing … worth the

effort of starting,’ a shift from horticulture

to pyrotechnics.” 14 As he makes clear, the

only thing worth pursuing is the destruction

of the world, not piecemeal reforms

or anything else, literally, an investment

in pyrotechnics.

Afropessimists have had a strong

effect on many thinkers over the years,

so this will help us transition to delving

more deeply into the language/grammar

of political ontology.

Brief Introduction to the

Language/Grammar

of Warren

Brief Notes

This paper hopes to avoid the potential

pitfalls that others may have encountered

in attempting to engage with Warren’s

work, specifically: (a) engaging Warren’s

work on Warren’s terms, which is to say,

post-Heideggerian ontological terms; and

(b) conceding without argument that,

compared to other racial categories, Blackness

is unique in its constitution under

colonialism as absolute abjection. In order

to allow greater dialogue, with (a), I hope

to avoid a potential counterargument that

Warren may deploy against those who

do not start from a strictly (post-)Heideggarian

perspective, which is that a given

engagement relies on the antiblack structure

of metaphysics. For many not steeped

in white philosophical background, and

even those of us who are, the distinction

between metaphysics and ontology is

either fundamentally unclear or wholly

non-existent, and their definitions are

often vague and unelaborated. 15 However,

Martin Heidegger has a fundamentally different

understanding of metaphysics that

is pejorative in nature; in fact, he argues

metaphysics is properly understood as

domination and violence. While Warren

does not uncritically engage with Heidegger,

Warren does agree that metaphysics is

violent. This paper is an attempt to tease

out how we could take this seriously and

move forward in dialogue.

With (b), Warren takes as a key point

for him, as do other afropessimists, that

blackness is uniquely placed as abjection in

relation to whiteness and that all other racial

locations are able to take recourse from

gratuitous violence and towards ontology.

Some have taken issue with this, particularly

those in critical settler colonial studies

who argue for a more complicated organization

of race where Native peoples are in

a different relation but are not necessarily

privileged in this difference. However, this

position is not one I am fundamentally

wedded to. I think to argue for it would

warrant an entire paper in its own right

and would result in a failed dialogue in the

other ontological parts of the discourse in

which I want to engage.

Before proceeding much further,

it is relevant to note another thing, as a

signpost. Frantz Fanon has been a central

thinker for afropessimism, and as a

Black psychoanalytic thinker (the larger

discourse I will not take up here 16 ), Fanon

has an important impact on my thinking.

14 See Wilderson (2010, pg 337).

15 See Wiley (2016, pg 20).

16 Psychoanalysis has been seen as a crucial site of academic engagement for those in the afropessimist

31


However, I have chosen to elide focusing

on Fanon, and therefore I hope to avoid

engaging with the Fanon wars, to borrow a

frame from Jennifer Nash. 17 In my analysis,

the Fanon wars describe the “discursive,

political, and theoretical battles” marked by

an affective posture of defensiveness that

emerge over divergent readings of Fanon’s

work. 18 Part of this defensive posture is

created by the elevation of Fanon’s work

to, borrowing another phrase from Nash, 19

the status of directed by the Holy Spirit.

That is, if Fanon says it, it is the fundamental

truth. To be clear, I think of Fanon

as an important philosopher. But, I also

believe that scholars like David Marriott,

Frank Willderson III, Jared Sexton, and

Calvin Warren are vastly beyond my level

of studying Fanon, and in their intense investment,

Fanon as a figure in some ways

has become overdetermined. Thus, I believe

it would cause more obstruction than

care for dialogue were this paper to invest

in a different reading of Fanon over these

thoughtful scholars.

Key Terms: Metaphysics, Ontological

Difference, Ontics, Ontological

With those disclaimers out of the way,

we can begin to unpack the key terms in

Warren’s thought. Calvin Warren relies

crucially on German philosopher Martin

Heidegger to help develop his understanding

of ontology. Warren even goes

as far as to say Heidegger “more than any

“To use the prefix

‘political’ is to mark

the contingent,

contested, and

historical nature of

that which we are

labelling ontology.”

philosopher understood the violence of

metaphysics.” 20 With the ontological turn

on Black study, which is to say study, Warren’s

mediation is a relevant and unique

point in this trajectory, and thus, I believe

it should be engaged. However, I am worried

the obscurity of Warren’s reliance on

technical philosophical language primarily

derived from Heidegger has made any engagement

on equal terms difficult.

Unfortunately, as in all languages,

words can only be understood with

reference to other words in that language,

and so it is impossible to coherently define

one concept at a time. Instead, we must

attempt to explore one ensemble of related

concepts at a time.

The first ensemble of concepts to be

unpacked are (1) metaphysics and (2) the

ontological difference between (3) ontics 21

(beings) and (4) the ontological (Being),

tradition. However, I must confess I know next to nothing about the white psychoanalytic tradition of

Lacan, Zizek, and Freud, and I have (perhaps, ironically) an aversion to it. Regardless, my fundamental

lack – pun intended – of understanding of psychoanalysis has led me to exclude it almost entirely. However,

Black psychoanalysis, such as through Fanon, has much more sway for me, and so we might have

some throughout the work.

17 See Nash (2019, pg 35) regarding the intersectionality wars.

18 See Nash (2019, pg 36).

19 See Nash (2018).

20 See Warren (2016b, pg 58).

21 I use “ontics” instead of “ontic” because it does not follow for me that ontic is supposed to be the same

as beings and politics and doesn’t have an “s” at the end.

32


because this is the origin of Heidegger’s

project and his continued relevance to

Warren. Heidegger, and therefore Warren,

is very precise in his understanding of

metaphysics, and we should first note that

for Heidegger, metaphysics and ontology

are absolutely not interchangeable.

Heidegger introduces (2) the ontological

difference, to distinguish what he calls the

ontological and ontics. (3) Ontics is not a

common word at all. It roughly translates

to a focus on empirical references — which

is to say that which can be measured or

standardized objectively, 22 with beings then

referring to actual wholes in their material

sense — and is the study of being-quaunderstanding.

23 In contradistinction with

this idea of ontics, (4) the ontological refers

to the level of Being, a transcendental level,

being-qua-being, and ground. 24 Ontics and

the ontological are related but different

levels from each other, as the ontological

difference signifies. Put another way,

the “Ontological difference marks a

distinction between Being (capitalized) as

event, happening, or opening and being

(lowercase) as a metaphysical object, a

grounding, and representation.” 25

Metaphysics can be understood as

a system that attempts to get at Being

through ontics, the empirical, and forgets

the level of the ontological. Metaphysics,

because it only thinks in the register of ontics,

can only think through things that are

objects; in this way, metaphysics requires

objectification and schematization of everything

in order to explain the world. To

understand this, I find the saying, “when

you’re a hammer, everything looks like a

nail,” a helpful metaphor. This objectification

is understood by Heidegger and those

that have followed him as violent, and since

the main tool of metaphysics is objectification,

therefore, “The aim of metaphysics is

domination.” 26 Warren succinctly defines

it: Metaphysics should be understood “as

constituting a particularly violent episteme,

one that reduces the grandeur of

being into a scientific plaything — an object

of rationality, calculation, instrumentalization,

and schematization.” 27 Metaphysics

reproduces violence, and ontology moves

away from this objectification (ontology

will be problematized later).

While we have a brief summary of

key terms in Warren, I still think that

we are at a disadvantage in being able to

robustly engage in this post-Heideggerian

discourse. This paper hopes to remedy

this by discussing three broad thinkers,

who are themselves post-Heideggerians

and deeply invested in political ontology,

to give us a literature review so that we

can see what moves are possible while

being faithful to a post-Heideggerian

ontological theory. First, I will cover postfoundational

political thought, specifically

Oliver Marchart, 28 who are white

theorists who are explicitly motivated by

Heidegger’s work but want to rehabilitate

it to move against his Nazism and make

it more explicitly political. Second, I will

cover philosopher Enrique Dussel, who

is a landmark philosopher of liberation in

Latin America and who himself is deeply

invested in Heidegger and ontology but

22 See Marchart (2007, pg 15).

23 See Marchart (2018, pg 9).

24 See Marchart (2018, pg 9).

25 See Warren (2019, pg 48).

26 See Warren (2016b, pg 56).

27 See Warren (2016b, pg 56).

28 Who is explicitly interested in Ernesto Laclau’s political ontology in his book Thinking Antagonism.

33


is explicitly decolonial in purpose. And

lastly, I will cover the philosophy of the

eminent Fred Moten, who again is deeply

impacted by Heidegger and works to

revitalize ontology.

Organizing Definitions

In reviewing literature, I have felt that

different authors employ different

meanings of ontology. I have delineated

three different meanings of the word

below. This format is regrettably sharp

in its format; however, it is important to

be specific in the meanings of ontology

throughout this paper:

• Ontology (1): dominant ontology, and

therefore usually unmarked as such

since it is hegemonic, which produces

white people as having Being and

Black people as having non-Being

• Ontology (2): the ontology produced

outside the dominant ontology

• Ontology (3): the (meta?) ontology

that contains both ontology (1) and

ontology (2)

Literature Review: Post-

Foundational Political Thought

Post-foundational political thought offers

three key tools for helping us think

through an ontological theory invested

in thinking through Blackness and anti-

blackness: 29 (1) demonstrating how the

“nothing” can be thought through, (2)

elaborating that at the ontological level all

grounds are politically produced, and (3)

giving an account of how grounding unfolds,

through their conception of politics.

(1) The ontological ground of the

social is founded upon contingent, temporary,

and malleable grounds that are

ultimately founded upon nothing. 30 As

Warren explains, post-foundationalism

centers on a “lack of an absolute ground

for society. This is not to suggest that there

is no ground or that one can offer no claim

to a foundation; rather, the ground of the

social, the foundation, is weak, contingent,

and not absolute.” 31 Taking this thought

seriously, there is no recourse to some

ground that itself does not require grounding.

This provides a fruitful orientation for

understanding the social (society), not as

eternally the same throughout all historical

conjunctures, but rather continuously constructed

through action.

Post-foundationalists argue that

the nothing can be properly incorporated

into a political theory by placing the

nothing in an interplay with the ground

itself because the ground is founded upon

nothing. 32 The nothing and the ground are

constantly in play with each other, chasing

each other away and back again. Because

there is no absolute ground as in meta-

29 Post-foundational political thought is not meant to describe beyond all foundation similar to anti-foundationalism

but also to denote a movement away from strong foundationalism.The anti-foundationalist

position is mostly self-explanatory; literally, there is no ontological ground whatsoever that can

explain how things are. Conversely, strong foundationalists believe in an absolute ground, which can

account for everything, and that itself requires no additional ground. Examples include God, Reason, and

dialectical idealism/materialism.

30 The social means society and is at the ontic level.

31 See Warren (2010, pg 14).

32 This recognition of the nothing is relevant because metaphysics, as discussed earlier, strives to objectify

everything, and the nothing always escapes objectification and thus threatens the episteme of metaphysics

with collapse by exposing its limitations. In this way, metaphysics hates the nothing, so to speak,

and as Warren argues, projects it onto Blackness in order to control and neutralize it (Ontological Terror

5).

34


physics, post-Heideggerians argue that

there is in fact nothing upon which the

ground of society is founded because that

would become the absolute ground, and

again we are back at metaphysics. Therefore,

if we take seriously the idea that an

absolute ground is a metaphysical illusion,

then there can be no deeper level that fully

grounds the previous ground; put another

way, the essential metaphysical quest is to

desperately disprove that the social is not

in reality founded, in the end, upon literally

nothing. 33 Therefore, the post-foundationalist

embraces this which terrifies so many

metaphysical theorists, which is that there

is no fundamental logic or foundation for

the social.

(2) However, as aforementioned,

unlike anti-foundationalists, who argue

that there is no foundation whatsoever,

post-foundationalists argue that there is

no absolute, final ground, but there are

contingent, temporary grounds constructed.

This is the essence of why they

are identified as post-foundationalists; according

to them, there is a foundation, but

it is founded about an abyss, and so it is

necessarily contingent, and importantly,

this contingent ground can never assume

a total, absolute, or final ground status. 34

So, grounds are real, which is self-evident

to those of us who seek to understand

the colonial nature of our present

world, but these grounds are contingent,

which is to say created through politics. But

what is politics from a post-Heideggerian

perspective?

(3) Politics is understood as the social

actions that either sediment or unsettle

the ontological order, 35 which is to

mean, that which functions to stabilize

or destabilize part of the current hegemonic

distribution. The hegemonic order

in this case is meant to delineate the link

from ontics to the ontological; “Grounds

emerge from hegemonic paradigm shifts-

,” 36 which is to mean grounds “emerge

from … political struggle.” 37 In the register

of ontics, hegemonic distribution refers

to the “terrain of sedimented practices.” 38

When this paper speaks to sedimentation,

it is referring to the condition of routinized

repetition, where there can be more

or less sedimentation of a given practice,

and the more sedimented it is, the less it is

questioned, or even able to be questioned,

and vice versa; “sedimentation emerges

from repetition.” 39 Post-foundational political

thought creates an important link

for political ontology by labeling the link

from ontics to the ontological, via intense

sedimentation as the grounding or instantiating

of the social world. 40 Grounding is

the level of the ontological, and “politics

should be seen as an attempt at instantiating

the [ontological].” 41 Politics is nothing

33 See Warren (2010, pg 15).

34 See Marchart (2018, pg 26).

35 These thinkers believed that there is a usefulness in creating a distinction for clarity purposes between

the term “politics” and the term “the political,” which follows the distinction of the term “ontics” and

the term “the ontological.” Oliver Marchart helps elucidate this position by labelling this separation the

political difference, a deliberate homage to Heidegger’s “ontological difference” (Post-Foundational Political

Thought 4).

36 See Marchart (2018, pg 172).

37 See Marchart (2018, pg 171).

38 See Marchart (2018, pg 91).

39 See Marchart (2018, pg 94).

40 See Marchart (2018, pg 91).

41 See Marchart (2018, pg 238).

35


Politics is understood as the social actions that

either sediment or unsettle the ontological

order, which is to mean, that which functions

to stabilize or destabilize part of the current

hegemonic distribution.

other than “ontic struggles” that prevent

the closure of the social, which is to mean

prevent an ultimate ground; 42 these ontic

struggles (politics) attempt to produce

one reality which by definition excludes

other possible realities, which is what is

meant by attempts at grounding. Therefore,

our social world is in a constant cycle

of grounding and de-grounding, then

grounding and de-grounding again, 43 and

“politics” is the name of the concept that

describes the actions that produce this cycle

of grounding.

While the ontological institutes

ontics, post-foundationalist thought recenters

that ontics (politics) produces the ontological.

Beyond some interesting exercise

of post-Heideggerian thought, I go over

this first and foremost to give us the tools

to analyze political ontological thought

that borrows from these same thinkers.

The above overview allows us to answer

the question: But what creates ontology? I

believe Marchart’s work, for all its failings,

creates an essential intervention. The play

of difference does not make the ontological

subordinate to ontics, and so too does

it not make ontics subordinate to the onto-

logical: They create each other, 44 so yes, the

ontological institutes ontics, but ontics is

what creates the ontological. 45 As Marchart

puts it, “every form of ontological institution

must be ontically mediated via action

and agency.” 46 Ontics is what determines

the ontological. 47

To put it succinctly, so long as the

field of ontics (the social) cannot be closed

(which is to say all conflict/change ends),

so too can the ontological not be closed.

We can never make claims that the order

we live under, at the ontological level or at

ontics, cannot be closed because politics is

what creates the ontological, and politics is

always present.

In this section, we covered the three

tools we might gain from post-foundational

political thought for theorizing political

ontology, namely: (1) how the nothing can

be thought through, (2) the contingent nature

of the ontological, and (3) an explanation

of how ontics produces the ontological

ground, through its conception of politics.

In this next section, we will go over

the philosophy of Enrique Dussel and

discover what tools we might glean from

his work.

42 See Marchart (2018, pg 151).

43 See Marchart (2018, pg 234).

44 Through an eternal interplay of difference.

45 See Marchart (2018, pg 145), Maldenado-Torres (2008, 221); See also, Maldenado-Torres (2007).

46 See Marchart (2018, pg 145).

47 See Warren (2010, pg 56).

36


Literature Review:

Enrique Dussel

The philosophy of Enrique Dussel gives

us two additional insights into political

ontology: 48 (1) the concept of the totalizing

system (or totality), and (2) the concept of

the trans-ontological.

A quick note: Dussel’s work is profoundly

marked by an anticolonial posture,

which is an improvement on post-foundationalist

thought, but a major weakness is

his refusal to thoroughly engage with race

and gender. Additionally, when he does,

he tends to collapse all non-white races in

a similar structural position of subjection.

As I laid out in the beginning, this paper

is operating with the assumption that the

structural position of Blackness under

colonialism is uniquely subjected, and so

Dussel’s collapse is inappropriate. I would

argue that this point of view of Dussel does

affect his work, but we can still easily translate

his work to our current assumption,

and when Dussel claims the domination

of non-white (or more often in his words,

dominated) people, for the purposes of this

paper I will read this as Black people.

(1) The concept of a totalizing system,

or totality, refers to the dominant ontological

order that attempts to institute complete

control but ultimately never succeeds.

Dussel’s totalizing system links well with

the post-foundational notion of the impossibility

of a final ground so that the totalizing

system never ultimately can close.

The totality (which is just a shorthand for

totalizing system), attempts to annihilate

opposition, but the colonial world never

completes its impulse toward complete

closure, which is just another way of saying

what we discussed earlier, that the final

ground can never be reached. 49 Marchart

writes, “The social is laden with conflict

on the ontic plane, because society cannot

be concluded into a totality.” 50 Dussel and

post-foundationalists agree; the social can

never be closed into a totality, can never

reach a final ground. I want to spell out this

implication a bit clearer.

To say that the totalizing system never

closes, that there is never a final ground,

means (a) that the dominant order does

not control all possible actions/possibilities/futures,

and (b) there exists something

outside this control. We can speak of the

internal lives of the oppressed as not totally

being controlled by nor ultimately reducible

to the colonial situation. This can be

seen through the revolutionary struggle,

the intramural, and the social life (even if)

within the social death of blackness and

Black people. 51

(2) The analytic of the trans-ontological

describes how there exists something

beyond the dominant ontological order. Dussel

introduces the transontological by defining

it in relation to the dominant order, writing,

“the transontological level, that is, beyond

the dominating totality.” 52 Since the totality

of the dominant ontological system is

fundamentally exclusionary of some people

and their politics, there are people outside,

48 Philosopher Enrique Dussel is extensively influenced by Heidegger’s work and is without a doubt within

the post-metaphysical tradition (Ethics of Liberation 376-377, 593).

49 See Mills (2018, pg 22).

50 See Marchart (2018, pg 150).

51 See Mills (2018, pg 37).

52 See Dussel (2013, pg 337).

37


though not totally, 53 this totality. 54 The two

fundamental interventions I then take from

Dussel, is that (a) there exists material (ontic)

content beyond the dominant ontology,

and (b) these people have an ontological

being that escapes the directive of the totality.

55 According to the dominant system, the

colonized are other, and “as other than the

system, … one is beyond Being. Inasmuch as

Being is and non-Being is not, the other is

not.” 56 Dussel’s elaboration of the relation of

non-being and the system of dominant ontology

makes clear that the statuses of Being

and non-Being are politically constructed

and imposed upon existents. 57

Dussel’s analytic of the transontological

argues that not only is there social

life, but this very sociality constitutes the

Being of blackness, which is not reducible

to the imposition of antiblackness by the

colonial order. As Dussel explains, he uses

the prefix “trans-” to get across there is a

passing beyond the ontology of the dominant

system (ontology (1)), and since the

dominant order is de facto hegemonic, this

ontology invisibilizes other ontological

systems. Nevertheless, in reality, the place

that the transontological attempts to go to,

which is produced by the oppressed, is itself

ontological in a genuine way, by which

I mean not an illusion of the dominant

system. 58 This, I believe, already gives us

powerful tools in working with Warren,

who reflects about Moten’s mysticism:

“What Black mysticism offers is a lexical

imagination that aims to take us outside of

political ontology and into the metaphysical

(or the spiritual).” 59 Dussel often refers

to the transontological as the metaphysical

(breaking with Heidegger and Warren),

which makes Dussel’s work appear to

follow Warren’s praise of the language

of metaphysics to escape ontology: “It is

precisely this mysticism that provides our

fugitive escape from the confines of ontology.

… Thus, mysticism is not inimical to

freedom; it is the only aspect of existence

that provides hope.” 60 Dussel’s philosophy

gives us the emphasis on the Black ontic

and ontological experience that (1) exceeds

the totalizing system, which we find in the

(2) transontological level, outside of the

dominant ontology.

Warren’s praise leads us to our next

thinker, Fred Moten.

Literature Review: Fred Moten

One final addendum to create a somewhat

accessible ontological language is the brilliant

work of Fred Moten. 61 Moten gives

us two tools that overlap with what we

already have discussed: (1) the concept of

paraontology as that which describes the

53 See Dussel (2003, pg 47).

54 See Dussel (2013, pg 558).

55 See Dussel (2013, pg 339, 558).

56 See Dussel (2003, pg 51).

57 What I find brilliant about Dussel’s analysis is that he correctly identifies that the ontology of the

dominant system is not the only field of ontological existence, and beyond the ontology of the dominant

system, there is a different ontology produced by the oppressed. “The ‘liberation project’ is ontological.

However, since it unfolds beyond (in exteriority) the current system... I frequently refer to it as transontological”

(Ethics of Liberation 628).

58 See Dussel (2013, pg 628).

59 See Warren (2017, pg 220).

60 See Warren (2017, pg 222).

61 This brings us closer to our aim since Moten has had an active and ongoing discussion with afropessimists,

and as Calvin Warren notes, Moten is himself a “neo-Heideggerian” (Black Mysticism 221).

38


“To use the language of Moten, this ontology is fugitive

because it escapes and cannot be contained by the dominant

ontology, no matter the desire of the dominant ontology to

capture and destroy it; Blackness ‘is a theft of being.’”

level of Being for Blackness, 62 and (2) the

elaboration of how even under conditions

of “social death,” there is still Black social

life. As Moten puts it, “blackness needs to

be understood as operating at the nexus of

the social and the ontological.” 63 Hopefully,

this is what this paper is doing.

(1) Moten deploys the concept of

paraontology to signify the ontological

register of Blackness (ontology (2)), 64

where the dominant ontology (ontology

(1)) excludes Blackness from ontology.

Dominant ontology places blackness as

abjection, but blackness is not reducible to

this abjection, and therefore ontology in this

sense is not up to the task of Black thinking,

which is to say thinking about blackness.

When I say “ontology in this sense,” I

am talking about ontology (1). I believe

Moten says it well: “What is inadequate

to blackness are already given ontologies.

The lived experience of blackness is,

among other things, a constant demand

for an ontology of disorder, an ontology

of dehiscence, a paraontology whose

comportment will have been (toward)

the ontic or existential field of things and

events.” 65 I take Moten to link “already

given ontologies” as equal to ontology (1),

which is to say, dominant ontology.

Moten’s analysis of paraontology

provides a consensus with post-foundationalist

political thought and Dussel’s

work, in that ontology (1) is not the only

ontological system. The colonial world

always seeks to create a totality, but as we

discussed before, this is impossible. Moten

becomes our third figure profoundly influenced

by Heidegger to come to the same

conclusion: the dominant ontology is not

total. And, we can add another conclusion

that Moten and Dussel share: If there is life

that exceeds the ontology of the dominant

system, this too produces its own ontology.

To use the language of Moten, this ontology

is fugitive because it escapes and cannot

be contained by the dominant ontology, no

matter the desire of the dominant ontology

to capture and destroy it; Blackness “is a

theft of being.” 66 This fugitive ontology is

the ontology that exists in a non-reducible

way beyond the dominant ontology, which

is to say the ontology (2) that exists beyond

ontology (1). Moten (and Chandler) gives

ontology (2) the name of paraontology. 67

I argue that Moten’s paraontology

and Dussel’s transontology can be productively

understood as one and the same, as

expressing what I have before (in the poverty

of language 68 ) labelled ontology (2).

62 First introduced by Nahum Chandler in Chandler, 2013, Moten modifies his version.

63 See Moten (2018b, pg 150).

64 We should take care to remember “the paraontological distinction between blackness and black people”

(The Universal Machine 242).

65 See Moten (2018b, pg 150).

66 See Hart (2016, pg 24).

67 “Moten carries Heidegger’s … ontic/Ontological into the distinction between blacks … and blackness”

(Black Mysticism 225). The paraontology level is on something like an ontological level.

68 What Warren might label “grammatical paucity” (Black Mysticism 220).

39


To reiterate, in a post-Heideggerian vein,

one can only speak “ontology” when there

is actually something in the empirical realm,

i.e., some ontics to speak of.

And as Sexton writes, of course there

is Black social life, but the point is that this

social life is lived in social death. 69 But now

moving beyond this misunderstanding, I

think a critical question that can be posed

is: Is all Black social life reducible to this

position of social death?

(2) Moten responds to this by clarifying

that what is called social death is only

a death for a part of the Black social life. 70

His intervention is helpful because it helps

clarify a distinction that sometimes our

language can obscure: that the social death

spoken of, in being a political death, is not

the totality of what we can call Black social

life (or Black sociality). 71

The needed intervention that I believe

Moten’s work demonstrates is that

this political death does not kill the totality

of what we can call the social (ontic), or

something like it. As Moten expertly puts

it, “Stolen life [Black life] is not equivalent

to social death or absolute dereliction.” 72

One life is killed, and another begins, and

this life is not reducible to the ongoing

death (and violence) being imposed on it.

Since we can now say that all Black so-

cial life (or something like it) is not reducible

to ontic powers of the colonial system,

we can so too understand the Blackness is

not reducible or wholly captured by the

ontological system of colonialism, which

is what Dussel calls the transontological,

Moten the paraontological, and I earlier

called ontology (2). According to Moten,

Black social life “causes us to recognize the

paraontological as the ontological’s (im)

proper name.” 73 This follows Dussel’s claim

that the transontological is ontological. 74

Moten makes very explicit that it is this

Black social life that exceeds the imposition

of domination by whiteness that creates

paraontology. 75

Moten gives us the (1) paraontological,

which is in many ways the same as the

transontological, and (2) an elaboration

of Black social life non-reducible to conditions

of social death, which can productively

be understood as expressing similar

ideas as the lack of closure of the social for

post-foundationalists and the totalizing

system of Dussel.

Conclusion

This paper argues that the language of political

ontology that is important to many

Black theorists can be productively opened

up by a dialogue between the work of

69 See Sexton (2016b, pg 15).

70 I would note, from my own perspective, Moten, in (correctly) tracing this genealogy to Arendt, perhaps

becomes Arendtian himself in some of his analysis, creating a strict separation of the political and

social. To be clear, the post-foundational thought that I elaborated above is at odds with Arendt’s understanding

of the political because it argues that which is commonly described as political, which is often

what Arendt means (e.g., public debate), is itself part of our social (ontic) world. Moten himself notices

this and problematizes it (Moten, 2018b, pgs 101, 107); however, when Moten talks of political death instead

of social death, I want to put a caveat that I am unsure is explicit in Moten: that this political death

is in itself social. (To clarify, I do not claim to correct Moten, I believe we agree completely in the end, but

I wanted to make a clarification of translation between his works and how this paper unfolds.)

71 See Moten (2018b, pg 194).

72 See Moten (2018b, pg 151).

73 See Moten (2018a, pg 35).

74 See Duseel (2013, pg 628).

75 See Moten (2017, pg 312).

40


Oliver Marchart, Enrique Dussel, and Fred

Moten. Each author’s unique work offers

overlapping and complementary insights

that help reveal the plane of political ontology.

First, post-foundationalist thought

demonstrates how the “nothing” can be

thought through, elaborates that at the

ontological level all grounds are politically

produced, and gives an account of how

grounding unfolds through its conception

of politics. Secondly, the philosophy of

Enrique Dussel gives us the concept of the

totalizing system and the concept of the

trans-ontological. Finally, Moten gives us

two tools of the concept of paraontology

as that which describes the level of Being

for Blackness and the elaboration of how,

even under conditions of “social death,”

there is still Black social life.

These insights allow a deeper engagement

with the political ontology laid

out by Calvin Warren and afropessimists

such as Wilderson and Sexton. This is just

an introductory effort that hopes to enable

fellow scholars to engage with their important

work in richer ways. ■

Bibliography

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and Ontological Disobedience.” E.

Velasquez, R (2016).

Chandler, Nahum Dimitri. X—The

Problem of the Negro as a Problem for

Thought. Fordham University Press,

2013.

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for

Theory.” Feminist Studies 14.1 (1988):

67-79.

Dussel, Enrique. Ethics of Liberation: In

the Age of Globalization and Exclusion.

Duke University Press, 2013.

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Hart, William David. “Constellations:

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Sexton, Jared. “Affirmation in the Dark:

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Minnesota Press, 2007.

Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On

Blackness and Being. Duke University

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Warren, Calvin L. “Black Mysticism:

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Warren, Calvin. “Black Time: Slavery,

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41


Studying Art History

By Joni Rosenberg

Art History Professor

Jesús Escobar shares

his COVID-19

pandemic experience

as an educator

and researcher of

architecture and

urbanism in the Spanish

Habsburg Empire.

When the COVID-19 pandemic

first sent college students

home in March 2020, no one

knew exactly how daily life would

change. Art History Professor

Jesús Escobar was guest lecturing

at Johns Hopkins University in

Baltimore when its campus, along

with others all across the country,

was shut down.

At the time, Escobar was involved

in three different research

projects at various stages of completion.

Although their timelines were

once very clear, they had to be altered

to accommodate the pandemic.

As a researcher of architecture

and urbanism, Escobar often

travels to cities of interest for onsite

visits and archival research.

However, the travel restrictions

first implemented in spring 2020

meant that it was impossible for

Escobar to travel internationally

that summer.

The largest impact was

on a project Escobar started in

2018. Because it uses biographical

42


in the Age of

COVID-19

information to help explain transatlantic

architectural patronage in the Spanish

Empire, the project requires extensive

archival research.

“[During the] summer of 2020, I

obviously wasn’t going to get back to that

research project that required the archive,”

he said.

He instead focused on another ongoing

project about architecture in Madrid under

the Habsburg Monarchy (1504–1700).

“The key tasks ahead were to get some

final revisions done with the copy editor

and then to … start dealing with all the images

for the book,” Escobar said. However,

the image acquisition process was altered

by the pandemic too.

“The book has 143 images in it, and

when you publish in art history, you have

to get permission for photography that’s

not your own,” he explained. “It’s a really

long process, and I thought, ‘I better start

early because it’s going to take extra long.’”

But not all of these changes have been

negative. In fact, Escobar said that he has

found new ways to approach research and

teaching as a result of the pandemic.

The inability to travel has led Escobar

to “discover all these amazing online tools

that really saved a lot of scholars during

the pandemic.” Online libraries such as the

Biblioteca Nacional de España have extensive

digital libraries that include primary

sources typically acquired through on-site

research. He also credited pandemic-related

adjustments with further encouraging

him to “[figure] out ways to make the research

relevant to students.”

Escobar also discussed how the pandemic

has impacted his third project, which

covers nearly 300 years of architectural history.

Because it is meant to be easily digestible

for readers new to the history of the Spanish

Habsburgs, less archival research is necessary

than for the other projects.

“I think it’s a kind of research agenda

that adjusts well to COVID,” he said. Although

he still has to travel for the third

project, he said that those plans were relatively

easy to postpone based on the project’s

tentative schedule.

Despite the obstacles posed by the

COVID-19 pandemic, Escobar is excited to

continue his research and teaching. ■

43


Department of Sociology

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Anthony Chen, Ph.D.

Networking for

Gender Justice:

Women’s Arts Organizations

as Facilitators of Gender Equity

in the Arts Industry

by Jade Davis

Introduction

The later 20th century brought many drastic

changes in the United States in terms of

occupational sex segregation. In the 1970s,

segregation began to decline substantially

across the board as more women found

their way into traditionally male-dominated

careers, which continued into the

1980s and 1990s. 1 The art industry was

no exception, as women artists began to

be nearly as visible and successful as their

male counterparts in art-rich cities such

as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Artists such as Joan Mitchell, Judy Chicago,

and Louise Bourgeois hit their strides

and became some of the most well-known

and well-paid artists of their time. At the

same time, The Guerrilla Girls — masked

artists who adopted names of deceased

women artists — became some of the

most outspoken critics of the treatment of

female bodies in the largest museums, creating

billboards with phrases such as “Do

women have to be naked to get into the

Met. Museum?” 2 Between this group of

women and other efforts throughout the

U.S., women had a voice in the art world,

both becoming part of the mainstream

and creating their own alternative spaces

where they could be as politically and

socially vocal as they wished.

However, this progression has slowed

since the late 1990s, and the gender disparity

persists in the arts today, something

that contemporary sociologists, other

researchers, and the media continue to examine.

Like in many other professions that

have traditionally been male-dominated,

the number of women artists has increased

slightly, but their pay, ease of success, and

other individualized experiences are still

gendered and inequitable. Recent article

headlines such as “A New Study Shows

That Most Artists Make Very Little Money,

With Women Faring the Worst” 3

1 Roos, P. A. & Stevens, L. M. (2018). Integrating Occupations: Changing Occupational Sex Segregation in the United States from

2000 to 2014. Demographic Research, 38, 127-154. dx.doi.org.turing.library.northwestern.edu/10.4054/DemRes.2018.38.5

2 Naked Through the Ages. (n.d.). https://www.guerrillagirls.com/naked-through-the-ages

3 Kinsella, E. (2017, November 29). A New Study Shows that Most Artists Make Very Little Money, with Women Faring the Worst.

44


and “The 4 Glass Ceilings: How Women

Artists Get Stiffed at Every Stage of Their

Careers” 4 suggest that there is concern

for all facets of equality for women in the

arts, from pay to opportunities for career

advancement. Research from government

entities such as the National Endowment

for the Arts finds that women visual artists

earn on average 74 cents for each dollar

their male counterparts make and that the

earnings ratio of these artists declines with

age. Women artists age 18–24 will earn

97 cents per dollar earned by men artists

of the same age, but those 55–64 will earn

just 66 cents per dollar that male artists of

the same age will make. 5

Although this collection of data is

valuable for determining where to focus

on mitigating gender inequality in the arts,

most research has focused on the current

state of inequitable environments, pay

gaps, and lack of opportunities for women,

rather than on how women first became

more integrated into the art industry to

begin with: what enabled women like

Joan Mitchell and Judy Chicago to become

well-known and successful. The addition

of a historical perspective may elucidate

the steps toward gender parity in the arts

by identifying which aspects of an artist’s

interactions with their surroundings and

institutions have historically contributed

to their successes or challenges. This

could then determine how women can

navigate through their art communities

toward more equitable pay, gallery space,

attention in larger galleries and the media,

and increased monetary value of artworks

by collectors and in auctions. My thesis is

therefore a historical case study of Chicago’s

art scene and its gender integration

process, drawing mainly from the perspectives

of women artists who were active in

the art scene during this period of change

between the 1970s and the 1990s. My research

questions are as follows:

1. What institutional structures or

independent actors allowed women

artists in Chicago to become more

integrated into the city’s mainstream

art scene?

2. When did these changes occur, and

why did they occur when they did?

3. How strongly were these changes led

by the women artists themselves?

Research Design

In order to understand the role of women’s

art organizations, including cooperative

galleries and more traditional galleries,

I utilized a combination of archival

research and semi-structured interviews.

This combination was ideal to answer

my research questions because the archival

material provided a more objective

background of what organizations existed,

when, and how they were integrated

in the community. The interviews, which

primarily focused on artists, allowed me to

hear first-hand from those in the art community

about the organizations’ effects.

With more time, I would have conducted

more archival research in order to understand

more deeply how each organization

related to the larger community, as well as

specific initiatives they took or exhibitions

they held to support the women involved

in their organizations. However, I was able

to get much of this information from the

interviews I conducted.

4 Halperin, J. (2017, December 15). The 4 Glass Ceilings: How Women Artists Get Stiffed at Every Stage of Their Careers. https://news.

artnet.com/market/art-market-study-1179317

5 National Endowment for the Arts. (2019, April). Artists and Other Cultural Workers: A Statistical Portrait. Office of Research &

Analysis.

45


Archival Research

I primarily used the sources I had to create

a list of women artists’ organizations

which were active in Chicago during the

time period of focus and to understand

generally how they functioned. I also found

lists of artists involved in the first few

years of each organization’s existence and

any leadership or founders involved in the

creation and running of the organizations,

which I used to create a list of artists to

contact for recruitment.

Sample and Recruitment

I conducted 13 semi-structured interviews

using a non-random convenience sample. 6

I spoke with 10 women artists who worked

in Chicago from the 1970s through the

1990s and three women curators or art

historians who worked among them or

have conducted extensive archival research

on their organizations. I used my archival

sources to create a list of the first or founding

members of Artemisia Gallery, ARC

Gallery, and Woman Made Gallery, as I

had access to lists of founding or primary

members, as well as some lists of members

or exhibitors for each year. I searched

for current artist websites or other sources

of contact information for the living

members and interviewed all participants

who responded to my email inquiries.

Interviews

The interviews lasted between 45 minutes

and one hour and 45 minutes. They

were all done over the phone except for

one artist, whom I met at her studio in

Chicago. The interview guide contained

four sections, each detailing different

aspects of interview participants’ experiences

with Chicago’s art community,

women artists, and women’s art groups

(see Appendix). Some questions were

specific to certain organizations, which I

did not move forward with if the participant

stated that they were not familiar

with the organization. Probes were used

to ask for clarification or examples.

Data Analysis

In order to analyze my data, I first identified

and operationalized the dependent

variable, or “navigating the city’s art

scene.” I determined “navigating” to mean

that a woman artist was able to create

artwork regularly, whether it was their

full-time career or they had another

career or source of income: They did not

stop working as an artist due to implicit

or explicit gender-based discrimination,

and they were able to show in a gallery

on a semi-regular basis (at least every

five years).

I defined “Chicago’s art scene” to

mean the network of commercial galleries

in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs,

as well as the related organizations for artists,

including but not limited to women’s

art organizations and others such as the

Chicago Artists’ Coalition and the Chicago

Public Art Group. Larger institutions,

such as the Museum of Contemporary

Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, are

important aspects of the city’s art scene as

a whole, especially considering the role of

the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

in training many of Chicago’s most wellknown

artists. However, I found through

my research that most of Chicago’s artists

were not represented in these museums

during this time period and that it was

not necessarily gendered, although the

museums had a separate issue in their representation

of women artists as a whole.

Therefore, I excluded these institutions

6 Participant data are not consolidated, and comments are not attributed to individual participants or given pseudonyms in order to

preserve confidentiality, due to the small size of the community.

46


from the analysis of women’s integration

into the art scene as they are not relevant

to a vast majority of the women involved

in the women’s art organizations studied.

I listened to the 13 interview audio

clips and transcribed relevant information

from the respondents, keeping in

mind possible ways that women artists

could have been impacted by these organizations.

If my hypothesis was supported,

and if women’s art organizations did

indeed play a significant role, I expected

respondents to discuss themes mentioned

in previous literature. At the same time, I

kept in mind a set of alternative hypotheses

that could also explain what allowed

women artists in Chicago to become more

involved in the community, unrelated to

the existence of women’s art organizations.

I used research on other industries and instances

of women breaking into formerly

male-dominated groups as well as research

on other aspects of the art industry (including

Art Worlds by Howard Becker)

to inform these hypotheses. I transcribed

any information from the interviews that

could either support or refute these other

hypotheses, in order to have a more

well-rounded idea of how women could

have navigated Chicago’s art scene outside

of these women-specific institutions.

Empirical Analysis

The current hypothesis posits that the

presence of women’s art organizations in

the 1970s through the 1990s in Chicago

had a significant positive effect on women

artists’ ability to navigate the art scene.

The analysis of my interviews provides

support for this hypothesis, suggesting

that the organizations provided internal

connections with other women artists and

external connections to curators, gallery

owners, and other actors, both of which

were necessary components of success as a

woman artist in the field.

Historical Background

According to archival research, as well

as narratives from Chicago’s scholars

and curators, the city’s first women’s art

galleries in the period of interest began in

April 1973, with the openings of Artemisia

Gallery and ARC Gallery. These galleries

were some of the first women-focused art

spaces of their kind in the country. The

Chicago art scene was also well-known at

this time, from the mid-1960s to the early

1970s, for its world-renowned School

of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was

also known in the national art scene for

a group of artists known as the Chicago

Imagists, as well as the “Hairy Who,” many

of whom were graduates of the art school.

Although several women were members

of the Chicago Imagists, women artists in

general were not a large part of the otherwise

small art scene of the time.

Nearly all of the women who were

part of Artemisia and ARC Galleries stated

that one particular artist, a woman named

Ellen Lanyon, was the catalyst of these

groups. Lanyon had spent time in New

York City and had encountered another

gallery, Artists in Residence (AIR) Gallery,

which inspired her. AIR was a cooperative

gallery rather than a commercial gallery.

Artists involved in the cooperative paid a

membership fee to rent the gallery space

together and take turns holding exhibitions

in the gallery space. AIR was also the first

gallery of this type in the U.S. that focused

on women artists. Along with this gallery,

Lanyon had worked with a feminist art

critic and activist, Lucy Lippard, as well as

other feminist artists who were working in

New York City at the time.

Upon returning to Chicago, Lanyon

47


gathered a small group of recent graduates

from the School of the Art Institute

and other working women artists. They

then began the initial recruitment process.

However, too many women artists were

interested in the cooperative gallery, and

not enough spaces were available for one

gallery. So, some artists branched off and

created the second of the two galleries.

Thus, Artemisia Gallery and ARC Gallery

were opened in the same building and

within one week of one another in the

spring of 1973. Approximately 20 artists in

each organization shared the lease, taking

turns operating the gallery space and holding

a two- to three-person show monthly.

Although Artemisia and ARC were

the first women’s galleries in Chicago, they

were not the first women artists’ organization.

The National Women’s Caucus for

Art opened a chapter in Chicago one year

earlier, in 1972. Many artists were both

involved in cooperative or commercial

galleries and the Chicago Women’s Caucus

for Art (CWCA). The organization

was comprised of both women artists and

others in the arts community, including art

historians, curators, professors, and others.

The CWCA held several exhibitions of its

artists in women artist gallery spaces.

Artemisia and ARC Galleries were

crucial institutions for many women artists

in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. Their

location on the north side of the city attracted

artists and others in part due to their

proximity to other galleries and museums

at the time, including the initial location

of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the

N.A.M.E. Gallery, and the Randolph Street

Gallery. However, due to their location on

the north side, an indirect consequence was

that the women who were drawn into these

organizations were predominantly white

women. At its creation, Artemisia Gallery

“The organizations

provided

both internal

and external

connections that

allowed women

to create and

show their work

in a supportive

environment.”

had no members who were women of color;

ARC Gallery had one. In part due to

this lack of women-specific arts organizations

that would function as well for women

of color, the organization Sapphire and

Crystals was created in 1987. Rather than a

gallery space, it was a collective that served

Black women artists who also exhibited

in women artist gallery spaces. Several of

these women were also part of the CWCA.

In 1992, two women founded Woman

Made Gallery under the premise that

Chicago still did not provide the community

that the city’s women artists needed.

They felt that the cooperative structure of

Artemisia and ARC Galleries was limiting

and that the organizations did not provide

enough exhibitions for women artists who

were not members of the collective. Therefore,

Woman Made Gallery was created

as Chicago’s first commercial gallery that

focused on women artists. It was unique

among the other women’s arts organizations

in that it had a physical space, unlike

CWCA and Sapphire and Crystals, and that

48


it also allowed more women to become

involved without necessarily needing to

be a member and regularly contributing to

the gallery financially, completely planning

their own shows, or otherwise being involved

in the running of the organization.

This overview of Chicago’s women’s

organizations suggests that there was both

a need for a community of women artists

and an interest in creating said community.

However, it also raises the following

questions: How beneficial were each of

these organizations to the women artists?

“How did they help their members navigate

the scene and perhaps become successful

working artists?”

Findings and Interpretation

My interviews with the women artists

who were involved in women’s art organizations

suggest that in the beginning of

the time period of interest, the early 1970s,

most women artists in Chicago were

unable to break into the city’s art scene.

However, I find that these organizations

were significant in allowing women to

more easily navigate the city’s art scene,

supporting my hypothesis. The organizations

provided both internal and external

connections that allowed women to create

and show their work in a supportive environment

and led them to networking

opportunities to become more involved in

the mainstream art scene.

Organizations as Sources of

Internal Connections

Women’s art organizations from the

1970s to the 1990s provided a space

where artists could create connections

with other women artists to build a

community within and separate from the

mainstream art scene. One significant

facet of these internal connections was

that nearly all of the artists found that

the women’s art organizations provided

spaces for critiques or other dialogue

that allowed women artists to develop

their body of work in a productive and

encouraging environment. The close

community of women artists allowed

for discussion about each artist’s body of

work, as well as other discussions about

the experience of being a woman artist

in Chicago.

One artist discussed how Artemisia

used a “feminist approach to conversation,”

inspired by women’s rights activists at the

time who were becoming more aware that

they were often being interrupted by men

around them. As they wanted to make the

cooperative a space where everyone could

speak without fear of interruption or overshadowing,

they designed their meetings

and conversations so that everyone would

take turns speaking on the topic at hand.

This artist also stated that after each exhibit,

artists would meet and talk about the

work. She and other participants lamented

that other art communities they had been

part of later in their careers did not have

this opportunity to speak to one another

and called the cooperatives a “giving,

encouraging” space with “heartfelt … conversations”

that kept artists “spiritually and

intellectually alive.”

These organizations often held their

artists to a high standard, which drove

members to develop their work further

than they may have otherwise. One participant

said, “We held a high standard for

exhibiting. The quality of your work and

the presentation both had to be top-notch

or [the organization’s founder] wasn’t going

to help sell it.” This space for critique

and collaboration even affected some

artists who passed through the cooperatives

and were not initially accepted into

the group. One participant mentioned

49


an artist, now internationally renowned,

who had interviewed for one of the cooperatives

when it initially launched and

had been turned down. She had said to

the research participant, “I deserved to be

turned down. My work was really crappy.

I threw it out and started to do all different

work and then got in [later]. You

were absolutely right to turn me down.”

Several artists also stated that they

began doing more experimental work, as

they were inspired by how the women

artists around them utilized themes and

materials that they had not thought about

before. They found that women’s galleries

provided a space to do work that would

not have been accepted in more traditional

galleries. Topics that were seen as specific

to women, or not universal enough, were

welcomed in women’s art spaces:

The more places there are for women

to show, the more opportunities

they have to share their work …

and talk about difficult topics, like

menstruation. Nobody wants to talk

about that. … You wouldn’t have a

chance at a commercial gallery because

they wouldn’t be able to sell it.

The participants provided mixed perspectives

as to whether competition existed

among the women in the organizations

or if the space was completely collaborative

and helpful. Half of the participants had

no negative experiences with other women

in terms of competing for resources,

grants, or other shows in the area. They

described the atmosphere as “warm” and

“supportive,” even if many of the other

artists were mostly invested in their own

work. The other half of the women stated

that since the art world itself was competitive,

all members in the cooperative had

various reasons for membership. They said

that some members had ulterior motives

“Being involved

in a women’s art

organization ...

provid[ed] a sense

of community and

camaraderie for

female artists.”

for joining or only had regard for their

own work and well-being. One participant

stated that there were “slight issues

of dominance and that some people were

‘stronger’ than others.” Overall, however,

the members cheered each other on and

supported each other to get shows in other

commercial galleries.

Only one participant gave an example

of a specific negative experience she had

with another artist in the gallery:

One day, a big curator from New York

came to the gallery and asked to see my

work. And [the offending artist] was

the only one in the gallery. We had

hired someone to also sit in the gallery

… [who] told me the story. This artist

just told her that there were no visuals

of my work, which was totally untrue.

She showed [the curator] her own

work instead. She’s a big deal artist in

Chicago now.

The interviewee said that other than

this member, everyone in the gallery was

“very helpful, willing to help out, and [gave

her] a good feeling in the gallery.” This

was the only time a participant recounted

a negative social experience within the

cooperative community. This anecdote

also suggests that several such opportunities

existed for the women artists like the

50


“Women’s art was

most often seen as

separate and lesser

by male artists,

curators, dealers, and

the art scene overall.”

curator visit, but some manipulated the

situations to prioritize their own work and

career trajectory over those of others.

Two of the women I interviewed

from Artemisia and ARC galleries had

not gone to graduate school; most of the

others had attended the School of the Art

Institute. Both of these artists stated that

the community was like graduate school

to them, and one other who had gone to

graduate school likened her experience in

the gallery to that of her graduate education.

One felt like “her work developed and

everything else developed with it.” Another

stated that her “work kept changing and

evolving from being in the cooperative.

[She was] interacting with other people’s

work, exchanging ideas.” She also stated

that when it was an artist’s turn to be part

of a two-person show in the gallery, this

became an especially valuable opportunity

to work with another artist and think about

their ideas and how their bodies of work

could relate. They would “bounce back and

forth, project [themselves]. ... There was a

lot of collaboration.”

Organizations as Sources of

External Connections

Not only was the experience of being

involved in a women’s art organization

helpful in providing a sense of community

and camaraderie for female artists, but it

also provided opportunities to connect

with outside actors and create relationships

needed to get to the “next level” of

success in becoming an artist. All of the

artists stated that the organizations they

were involved in were not meant to be

their only source of networking, or in

the case of the cooperatives and galleries,

gallery representation. However, they

understood that the connections they

could potentially make with curators,

gallery owners, and others in power

were important in showing at a commercial

gallery later, a goal shared by

most artists.

Several interviewees stated that

they were able to get commercial gallery

representation as a direct result of either

exhibiting in a women’s gallery space or

knowing someone who visited the organization.

Some took these opportunities

for connection into their own hands. One

participant said, “From Artemisia, we had

a woman showing at another gallery. I said

to myself, ‘If they’re interested in her work,

surely they’ll be interested in my work.’

I contacted [the gallery owner] in New

York, and I got into her gallery.”

All of the artists involved in Artemisia

and ARC Galleries said that the location

of the galleries was significant in allowing

the largest possible audience to attend their

shows. Both galleries, before they moved

to other locations, were initially in the

same building as one another, along with

several other relatively well-known galleries

at the time. In addition, they were on

the same block as the Museum of Contemporary

Art’s initial location. The artists in

these cooperatives coordinated their exhibitions

to open on Friday nights, similar

to several other large and well-respected

galleries in the area such as the Museum of

Contemporary Art and N.A.M.E. Gallery,

51


so that the audiences from other galleries

and museums would spill over into their

own exhibition openings. The smaller art

community in Chicago at this time only

served to aid this closeness, as one could

visit nearly all of Chicago’s most prominent

galleries in one night. One artist

stated that a gallery owner saw her work

and offered her a show at their gallery as a

direct result of one of these nights. Another

participant said that the president of the

Museum of Contemporary Art had visited

the gallery during her exhibition opening

and was interested enough in her work to

commission a portrait of his family from

her that evening.

In addition, the organizations provided

programming that invited visiting

artists into the spaces, provided outreach

into the community, and allowed some

connections with other galleries. One of

the cooperatives hired a director after their

first building move to help coordinate exhibitions

and seek opportunities for artists,

including assistance with grants and exhibitions

at commercial galleries. The other

cooperative began a resource center earlier

in its time in Chicago and had also used

this opportunity to provide its artists with

connections to other artists in the area.

The organizations invited successful artists,

mainly from New York City, to show

in their gallery spaces or hold artist talks.

Most of the participants stated that they did

not remember their organizations interacting

much with other women’s organizations.

However, they would occasionally

have shows at non-women-specific galleries,

art centers, and other organizations in

the Chicagoland area, allowing the artists

to expand their potential audience further.

Finally, the organizations with physical

gallery spaces provided an area to show

artwork that did not otherwise exist for

most women, creating a space for others in

the scene to see their work and invite them

to show in their own galleries. One woman

stated that for most women artists:

Their work [didn’t] fit into the gallery.

… At the time, getting into a gallery in

Chicago was difficult. You had to be

recognized, the work would have

to be sellable, or in some way the

gallery would have wanted to risk

investing in promoting your career.

It’s a very difficult path.

Another participant described the women’s

organization spaces as “opening up the

doors to show what [women’s] work was

like ... it was like a breath of fresh air.” Gallery

spaces that focused on women artists,

especially the cooperative spaces which

guaranteed their members an exhibition,

allowed women to show their work without

feeling pressure to make it “fit” into

the gallery and be similar to the art of male

artists at the time.

Other Findings

One significant finding that only some

of the women interviewed directly mentioned

— but was clear in the structure

of the organizations and the feminist

movements of the decades — was that race

played an important role in the success

and the makeup of the women artists and

galleries at the time. Only one of the interview

participants was a woman of color,

and she stated that she did not have any

negative experiences with women’s organizations

due to her racial identity. However,

most of the women’s organizations at

the time were made up of predominantly

white women and to some extent were

created to benefit mainly white women.

As previously stated, the first two cooperatives,

Artemisia Gallery and ARC Gallery,

were mostly white at their creation, with

Artemisia gallery having no members who

52


were women of color and ARC Gallery

having one. A member of one of these

galleries stated that, “It was a very white

group. … The school [of the Art Institute]

at the time was very white.”

It is important to consider the possibility

that these numbers were merely reflective

of the number of women of color

who were working as artists in the 1970s

through the 1990s. However, several wellknown

working artists of the time were

women of color, mainly Black women. One

artist discussed how there were several successful

Black women artists she admired: “I

think Black women in the ’70s were hot

stuff. They were being shown in the ’80s

as well. … They were being recognized,

maybe more so than Black male artists.”

Black women artists and others may have

found other avenues for success that were

not the predominantly white women’s organizations.

Alternatively, they may have

been disenfranchised with the women’s

movements of the time, which had historically

been created by and for wealthy white

women. Organizations for women of color,

such as Sapphire and Crystals, founded

in 1987, were created to help fill this gap;

according to a current member, founder

Marva Jolly “had expressed concerns about

the lack of opportunity for African American

female artists to exhibit. … Rather than

wait around for someone to discover them,

[she wanted to] begin to create shows and

opportunities.” However, it is still not clear

how exactly Chicago’s women of color

artists navigated their communities before

and during this period. The current

research mainly focuses on white women

artists and therefore does not fully and accurately

depict the experiences of women

of color in Chicago who were attempting

to navigate the art scene at the same time.

Another theme discussed by several

women artists was the idea of the “male

aesthetic” versus the “female aesthetic”

of visual art. One woman artist said that

there was a “very specific female aesthetic

that was so gorgeous but not respected at

the time” and that women’s art was most

often seen as separate and lesser by male

artists, curators, dealers, and the art scene

overall. Men’s work was described as “aggressive”

and “minimalist,” using heavier

materials and angular edges as well as

what were described as “universal ideas.”

Women’s art, conversely, was described as

being more specific to feminist or feminine

themes, ideologies, or perspectives, which

was often brought up as a possible reason

that women’s work wasn’t being shown

as often. Women’s art was also described

as using “fabric, paper, ethereal materials”

and being “softer, more emotional, using

materials that used to be attributed to

craft but were being used in an extremely

unusual way.” Artists also described more

“feminine” work as shaking up the status

quo and critiquing the idea that only certain

materials should be used in a certain

way. They describe this as one of the positive

results of the feminist movement as

a whole, for women’s work and the art

world overall. Several participants stated

that women artists were very much aware

of this divide:

These weren’t women artists who

were chasing any kind of trend. …

They weren’t interested in any way

in fitting in, but just describing what

was in their heart and soul. … Of course

they knew that, but they weren’t going

to chase a different aesthetic.

It is not clear whether this gendered

difference in aesthetic was a cause of

women’s exclusion from the art scene or

whether it was a consequence of it. Nor is

it clear whether this difference was truly as

53


‘These weren’t women artists who were chasing

any kind of trend. … They weren’t interested in

any way in fitting in, but just describing what was

in their heart and soul.’

widespread as it seemed or if the “softer,

more emotional” art was also a gender

essentialist perspective supported by both

men and women artists. In any case, women

artists knew that their work was not

respected. Nevertheless, they did not let

their knowledge of the dominant trends in

the art scene or the judgment of the male

art lens impact their art production.

A final trend seen among the interviewees

was that nearly all of the women

artists saw the difficulties that women

artists experienced as not only due to their

gender, but also other factors. Several

mentioned that being a successful artist in

Chicago was a matter of having a strong

personality or “grit,” traits they believed

women artists in particular may have had

a harder time with. Other participants

lamented the difficulty of being an artist in

Chicago in general and stated that it was

seen across the board as lesser or secondary

to the art and artists in New York City.

Finally, many artists stated that a major

factor in the success of women artists depended

on their financial status nearly as

much as their gender and that the disparity

in wealth among artists led to infighting

among women artists themselves. This

trend parallels that of the women lawyers

studied by Pringle et al., in that successful

artists acknowledged the difficulty of the

field but said that learning how to “play the

game” and developing traits such as ambition

and time management would often

suffice in overcoming structural barriers. 7

Many participants cited individual

personality, interest, and ability of women

artists — both their own and others’ — as

defining factors in their success. One artist

said of herself, “I find the whole art of getting

into galleries difficult. … I don’t have

the right personality to persist in the quest

for the gallery. You have to have a certain

persona, a perseverance. … You have to

invest the time and energy to get into a gallery.”

Others said that many of the women

in organizations, who often self-defined as

feminists, were “angry at what was going

on” in the art scene, which fueled their

drive. However, some of these participants

also acknowledged that the right personality

and perseverance were not enough and

that they knew many women artists who

worked hard but were still not successful,

as other factors were at play.

One of these factors, which was

shared by nearly all interviewees, was the

difficulty of being a Chicago artist in general.

Most artists described the art scene

at the time as being very small and insular.

Most attention given to Chicago’s art

scene in this period, the early 1970s and

the decade before, was directed toward

the Art Institute of Chicago and its school,

as well as the Chicago Imagists and the

Hairy Who. However, participants also

cited these groups as being an inspiration

for women artists, as there were “several”

women, even “half” of the group, involved.

7 Pringle, J. K., Ravenswood, K., Harris, C., & Giddings, L. (2017). Women’s Career Progression in Law Firms: Views from the

Top, Views from Below. Gender, Work and Organization, 24(4), 435-449. DOI: 10.111/gwao.12180

54


This is especially interesting, as the Hairy

Who, made up of six artists, included two

women; the Chicago Imagists, with 13 total

members at their creation, only included

three women. The true number of women

involved in these organizations was small

— less than half of the total members. Still,

these were exceptionalized or sensationalized

by other women artists who would

have otherwise had very few women in the

field to look up to, especially in Chicago’s

otherwise barren art scene.

Chicago’s art world was most often

compared to New York City, the city with

the most well-known art scene. Many

artists, including the women interviewed,

saw Chicago as a stepping stone to New

York, which was the “dream” city to get

a gallery or show and where the best and

most successful artists ended up. One participant

said, “Unless you were from New

York, really knew New York, and had a

lot of family and money to really support

you, it was almost impossible.” This combination

of needing financial resources and

being in New York City to be a successful

artist was often stated as an indisputable,

if not unfortunate, fact. The same artist

said later, “Somebody said to me, you gotta

go and buy drinks for these curators.

At the time they were $8 drinks. In 1979,

these were really expensive drinks.” This

was one of the many examples given that

heavily suggested that financial ability was

tied to success for women. This problem

persisted after the creation of women’s art

organizations but was especially prevalent

before their arrival in Chicago.

One artist stressed the importance

of having both the “right personality”

and wealth. She discussed a friend, now

internationally renowned, who was the

hardest working artist the interviewee

had ever known. She “had the money

to spend the time to do it” and was able

to take commissions that lost her many

thousands of dollars in transportation and

material costs during the process of becoming

more well-known. Another participant

relayed a difficult experience of

looking over a 20th anniversary catalogue

for her organization to see which artists

were still alive and working. Everyone

who was a living, successful artist was,

she said, “married, with professional husbands,

or they came from very wealthy

families who were supporting them. It

was a real hard one for me to swallow.

Most of them were in New York, with

pretty well-to-do families.”

A pattern with these wealthy women

that caused rifts in the art scene was

that many of them gained their wealth

from marrying well-off, professional

men. One participant said:

The women that I know that really

have careers. … They were all married

to very successful husbands who were

making a lot of money; [the women]

didn’t have jobs. They spent 100% of

their time doing their art. … They were

able to spend a lot of time in the studio,

and that makes all the difference.

According to the women artists who had

families and were able to be supported

by their husbands, this perspective was

harmful and degrading. Some of the

women’s organizations and other galleries

often looked down upon women with

wealthier families as being lesser than the

women who lived in the city and were

not married. This view extended, as well,

to those who lived in the suburbs, stayed

home and took care of their children, or

did not hold a career outside of their art.

One artist recounted her experience of

going to a meeting of members of her

organization after it closed and discussing

55


the success of the former members:

“One of the women said, ‘I don’t

think we should count her, after

all, she was rich and married.” So,

I stepped in and said, ‘I think we

should applaud her, because she was

rich. Despite being a socialite, she

managed to figure out a way to have

a career and do important work.’ ”

Some artists suggested that this divide was

due in part to a greater societal bias against

women who attempted to work and also

have families and children.

Women’s arts organizations welcomed

artists of all types and backgrounds:

both those who lived and worked in the city

and those whose homes were the suburbs,

and with a variety of financial resources

available. However, the above suggests a

split in the relationships between artists

considered wealthy and artists who were

not, undermining the suggestion that the

connections among artists were an essential

part of what made these organizations

successful. More research is needed to fully

understand the dynamics between those

with more resources and those with less, as

the connections between artists may have

indeed been mainly with others of a similar

economic background. Nevertheless,

my interviews suggest that women’s arts

organizations may have provided a means

for partial democratization of Chicago’s

art scene for women artists. Other than

Sapphire and Crystals, most of these spaces

predominantly served white women artists

and therefore were not necessarily providing

full, equitable community among all

of Chicago’s female artists. However, the

spaces allowed for the gap to be bridged to

allow women artists with fewer financial

resources to be in the same space, doing

the same type of work as wealthy women.

Future Directions

Chicago’s women’s arts organizations

overall had a lasting impact on the community.

Although Artemisia closed in

2003 for financial reasons, the other four

organizations researched are currently

in operation. ARC Gallery and Woman

Made Gallery are still exhibiting, and ARC

Gallery remains a cooperatively structured

gallery. Chicago’s Women’s Caucus for

Art and Sapphire and Crystals are also

active to some extent. Several shows and

exhibitions, including a recent exhibition

at the Glass Curtain Gallery in 2018, 8 have

been created to archive and remember the

legacy of these women artists and organizations,

and art historians have become

dedicated to better understanding these

groups and their effect on Chicago’s art

history. Future work could be done to continue

focusing on both the organizations

and Chicago’s female artists and art history

more broadly. In addition, the importance

of financial resources to women artists, as

suggested by my data, should be explored

further. Other possible directions include

investigating how women artists’ perceptions

of gender and gender exploration

affected their experiences and the work

they produced, looking further into other

non-women-specific arts organizations

in the city, or researching what specifically

pushed women artists out of careers in

the arts. ■

8 Glass Curtain Gallery’s show, Where the Future Came From, was open from November 2018 through February 2019. It showcased

projects and programming related to women’s organizations such as Woman Made Gallery and Sapphire and Crystals as well

as others including Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective, SisterSerpents, and Mujeres Mutantes.

56


Appendix

Interview Guide

What was the participant’s role in the Chicago art scene?

• How long did you live in Chicago? How did you begin working there?

• Why did you stay there? [If no longer in Chicago:] why did you leave?

• [If an artist:] what media, themes, ideas were prevalent in your work at the time?

• [If a curator, museum director, gallery owner:] what was your role in your organization?

• How would you describe Chicago’s art scene?

• What did you like or dislike about it? What would you have liked to see happen that wasn’t happening?

What were the participant’s views on being a woman artist in Chicago?

• Do you think women artists faced obstacles in their work?

• [If so:] what obstacles? Were these barriers removed? How?

• Since you’ve been aware of Chicago’s art history, when do you think it was the most difficult time to be a woman artist in Chicago?

• [If a specific time period or other suggestion of difficulty for women artists:] did you see a change in this difficulty? Was there

a time in which it became easier for women artists to be successful?

• Why do you think this occurred?

• Do you think this was specific to Chicago, or was this the case everywhere?

• [If specific:] what makes Chicago unique?

• [If everywhere:] how did this reflect the dynamics across the nation?

• Do you think Chicago changed at the same rate as other cities?

• How easy do you think it was to be a successful artist as a woman in Chicago when you were living/working there?

• Do you know of any examples of women artists trying to break into the scene but failing? Why do you think this happened?

• Do you think there was a time while you were there in which the ability to become a successful woman artist changed

in difficulty?

• How would you describe a successful artist?

• What do you think separated a successful woman artist from an unsuccessful one?

How did the participant interact with women’s arts organizations?

• Were you part of any women’s art groups or organizations? Describe the group and your role in it. [If not part of a group, describe

groups they worked with in their careers, or were familiar with.]

• Why was this group founded? Why was it focused on women?

• [If they are a founder:] did you personally experience the problems that led to this group needing to be founded?

• Were there other efforts, to your knowledge, to create groups that failed immediately?

• What types of people were members of, or attracted to, this group? Who did you surround yourself with?

• How much did you lean on each other for support? Were members often collaborating and networking, or did many keep

to themselves?

• Was it competitive? Were many women fighting for the same resources or shows?

• How would you describe the initial success of the organization?

• Did you feel like Chicago’s art scene was ready for its presence? Was it easy to get others involved, or did you have a difficult

time getting interest?

• How did you advertise? How were artists able to become involved?

• How did the organization sustain itself financially? Did it have major benefactors, or was it financed by the members?

• Did this group interact with other organizations (from other smaller, independent galleries to large museums)?

• How was your organization viewed among these other organizations? How was it viewed in the larger artist community?

• Was there any mentorship (official or unofficial) in your organization?

• How much did men, artists or otherwise, interact with the group?

• How much do you feel like your organization/other organizations around you affected how women artists in Chicago engaged

with the community?

• What aspects of these organizations were most influential?

• Were you part of any other art groups that weren’t focused on women?

• What were some similarities and differences between these groups?

• Were any of the people you knew in these groups also in women-focused groups?

• How did these groups interact with women-focused groups?

• Were there other groups you weren’t part of that were focused on supporting artist women?

• [If in a group:] how were these groups similar and different to your own?

• How did these groups operate?

• Did you or others around you feel these groups were successful in supporting artist women?

• How would you describe the difference between a cooperative and a regular gallery?

• Do you think your organization would’ve been different (received differently, operated differently, would you have enjoyed it

as much, etc.) if it was a gallery rather than a cooperative?

• If familiar with ARC and Artemisia:

• ARC and Artemisia were created around the same time. How were they similar and different?

57


• Did they fulfill the same needs or niches?

• Were you or others you knew active at both?

• How was the communication between the two organizations? Did they ever collaborate?

• ARC and Artemisia are often described as “alternative spaces.” What do you think this meant in Chicago’s art community

at the time?

• If familiar with Artemisia:

• What were your reactions to the news that Artemisia was closing?

• Why do you believe it shut down?

• If familiar with ARC:

• What do you think ARC did to be able to stay open in Chicago that other groups (Artemisia) weren’t able to do?

• If familiar with Chicago Women’s Caucus for Art:

• How did the Caucus function as an organization? How was it different to other organizations with permanent spaces?

• If familiar with Sapphire and Crystals:

• How would you compare Sapphire and Crystals to other women’s arts organizations working at the time?

• How do you feel about the group’s media coverage?

• If familiar with Woman Made:

• Woman Made was created several years after Artemisia and ARC. Was it created as an additional organization that filled the

same niche but for a different audience? Or was it created to fulfill a need that these groups weren’t covering?

• What were other similarities and differences between Women Made and other groups?

How did the participant feel about other aspects of being a woman artist?

• How did you notice the media talking about women artists and their work?

• What role did the media play in how well [your work and] the work of artists around you was known?

• [If in an organization:] did having alternative spaces like [organization] provide name recognition in the media that audiences

could connect to that wouldn’t exist otherwise?

• How many of the women artists you knew were able to show at galleries and museums?

• Were any of them showing as a result of being at [organization]?

• Why do you think this is?

• Did this change over time?

• Were there any other people, organizations, or institutions that you believe had an influence on the ability of women artists to be

successful in Chicago?

• Were these more influential, in your experience, to your success/the success of women artists around you than women

artists’ groups?

• If [your organization] did not exist, how do you think you would have navigated Chicago’s art community?

• Do you think it would have been possible at the time?

58


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59


Impact of COVID-19

Pandemic on Medical Social

Sciences Research

By Vibhusha Kolli

As a quality of life researcher at the University

of Miami, Patricia Moreno has been able to

conduct therapy and intervention-based work

throughout the pandemic.

60


FEATURE

Medical Social Sciences Professor Patricia

Moreno was shocked that her

research continued to stay active with data

collection and enrollment recruitment after

the first few weeks of the COVID-19

pandemic in the U.S.

At the beginning of the pandemic,

only minor adjustments were needed to

accommodate the new circumstances.

Couples Cope, one of Moreno’s studies

that looks at couples who are undergoing

diagnostic assessment for metastatic

breast cancer, remained relatively the same

through the use of online consent forms,

intervention, follow-up assessments, and

introductory letters.

There were, however limits on

in-person interactions with patients.

“You have the opportunity to have

some face-to-face interaction while you

answer questions, explain the study, and

describe what it will entail,” Moreno explained.

“There is an aspect that I think is

lost. However, with telephone contact, I

think that you’re able to recover some of

that ability to build rapport and connect

with the patients.”

These restrictions have also affected

how Moreno and fellow researchers interact

with their team and lab members.

“The day-to-day structure that we

used to move forward our projects in our

research involved a lot of face-to-face contact.

… The absence of that has made things

a little bit more logistically challenging.”

Moreno also said she modified the

projects to make the studies accessible in

the pandemic.

“The weight affecting other researchers

who do research like mine … depended

on whether or not they had that adaptability

to make all of their research activities

online — from how you recruit patients,

to how you enroll them, to how they

participate.”

Although there have been challenges in

conducting quality of life research, Moreno

said that the pandemic has also brought a

new perspective to the research.

“The pandemic has induced a lot of

chronic structural stressors into people’s

lives. [This has shifted] focus on their immediate

day-to-day lives and the things that

they’re doing in order to be as well as possible

and take care of their families,” she said.

Some social sciences studies have

stayed relatively consistent during the

pandemic despite impacts to patient interactions,

the lab environment, and general

research processes. Still, Moreno is grateful

to be able to continue her research and

looks forward to furthering her research

projects and contextualizing her findings

in the pandemic. ■

61


Department of Anthropology

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Mark Hauser, Ph.D.

Swimming Upstream:

Decreasing Salmon Populations

in the Columbia River Basin

Through Infrastructure and Its

Impacts on Indigenous Welfare

by Simone Laszuk

Abstract

Since 1854, when tribal treaties began to allocate sustainable quantities

of fish to different actors along the Columbia River, there has

been tension between governing state bodies and those populations

reliant on fish for sustenance and livelihood. This project critically

analyzes the systemic obstruction of the Yakama tribe, settled along

the Columbia River, to salmon and their gradual and ongoing subjugation

in the context of environmental conflict. Additionally, I use

(GIS) mapping to demonstrate water culverts’ effect on drastically

lower salmon spawning, resulting in significant stress on the fish, a

staple resource for the Yakama. This paper connects urbanization and

infrastructure in Washington state with an environmental crisis that

disproportionately impacts native groups in the area. This research

will bring to light how governing bodies do not prioritize Indigenous

welfare, especially in the context of environmental justice.

62


Introduction

In a popular Seattle neighborhood, hidden

behind a garden and a forest preserve, is

the Ballard Lock Salmon Ladder. Tourists

walk across gated bridges to watch the

lock let in water, see the sea level rise,

and then cross the channel to witness the

main event. On the far side, past the twists

and turns of bridges and down a flight of

stairs, is an aquarium-like cement room

with small glass windows caked in algae.

Onlookers peer into the openings to watch

salmon, the show’s unassuming protagonists,

struggle against the man-made tide. I

observed the scene for a whole 10 minutes

to see one salmon get through, after which

the whole room erupted in cheers. On my

way out, I stopped at the gift shop and

picked out a hat with a colorful salmon

on it. I put it on and walked out, passing

under a screen counting the number of

salmons that passed through the lock

that day. I thought to myself, The salmon

pictured on my hat will soon be nothing more

than a relic of a fish that no longer lives here.

This paper examines the historical

and contemporary dynamics of interactions

among Indigenous groups (the Yakama

tribe), infrastructure (in the form

of culverts), and the legal and governance

techniques that mediate between them. I

will argue that the body of legal work surrounding

these tribes does not adequately

protect their way of life and that the prioritization

of infrastructure is harmful to the

salmon populations. I will show this through

an analysis of the literature and court cases, as

well as the use of GIS mapping to show that

salmon physically are barred from the areas

in which the tribe fishes.

Salmon

For salmon spawning to occur, the fish

must annually return to their natal streams

for repopulation. Any obstruction to that

stream (e.g., culverts) will hinder reproduction.

I argue in this work that salmon

represent an important pool resource that

is strained in the same way many other

resources are.

Yakama Tribe

The Yakama tribe is settled along the Columbia

River. Members describe their nation’s

history, culture, and lives as “intertwined

with the salmon and the Columbia

[River].” 1 In addition to the integral role of

salmon to their identity, the fish are fundamental

to their economic livelihood and

well-being. Thus, public health researchers

posit a direct link between the impact

of polluted waters on the salmon population

and the wellbeing of members of the

Yakama. 2 And while the Yakama are by no

means the only tribe with significant ties

to salmon populations, in this paper, they

are a case study showing the importance of

maintaining fish populations in the Pacific

Northwest (PNW).

Culverts

Culverts divert water under newly constructed

roads, and thus represent the

expansion of urban and infrastructure

projects 3 — in this case, at the expense of

pre-existing ecological and Indigenous

ways of life. Culverts have become a key

impediment to salmon spawning, with

direct consequences to the Yakama that

impact their standard of living. Impeding

the access of salmon to spawning grounds

1 Yakama Nation Fisheries, n.d.

2 Chrisman et al. 1999.

3 Davis and Davis 2010.

63


64

is the most direct cause of the decrease in

this fish population. 4

This paper builds upon both the local

legal-historical context, as well as environmental

subjects literature, to elucidate

the connection among culverts, impacted

salmon populations, and the Yakama tribe’s

well-being. On a broader scale, I am critically

examining the link between the urbanization

of states and the wellbeing of interdependent

human and animal populations.

Analysis

Salmon Populations

Salmon spend one to seven years in the

ocean after birth. They must overcome

rising ocean temperatures, evade predators,

and avoid commercial fishers to

achieve their end goal of returning to their

natal streams. These salmon must return

to their natal streams to reproduce and repopulate,

or they will not spawn. One barrier

they encounter as they travel back into

the streams is dams. On average, 7–15%

of salmon will die trying to pass each dam

they encounter. 5 The introduction of dams

in the Columbia River Basin has rendered

half of the area virtually inaccessible to

salmon populations. 6 From a population of

10–16 million in the early 1900s, dams have

drastically lowered the number of salmon in

the area. 7 But while the impact of dams on

fish populations has been widely surveyed,

culverts remain a controversial character in

the ongoing fish wars. In the next section

of this paper, I will focus my analysis on

culverts specifically. But first, a final point

on the role of salmon as a common pool

resource is necessary. 8

4 McClure et al. 2008.

5 “Columbia River Salmon, Pacific Northwest | Chinook Salmon” n.d.

6 CRITFC, Columbia River Basin Salmon Extirpation Map.

7 “Columbia River Salmon, Pacific Northwest | Chinook Salmon” n.d.

8 Hardin n.d.

9 “Fish Passage Reconnects Habitats for Healthier Fish and Wildlife!” n.d.

10 “Types of Fish Passage Barriers” n.d.

“Governing bodies

do not prioritize

indigenous welfare,

especially in

the context of

environmental justice.”

Common pool resources, or resources

to which there is relatively open access,

are successful only if all parties are mindful

of their use of and interactions with the resource.

Infrastructure projects, by contrast,

are conducted by somewhat separate logic.

They claim to connect populations or to

forward economic expansion; they contain

their own purpose. For example, the

purpose of dams is to generate power. And

while salmon may not factor into their

planning, these projects can affect both

the fish and, by extension, all other actors

making use of this common pool resource.

In an effort to decrease the number

of fish trapped or impeded by barriers,

the United States Fish and Wildlife Service

(USFWS) introduced the National

Fish Passage Program in 1999. 9 Since its

inception, the program has successfully

removed or bypassed over 3,000 barriers

to fish movement and reopened almost

60,000 miles of upstream habitat for fish.

The barriers listed include dams, water

diverters, and culverts. 10 The program’s

mandate points to the connection between

the well-being of fish populations and native

groups, explaining that:


removal [of barriers to fish movement]

also improves lives of tribal cultures

like those along the Klamath River

Basin in California and Oregon. There

have been recent cases where they

have not been allowed to fish their

ancestral waters because of decreases

in fish populations. The salmon that

migrate in the Klamath are the source

of the tribe’s food, income, and are at

the heart of their ceremonies. 11

Still, the impact of culverts on salmon

populations in the Columbia River

Basin and in turn on local tribal welfare

remains unclear.

Culverts

Many governing agencies, including the

USFWS and Snohomish County, have

marked culverts as a priority barrier for

removal to increase fish passage. 12 Current

environmentalist efforts to remove

culverts are met, however, with equal

strength by pro-urbanization actors.

Specifically, city governments looking to

increase the number of their inhabitants

and extend the reach of road networks see

culverts as an important means to those

ends. As a geomorphologist at the USFWS

explains, however, the threat of culverts to

fish is explicit:

Streams are linear systems that move

mass … along the channel primarily

in upstream/downstream directions

and through the floodplain in all

directions. … Improperly installed

culverts compromise or eliminate fish

and other aquatic species passage and

can alter the quantity or quality of

stream corridor habitat. Even properly

designed and installed culverts

can become fish passage barriers if

channel incision occurs downstream

and migrates upstream to an existing

culvert, since culverts are static

structures in dynamic systems. 13

The image of a static structure effectively

highlights the problem with these

culverts: They do not change to meet the

needs of the populations existing in the

area before they did. Figures 1-5 show a

variety of types of culverts, all large and

intimidating barriers. Even at a glance, it is

evident that some culverts are undeniably

inhibitory to fish passage.

At an institutional level, culverts have

been identified by the USFWS, the Washington

Department of Fish and Wildlife

(WDFW), and various counties across the

state of Washington as a priority concern

in addressing salmon issues. The WDFW

created a formula to assess the different culverts

in an area and determine a hierarchy

of priority of which culverts to replace. 14

Snohomish county in Washington created

a similar but more simplistic formula,

called the Priority Index (P.I.), to aid in

altering culverts on a smaller scale. At first,

the solution to the environmental harm

culverts cause is to get rid of them entirely.

However, a relatively new area of exploration

looks at fixing existing culverts and

setting a standard for future culverts. The

WDFW published a report on fish passage

performance as well as an updated manual

(inculcated in 1998) in 2019. It begins with

the definition of key terms, including “fish

use potential,” 15 which evaluates how accessible

a culvert (specific to this manual)

is for salmon through the measurement of

11 “Why Fish Passage Is Important. And Why We Should Care.” n.d.

12 “Fish Passage Culvert Program | Snohomish County, WA - Official Website” n.d.

13 Castro 2003.

14 “Fish Passage Culvert Program | Snohomish County, WA - Official Website” n.d.

15 Barrett, 2019 “Consistent with earlier editions of the Manual the term ‘fish use potential’ refers to the potential for adult salmonid

use at an instream feature; a determination of ‘potential fish habitat’ is not intended to be an indicator of usability for all fish

species and life stages.”

65


“If culverts are directly reducing salmon populations, and

tribes rely on salmon for sustenance and identity, how can

economics and infrastructure imperatives outweigh the

well-being of humans?”

various barrier properties. 16 This manual

provides instructions to identify, assess,

and prioritize human-made instream features

that preclude or impede upstream

fish passage.

The federal government claims they

gave these parameters to Washington

state, while Washington v. United States

(1975) holds that Washington violated

these guidelines. The WDFW aims to remove

or fix culverts impeding the fish potential,

but the cost of doing so is high. The

decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

in Washington v. United States dictates

that Washington state should replace culverts

that are identified as bad for salmon,

potentially as dictated by the WDFW formula

mentioned previously, which would

cost upwards of $3 billion. In 2019, state

Rep. Andrew Barkis questioned how this

cost could be justified, especially when culvert

replacement and fixing must be done

at a large-scale. 17 The Washington State

Department of Transportation (WSDOT)

has an estimated 2,000 culverts across the

state, 992 of which are covered under the

court injunction. The court case stipulates

that at least 400 culverts — those with a

fish habitat of a quarter mile or more — be

fixed by 2030. If the state does not fulfil the

requirement, they will be liable to fix an

additional 600.

Figure 6 shows the common salmon

passages towards the Yakama Nation,

where fishing takes place. Evidently, there

are a multitude of culverts impeding the

travel. If each culvert hinders a majority, if

not all, of the salmon that attempt to pass

through, there must be almost no salmon

left for the Yakama to harvest.

This all begs the question: Which culverts

are demoted to the second round of

importance? Why are all culverts not mandated

to be fixed, if more than the required

ones are serving as a barrier to fish passage?

Additionally, this tension between

legal rulings and local representatives represents

the main conflict this paper settles

on: If culverts are directly reducing salmon

populations, and tribes rely on salmon for

sustenance and identity, how can economics

and infrastructure imperatives outweigh

the well-being of humans?

Yakama

The Yakama Nation has a Yakama Nation

Fisheries (YNF) group dedicated “to honor,

protect, and restore the treaty trust

natural resources of the Yakama Nation.” 18

The group’s website breaks down these

three tenets to connect the importance of

these fish populations to the tribe:

The fish in Nch’í Wána (the Columbia

River) and its tributaries are of

paramount importance to our people,

our diet, and our health. … Through

our treaty-reserved rights, we advocate

16 The successful upstream passage of adult salmonids continues to be the basis for barrier determinations. The criteria for velocity,

depth, and water surface drop remain the same. A feature that is determined to be ‘passable’ using the methods described in the

2019 Manual, and earlier editions, is considered to be passable to adult salmonids and should not be construed to be passable for all

salmonid species and life stages.

17 “Cost of Removal of Barriers to Salmon Hits $3.8 Billion | Tacoma News Tribune” 2019.

18 “About Yakama Nation Fisheries | Status and Trends Reporting” n.d.

66


“By prioritizing

urbanization and

infrastructure,

Washington state

is actively harming

the tribes that

Washington v.

United States

mandates it protect.”

for resources that cannot speak for

themselves, and provide outreach and

education activities that empower

others to do the same. 19

The YNF is staffed by over 200 people and

combines scientific expertise with traditional

ecological knowledge. The YNF

website focuses on four different dams

where the organization counts salmon

passing: Prosser Dam, Roza Dam, Lyle

Falls, and Castile Falls. Their efforts to

illuminate impacted salmon populations

through tracking changes in populations

have not been as effective as possible, as

they are fighting an uphill battle. Even

with the YNF’s attempts to strengthen

salmon populations, or at least keep them

steady, the populations have rapidly declined

over the past 10 years. Prosser Dam

is impacted directly by a few significant

culverts, and its feeder stream to the west

is littered with significant barriers (Figures

1-5). A map of Prosser Dam, nearby

culverts, and the Yakama Reservation are

shown in Figure 7. YNF salmon counts at

Prosser Dam are detailed in Figures 8–10.

Because this location is a dam itself, any

change in the number of salmon crossing

this area must be due to another barrier

factor. That is, if the number of fish crossing

the dam changes but the dam does not,

there is another factor contributing to

the access change. The only other barrier

noted in this area — and in other areas of

decline — is culverts. Of the salmon the

YNF monitors, the harvestable fish will

be defined as the sum of all adult chinook

salmon, total steelhead salmon, sockeye

salmon, and coho salmon over the course

of a year. In 2000, the area saw 26,532

harvestable fish pass through the dam. In

2019, the exact same area saw only 6,371

harvestable fish (Figures 8, 10). This is a

76% decrease in salmon across just 19 years.

Conversely, the population of the tribe has

stayed relatively stable. The U.S. Census

Bureau counted 31,799 people living on the

reservation in 2000 and 30,810 in 2014. 20

This is a mere 3% decrease in population

on the reservation. The more substantial

decrease in fish population is harmful to the

well-being of the Yakama Nation.

The Yakama Nation’s identity is deeply

intertwined with the salmon. The YNF

website presents a vignette that illuminates

the time-honored traditions upheld by the

Yakama Tribe that are connected to salmon:

One of Yakama children’s earliest

memories is sitting at the ceremonial

table and waiting for the water to be

poured. Next, the salmon is placed on

the table, followed by the deer, roots,

and berries. We complete the meal

with water. We are taught this order

and that water is the lifeblood of our

existence. 21

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish

19 “About Yakama Nation Fisheries | Status and Trends Reporting” n.d.

20 Center for New Media & Promotion (CNMP) n.d.

21 “Honoring the Salmon | Yakama Nation Fisheries” n.d.

67


Commission (CRITFC) is a collaboration

between four tribal groups in the Columbia

River basin: the Umatilla Tribes,

the Warm Springs Tribes, the Nez Perce

Tribe, and the Yakama Nation. The CRIT-

FC has four main goals: (1) “Put fish back

in the rivers and protect watersheds where

fish live,” (2) “Protect tribal treaty fishing

rights,” (3) “Share salmon culture,” and (4)

“Provide fisher services.” 22

The organization’s website offers a

comprehensive explanation of the necessity

for this commission, as well as an involved

exploration of the importance of the

salmon in the cultures of these four tribes:

“The cultures, intertribal interactions, fishing

technologies, and very religions of the

Pacific Northwest tribes were all impacted

and influenced by salmon. … Salmon play

an integral part of tribal religion, culture,

and physical sustenance.” 23 The CRITFC

explains that salmon are a source of livelihood

for many tribes and are important for

their health. The Commission also shares

that annual salmon harvests act as a stage

for passing traditional values to younger

generations and that salmon returning to

streams represents “the renewal and continuation

of human and all other life.” 24

These tribes, the Yakama included, are explicitly

bound to the salmon populations.

CRITFC explicitly connects the success

and well-being of the tribes — culturally,

economically, and environmentally — to

the fish population. The Yakama Nation

has built a foundation of identity upon the

survival of salmon. It is not too ardent to

claim that the survival of salmon means the

survival of the Yakama tribe.

Recalling the legal framework discussed

above, since 1905, the Washington

state government has taken on the role

of carer for the tribes residing within the

state. By creating this paradigm of governance,

Washington state has made it its

requirement to ensure the survival of the

Yakama tribe. It would be naïve to say that

the standard set by the state, which renders

Indigenous groups lesser, is disrespectful

and essentially dehumanizes these people.

However, if Washington state created

this framework, it must be willing to exist

within it.

The WSDOT has published the information

on culverts and is aware of their

harm. Additionally, the YNF updates their

fish counting portal multiple times per

month and has records going back years.

CRITFC, the Yakama Nation website,

and various news outlets have consistently

explained how salmon are integral to

the success of tribes. All the information

is available to the Washington state government,

which it could use to make the

same conclusions I am making here. By

not prioritizing the adjustment of culverts

to render them harmless to salmon, then,

Washington state is actively impeding the

survival and well-being of the Yakama

tribe, which is something it is legally required

to avoid.

Results

The analysis and description of culverts,

as a concept, show that if the culverts are

not held to certain standards, fish will find

it difficult to pass through these areas.

Furthermore, because salmon are natal

stream-dependent for reproduction, their

accessibility to waterways impacts their

population size. The question remains

if culverts can be directly tied to Yakama

22 “About CRITFC | Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission” n.d.

23 “Salmon Culture | Pacific Northwest Tribes, Columbia River Salmon” n.d.

24 “Salmon Culture | Pacific Northwest Tribes, Columbia River Salmon” n.d.

68


Indigenous communities and tribes have essential

insight into projects happening on and around

their land, and their voices must be included in

decision-making.

reservation declining salmon numbers. In

Figure 6, the circled areas show significant

fishing areas for the Yakama Nation that

also function as natal basins for the salmon

populations. Therefore, these are critical

areas of examination. Seeing how many

fish can access this area indicates not only

the amount of fish able to reproduce, but

also the access of Yakama Nation to the fish

there. The arrows are the pathways that

salmon must take to reach these circled

basins. As seen in the Figure 6, the red and

yellow dots represent culverts: Yellow dots

represent culverts that are partial barriers

or ~66% passable, 25 and red dots represent

culverts that are complete barriers 26 that

fish have to find a different path to pass.

There are at least eight barriers to passage

on the Northeast side and at least 10 on the

Southwest side. At each complete barrier,

fish must either turn around and swim

back the way they came or find a smaller

waterway that goes around the obstacle.

At each partial barrier, over 30% of the fish

cannot get past and turn around the way

they came. The streams that break off by

culverts are usually too small for large populations

of salmon to pass through, so the

number of fish that find their way around

these complete barriers is deficient. 27

Washington state has historically

ruled to allow Indigenous groups access to

fish and understood the salmon’s connection

to Indigenous survival. However, the

25 “2019 WSDOT Fish Passage Performance Report,” n.d.

26 “2019 WSDOT Fish Passage Performance Report,” n.d.

27 “FishPassageReport_Appendices.Pdf” n.d.

state has also ruled that it is responsible for

making decisions for Indigenous groups

because the tribes cannot act in their own

best interest, but the government can and

will. These two legal rulings dictate that if

the government understands that fish are

essential for survival, it would protect tribal

welfare by ensuring that salmon populations

are at adequate levels. This does

not even need to be an active attempt to

increase populations higher than they were

at the time of these cases; the government

could passively ensure it is doing nothing

to hurt salmon populations. However, that

is not the case — by prioritizing urbanization

and infrastructure, Washington state

is actively harming the tribes that Washington

v. United States mandates it protect.

There are checklists for building

culverts accessible to salmon; but as this

map shows, many were built before these

checklists were required. Culverts are

created to divert water to allow for infrastructure

and roads. Their implications

for wildlife were a secondary thought. To

rebuild a culvert up to the standards set for

population health, state governments must

choose to spend money to fix something

that is already serving its original purpose.

Conclusion and Further Implications

The example of Washington state and the

Yakama Nation is a disappointment. Because

Yakama people were not consulted,

or even considered, when urbanization

69


was booming, the state’s decisions have

had significant negative impacts on their

lives. By impeding salmon access to natal

streams, and coincidentally Yakama fishing

areas, Washington has prioritized the

expansion of urban areas and infrastructure

over the wellbeing of people living

within its borders.

This comes down to a tension between

urbanization and tribal welfare.

The structures that led to urbanization 100

years ago separated these two concepts;

however, these two do not have to be synonymous.

The WSDOT has published extensive

information since the early 2010s

about how to make culverts and dams

safe for fish passage. However, in order to

make the current culverts fish-friendly, the

government would have to spend massive

amounts of money. These culverts are still

serving their initial purpose (to build roads

over waterways), but the government’s

perceived need for change is not imminent.

This work is vital for understanding

how to analyze infrastructure. Often,

construction intention does not match

consequences: This thesis does not say that

Washington state maliciously built culverts

to hurt Indigenous tribes. However, once

the state was aware of the unintended consequences

of its urbanization, it was its duty

to pay to fix it. By choosing to turn a blind

eye to the problems it created, Washington

state prioritized urban expansion over the

wellbeing of its Indigenous peoples.

From this work, the most important

takeaways are the need for comprehensive

urban planning analysis, legal-historical

analysis, and incorporation of Indigenous

voices. First of all, before planning major

infrastructure, there needs to be a more

comprehensive understanding of potential

impacts. That is a more common practice

in modern urban planning (and was not

when these culverts in question were initially

built). In terms of legal-historical exploration,

this case study shows how easy

it is for the Washington state government

to overlook its past decisions in the application

of the law. There must be a better

standard for translation of statute into its

application. Finally, if Indigenous voices

are included in the stage of urban planning,

these environmental injustices could

be avoided or at least lessened. Indigenous

communities and tribes have essential

insight into projects happening on and

around their land, and their voices must be

included in decision-making.

Not all future infrastructure demands

need to be met with such devastation to

people or ecological populations. A deeper

analysis of potential impacts must be done

in the future of all urban planning projects.

Most importantly, and more specifically,

money needs to be put into fixing the culverts

in Washington state to ease the pressures

put on both salmon and the Yakama

Nation. ■

70


T Figure 1. Photo 1 of

barrier 990189 near

Yakama reservation.

T Figure 2. Photo 2 of

barrier 990189 near

Yakama reservation.

T Figure 3. Photo 1 of

barrier 990857 near

Yakama reservation.

T Figure 4. Photo 2 of

barrier 990857 near

Yakama reservation.

T Figure 5. Photo 1 of

barrier 991955 near

Yakama reservation.

T Figure 6. Map of salmon

pathways to Yakama reserve.

W Figure 7. Prosser Dam in

relation to Columbia River,

Yakama Reservation, and

recognized culverts.

71


Facility

Name

Date

Adult

Spring

Chinook

Adult

Summer

Chinook

Adult

Fall

Chinook

Total

Adult

Chinook

Jack

Spring

Chinook

Jack

Summer

Chinook

Jack Fall

Chinook

Total

Jack

Chinook

Unmarked

Steelhead

Marked

Steelhead

Total

Steelhead

Sockeye Coho

Prosser 12/12/2019 - - 1 1 - - - - 5 - 5 - - - - -

Prosser 12/13/2019 - - - - - - - - 5 - 5 - 2 - - -

Prosser 12/14/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/15/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/16/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/17/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/18/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/19/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/20/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/21/2019 - - - - - - - - 1 - 1 - - - - -

Prosser 12/22/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/23/2019 - - - - - - - - 5 - 5 - - - - -

Prosser 12/24/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/25/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/26/2019 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - - - - -

Prosser 12/27/2019 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - - - - -

Prosser 12/28/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/29/2019 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/30/2019 - - - - - - - - 3 - 3 - - - - -

Prosser 12/31/2019 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - 1 - - -

Totals 1391 209 661 2261 211 49 31 291 1483 11 1494 110 2506 52 7 -

*Counts for the most recent days may be partial counts.

S Figure 8. Chart 1A: Yakama Nation Fisheries 2019 salmon count at Prosser Dam; 6,371 harvestable fish [adult chinook + total steelhead + sockeye + coho].

Jack

Coho

Lamprey

Bull

Trout

72


Facility

Name

Date

Adult

Spring

Chinook

Adult

Summer

Chinook

Adult

Fall

Chinook

Total

Adult

Chinook

Jack

Spring

Chinook

Jack

Summer

Chinook

Jack Fall

Chinook

Total

Jack

Chinook

Unmarked

Steelhead

Marked

Steelhead

Total

Steelhead

Sockeye Coho

Prosser 12/11/2010 - - - - - - - - 34 - 34 - - - - -

Prosser 12/12/2010 - - - - - - - - 33 1 34 - - - - -

Prosser 12/13/2010 - - - - - - - - 34 - 34 - - - - -

Prosser 12/14/2010 - - - - - - - - 59 - 59 - 3 - - -

Prosser 12/15/2010 - - - - - - - - 34 - 34 - 5 - - -

Prosser 12/16/2010 - - - - - - - - 28 - 28 - 1 - - -

Prosser 12/17/2010 - - - - - - - - 24 - 24 - - - - -

Prosser 12/18/2010 - - - - - - - - 10 - 10 - - - - -

Prosser 12/19/2010 - - - - - - - - 11 - 11 - 2 - - -

Prosser 12/20/2010 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - - - - -

Prosser 12/21/2010 - - - - - - - - 11 - 11 - - - - -

Prosser 12/22/2010 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - - - - -

Prosser 12/23/2010 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - - - - -

Prosser 12/24/2010 - - - - - - - - 10 - 10 - 1 - - -

Prosser 12/25/2010 - - - - - - - - 23 - 23 - 1 - - -

Prosser 12/26/2010 - - - - - - - - 29 - 29 - 1 - - -

Prosser 12/27/2010 - - - - - - - - 37 - 37 - - - - -

Prosser 12/28/2010 - - - - - - - - 44 - 44 - - - - -

Prosser 12/29/2010 - - - - - - - - 43 - 43 - - - - -

Prosser 12/30/2010 - - - - - - - - 34 - 34 - - - - -

Prosser 12/31/2010 - - - - - - - - 3 - 3 - - - - -

Totals 10845 - 2766 13611 1830 - 126 1956 6429 206 6635 11 4809 184 - -

Jack

Coho

Lamprey

Bull

Trout

S Figure 9. Chart 1B: Yakama Nation Fisheries 2010 salmon count at Prosser Dam; 25,066 harvestable fish.

73


Facility

Name

Date

Adult

Spring

Chinook

Adult

Summer

Chinook

Adult

Fall

Chinook

Total

Adult

Chinook

Jack

Spring

Chinook

Jack

Summer

Chinook

Jack Fall

Chinook

Total

Jack

Chinook

Unmarked

Steelhead

Marked

Steelhead

Total

Steelhead

Sockeye Coho

Prosser 12/12/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/13/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - 2 - - -

Prosser 12/14/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/15/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/16/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/17/2000 - - - - - - - - 1 - 1 - - - - -

Prosser 12/18/2000 - - - - - - - - 1 - 1 - - - - -

Prosser 12/19/2000 - - - - - - - - 1 - 1 - - - - -

Prosser 12/20/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/21/2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Prosser 12/22/2000 - - - - - - - - 2 - 2 - - - - -

Prosser 12/23/2000 - - - - - - - - 2 - 2 - - - - -

Prosser 12/24/2000 - - - - - - - - 7 - 7 - - - - -

Prosser 12/25/2000 - - - - - - - - 7 - 7 - - - - -

Prosser 12/26/2000 - - - - - - - - 5 - 5 - - - - -

Prosser 12/27/2000 - - - - - - - - 14 - 14 - - - - -

Prosser 12/28/2000 - - - - - - - - 6 - 6 - - - - -

Prosser 12/29/2000 - - - - - - - - 6 - 6 - - - - -

Prosser 12/30/2000 - - - - - - - - 13 - 13 - - - - -

Prosser 12/31/2000 - - - - - - - - 27 - 27 - 1 - - -

Totals 17376 - 1879 19255 1566 - 450 2016 1783 42 1825 - 5452 259 - -

Jack

Coho

Lamprey

Bull

Trout

S Figure 10. Chart 1C: Yakama Nation Fisheries 2000 salmon count at Prosser Dam; 26,532 harvestable fish.

74


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Nation Fisheries.”

75


Leading the Fight

Against SARS-CoV-2:

Dr. Robert L. Murphy

by Kallista Zhuang

W

aking up at 5:45 a.m., Dr. Robert L. Murphy starts his days early. In just an hour

and a half, he will hop on live television to answer coronavirus-related questions

from viewers of Chicago’s WGN-TV morning news.

Even after 236 consecutive days (as of February 6, 2021) of voluntarily participating

in the new station’s coronavirus segment, Murphy never runs out of questions to

answer. This isn’t surprising, as Murphy has decades of experience in global health as a

researcher, doctor, professor, and institute director.

However, similar to many accomplished academics, Murphy did not know he would

end up here. In fact, after graduating high school, he first pursued aviation. With a family

of engineers and jet pilots, Murphy’s choice to study aviation was nothing out of the

ordinary. However, during the Vietnam War era, aviation opportunities were limited to

the military. Instead, Murphy opted to go back to school to pursue his interest in science;

this time, he would attend Boston University for a biology degree.

76


Unsure what to do with his biology degree, Murphy looked for future career paths

and was drawn to medicine. Due to a physician shortage from the Vietnam War and other

factors, there was a push to expand medical school spots and condense medical school

curriculums. Thus, with only four weeks off per year, Murphy was able to graduate from

Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in 1978 within three years.

Wanting to stay in Illinois, Murphy came to Northwestern University Feinberg

School of Medicine for an internal medicine residency. It was during an infectious disease

elective rotation at the Veterans Affairs hospital that he realized the appeal of studying

infectious disease. Like detectives, infectious disease specialists work backwards to

determine the roots of diseases. The profession employs critical thinking and is similar

to solving a mystery, both of which appealed to Murphy.

Following this interest, Murphy began a three-year infectious disease fellowship

in 1981. Within his first week, the first case of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome

(AIDS) was reported:

“I had read this little report MMWR, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

from [Centers for Disease Control]. It comes out every week. They had talked about

these 16 men. … A friend of mine had called me from the emergency room and said,

‘Hey! Maybe we have one of those cases here. This guy’s got a weird pneumonia and

purple things on him.’ And sure enough, he was our first case. …We weren’t swamped

with cases in that first year or two, but they grew exponentially.’’

Murphy unintentionally became an AIDS doctor

and was treating a third of the AIDS patients in Illinois,

he says. He recalls not only becoming

the biggest admittor of AIDS patients at

the Northwestern Memorial Hospital

but also the biggest signer of

death certificates due to the high

death rates associated with AIDS.

He felt that his physician role had

physical constraints and combatted

the epidemic indirectly, but he

wanted to take a more active role

in controlling the epidemic.

Thus, over the next ten years,

Murphy switched gears and shifted

into HIV and clinical research,

continuously testing different anti-viral

treatments and diseases related

to HIV. When he was caught in a bad ski

accident in 1994 and found himself no longer

able to physically look after patients, he shifted even

deeper into research.

“Just as quickly as

he had become the

biggest admittor

for AIDS patients,

Murphy remembers

admitting almost no

patients in 1996.”

Released in 1995, the triple or combination therapy (also known as the triple cocktail)

was a drug therapy used to suppress HIV replication and dramatically slow AIDS

77


“There’s no place for politics with

a pandemic and public health.”

–Dr. Robert L. Murphy

progression. Just as quickly as he had become the biggest admittor for AIDS patients,

Murphy remembers admitting almost no patients in 1996.

After attending a conference where Nelson Mandela spoke of the need for

increased attention to the HIV crisis in Africa, Murphy became a visiting professor at

the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and started working in Africa. Through

Harvard’s School of Public Health, he and few others were able to receive the President’s

Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant under former President George

W. Bush’s administration. To this day, the PEPFAR grant is the largest public health

implementation plan.

Working in Nigeria, Mali, and South Africa, he eventually became the country director

for Nigeria and facilitated the treatmet of 175,000 people at 53 different sites, according

to a Northwestern Magazine feature. The position was soon given to a Nigerian physician,

and Murphy became a consultant for the country for handling the AIDS epidemic.

Soon after, he became the administrative science director for Mali during the Ebola

epidemic, running testing in Northern Guinea, which had thousands of cases, alongside

Mali, which only had eight cases.

“I ha[d] never washed my hands with so much bleach before in my life,” he said.

Now, the next deadly infectious virus he is tackling is the SARS-CoV-2 that has

caused the COVID-19 pandemic. With its overuse, the word “pandemic” has lost its sensationalism

and has been equated to a bleak reality. But for Murphy, the death rate and

intensity of this virus is nowhere near ordinary. This pandemic in particular has had the

most impact on his career as a global health professional. Not only is the virus dangerous,

but the handling of it has also cost many lives.

“The United States has the worst statistics. We have the worst metrics because

we’ve politicized the whole thing. It’s not supposed to be politicized; we’re all in this

together. There’s no place for politics with a pandemic and public health. Unfortunately,

that’s what happened,” Murphy explained.

Even with almost a dozen ongoing projects in Africa, Murphy still manages to make

strides within the COVID-19 research realm locally.

In Evanston, he is currently working with students on a viral dynamics study as

a part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics or “RADx,” a $500 million initiative

launched by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to increase COVID-19 testing. As

of February 2021, Murphy and his research group have tested dozens of devices and are

currently letting students use a “Point of Care” (usually done at a doctor’s office) device

at home to test for COVID-19. Within 15 minutes of using a nasal swab and buffer, students

can find out whether they test positive or negative for the virus. This rapid antigen

78


test, BinaxNOW, was used as a supplement and temporary replacement for COVID-19

testing at Northwestern University during the shutdown of postal services from intense

snowstorms and subzero temperatures in February 2021.

As a leader and a part of the program planning committee in the Northwestern

COVID-19 Vaccine Communication and Evaluation Network (CoVAXCEN), Murphy

aims to create a space for important discussions surrounding the logistics of the

COVID-19 vaccine. With the live segment on WGN every morning, Murphy addresses

COVID-19 related questions from viewers and hopes to quell the misconceptions around

the vaccine.

According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in February 2021, 30% of the

American public does not currently plan to get a vaccine. Although Murphy believes

that there was mismanagement with the COVID-19 pandemic,

he also believes the money put into the vaccine was useful

and the majority of people in the last phase — college

students — will be able to be vaccinated

by summer 2021. He projects that a semblance

of normality may be reached

by fall of 2021, but that the disease

will probably not go away for a

few years, as other countries must

control the disease, as well.

With still so much to learn

about the disease and how long

the antibodies generated by the

vaccine last, we may never entirely

eradicate COVID-19. Murphy

also warns of the possibility

of another pandemic in the near

future. Many of these natural

disasters are uncontrollable, so

our response to these events are crucial

for maintaining and improving the

well-being of the people. ■

“According to a Pew

Research Center

study conducted in

February 2021, 30%

of the American

public does not

currently plan to get

a vaccine.”

79


Department of Psychology

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Dan McAdams, Ph.D.

Stories of Regret in Late

Midlife and Their Relation

to Psychosocial Adaptation

by Joy Hsu

Abstract

Previous research indicates that regret is a painful experience for

people but often leads to enhanced self-meaning and personal

growth. In this study, we employ a narrative approach to explore

the architecture and coping methods of regret experiences in late

midlife adults. We relate variation in regret narratives told by 163

adults aged 55–57 to psychosocial adaptation, conceptualized in

terms of psychological well-being and Erik Erikson’s adult-developmental

factors of generativity and ego-integrity. Two coders

analyzed interview transcripts of regret narratives for numerous

content categories, including type of regret, source of regret, degree

of resolution of the regret (coming to terms with it, making

peace with it, solving the problem), and hopefulness for the future.

The qualitative results illustrate the diversity and richness of regret

experiences in late midlife and flesh out the expression of 12 different

coping methods for dealing with negative life experiences. The

quantitative results provide empirical support for the hypothesis

that degree of regret resolution is positively associated with overall

psychosocial adaptation. Findings are discussed in terms of the role

of the bidirectional relationship between regret resolution and

psychosocial adaptation, as well as the role of regret experiences

more generally in life stories and in late midlife development.

80


Narratives of regret may provide insight into the unique

ways in which people make sense of difficult events in

their lives, with potential implications for psychological

development and adaptation.

Introduction

While regret has been a topic of psychological

study for over two decades, researchers

have rarely focused on the kinds

of personal stories people tell about their

experiences of regret. Narratives of regret

may provide insight into the unique ways

in which people make sense of difficult

events in their lives, with potential implications

for psychological development

and adaptation. Adopting a narrative approach,

1 the current study examines how

a sample of late midlife adults — approximately

half of whom are white and half

of whom are African American — narrate

experiences of regret.

Regret and Coping

Regret is the aversive emotional and cognitive

sense of loss due to an unfavorable

outcome. According to Janet Landman,

the six most common sources for regret

concern education, career, romance, parenting,

the self, and leisure. 2 Not surprisingly,

people tend to regret more strongly

outcomes in which they assign blame to

themselves rather than outcomes in which

they place blame externally. When blame

is external, people often feel as though

the situation was out of their control,

enabling them to avoid self-blame. When

this happens, it becomes easier to resolve

the cognitive dissonance that the self was

responsible for the undesirable outcome. 3

Researchers have also distinguished

effects between omission regret and commission

regret. Omission regret involves

feeling regret for not taking a particular

action, while commission regret involves

feeling regret for taking a particular action.

4 While commission regret may be

more intense in the short term, omission

regret is often described as having longterm

negative consequence. 5

Research investigating the transformation

of negative experiences of regret

in this manner has been focused on understanding

how people construct, maintain,

suppress, or cope with their regrets. Emotion-focused

coping relies on avoiding or

suppressing the negative emotions associated

with regret or distracting oneself with

positive emotions in order not to dwell

on the regret. Problem-focused coping involves

attempting to manage or solve the

problem caused by the regret and working

towards rectifying the unfavorable decision

or outcome. 6

1 Adler, J. M., Dunlop, W. L., Fivush, R., Lilgendahl, J., Lodi-Smith, J., McAdams, D. P., McLean, K. C., Pasupathi, M., & Syed, M.

(2017). Research methods for studying narrative identity: A primer. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8, 519-527.

2 Landman, J. (1996). Social control of “negative” emotions: The case of regret. The emotions: Social, cultural, and biological dimensions,

89-116.

3 Ibid.

4 Dibonaventura, M. D., & Chapman, G. B. (2008). Do decision biases predict bad decisions? Omission bias, naturalness bias, and

influenza vaccination. Medical Decision Making, 28(4), 532-539.

5 Gilovich, T., & Medvec, V. H. (1995). The experience of regret: what, when, and why. Psychological review, 102(2), 379.

6 Folkman, Susan, Richard S. Lazarus, Rand J. Gruen, and Anita DeLongis (1986), “Appraisal, Coping, Health Status, and Psychological

Symptoms,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50 (3), 571-79.

81


Life Stories

Researchers who have studied regret

have generally not focused on how people

narrate their regrets and how they incorporate

them into their life stories and

self-understanding. The current study,

therefore, adopts a narrative approach

to examine the different kinds of stories

people tell about regrets in their lives and

the implications of those stories for psychosocial

adaptation. 7,8

Many researchers who employ a narrative

approach draw conceptually upon

the idea of narrative identity. Narrative identity

is a person’s internalized and evolving

story for their life, incorporating a broad

reconstruction of the past and anticipation

of the future. 9 As a feature of personality

itself, narrative identity functions to provide

people with a sense of purpose and

unity in their lives, allowing them to form

a temporally coherent account of how they

have come to be who they are. Among

the most important features of a person’s

narrative identity are the stories they tell

about the most difficult and challenging

events in their life, including their regrets.

As people move through midlife and

later adulthood, they may reflect more

heavily on their life narratives. It may

become more common to contemplate

past experiences, including regrets, in

attempts to gain acceptance and understanding

of their lives. Done successfully,

this process of life review may bring a

sense of satisfaction, coherency, serenity,

and fulfillment, but those who are not

able to reconcile difficult pasts or resolve

“Among the most

important features

of a person’s

narrative identity

are the stories he or

she tells about the

most difficult and

challenging events

in his or her life,

including his or her

regrets.”

past conflicts may instead face excessive

guilt, panic, or despair. 10,11

Psychosocial Adaptation

In considering psychosocial development

in the second half of life, Erikson’s model

of the stages of psychosocial development

is especially instructive. 12 In each stage of

development, Erikson argued, the person

faces a particular issue that is resolved in

the dynamic between the needs of the self

and the demands of society. 13,14

The final two stages in Erikson’s

scheme apply to midlife and late adulthood.

In Generativity versus Stagnation, adults

are faced with the virtue of Care — caring

for future generations by leaving their

mark on society, or by creating a better

7 McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5, 100-122.

8 McAdams, D. P., & McLean, K. C. (2013). Narrative identity. Current directions in psychological science, 22(3), 233-238.

9 Ibid.

10 Butler, R. N. (1963). The life review: An interpretation of reminiscence in the aged. Psychiatry, 26(1), 65-76.

11 Butler, R. N. (1974). Successful aging and the role of the life review. Journal of the American geriatrics Society, 22(12), 529-535.

12 Erikson E. H . (1963). Childhood and society (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Norton.

13 Ibid.

14 Erikson E. H . (1982). The life cycle completed. New York, NY: Norton.

82


world and passing down their knowledge

or resources to younger generations.

Successfully resolving this stage leads to a

sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Failure to resolve this stage results in a

sense of disconnect from society and the

feeling that the self does not matter and

will not be remembered. 15

The last stage of Erikson’s model is

known as Ego-Integrity versus Despair.

Older adults may contemplate the course

of their lives and decide whether they have

accomplished what they hoped to do and

whether they are satisfied with the lives

they led. Erikson argued that successfully

resolving this stage leads to the virtue and

and sense of acceptance and peace. 16 It

would be expected, therefore, that older

people experiencing high levels of ego-integrity

might have better resolved their

regrets and be at peace with their lives.

If the stage-related constructs of generativity

and ego-integrity mark psychosocial

developmental indices, a third more

generic index may be overall psychological

well-being. 17 Psychological well-being

refers broadly to the extent to which a

person feels happy and satisfied with his

or her life. It indeed makes intuitive sense

that people who experience higher levels

of overall well-being are more adapted to

their current life stage, regardless of what

that developmental stage is. In the present

study, therefore, psychosocial adaptation is

operationalized through self-report measures

of generativity, ego-integrity, and

psychological well-being.

An important goal of this study is to

provide descriptive information regarding

stories of regret and to report similarities

and differences in regret stories as reported

by men versus women, and African American

participants versus white participants.

We do not aim to test hypotheses regarding

mean group differences based on gender or

race. However, we do aim to test hypotheses

regarding how thematic variation in

regret narratives is related to self-reported

psychosocial adaptation in late midlife

adults. Since unresolved regrets and failures

may prevent one from accepting the

course of one’s life and achieving high

levels of well-being, we hypothesize that the

extent to which adults resolve or reconcile their

regret challenges will be positively associated

with overall psychosocial adaptation, as operationalized

through generativity, ego-integrity,

and psychological well-being. We expect the

hypothesized relationship to be especially

strong for the index of ego-integrity, which

captures the broad idea of life acceptance.

Similarly, we hypothesize that late midlife

adults scoring high on psychosocial adaptation,

will (1) attribute blame for regret experiences

to more external rather than internal sources,

and (2) maintain more hope for the future in

the wake of their regrets.

Method

Sample

The data used for this study comes from

the Foley Longitudinal Study of Adulthood

(FLSA), which includes transcribed

life-story interviews from 163 adults

(64.42% female, 35.58% male) aged 55–57

in 2009–2010. Participants were recruited

by a social-science research firm in the

greater Chicago-Illinois area targeting

white and African American adults. For

the collected sample, 55.21% of participants

were white and 42.94% were African

15 McAdams, D. P. (2019). “I Am What Survives Me”: Generativity and the self. In J. Frey and C. Vogler (Eds.), Self-Transcendence

and virtue: Perspectives from philosophy, psychology, and theology (pp. 251-273). London: Routledge.

16 Erikson, The life cycle completed.

17 Keyes, C. L. M. (1998). Social well-being. Social psychology quarterly, 121-140.

83


American. Additionally, participants filled

out online self-report measures before

each interview to collect information on

demographics and measures of generativity,

ego-integrity, and psychological

well-being, among a host of other psychological

and social constructs.

Measurement

Generativity. Each participant completed

the Loyola Generativity Scale before each

interview to measure generativity. 18 The

scale measures concern about and activity

involving the promotion of the well-being

of future generations. Participants rate

20 items on a 4-point scale ranging from

zero (never applies to me) to three (always

applies to me).

Ego-integrity. Each participant completed

the Northwestern Ego Integrity

Scale 19 before each interview to measure

ego-integrity. The scale measures both

ego-integrity and despair as well as coherence,

acceptance, and wholeness, and asks

participants to rate 15 different items on a

6-point scale ranging from one (strongly

disagree) to six (strongly agree).

Psychological Well-Being. Each

participant completed the 42-item scale of

Psychological Well-Being (PWB) designed

by Ryff and Keyes. 20 The scale measures six

different aspects of well-being: autonomy,

environmental mastery, personal growth,

positive relations with others, purpose in

life, and self-acceptance. Participants rate 42

items on a 6-point scale ranging from one

(strongly disagree) to six (strongly agree).

Regret Narratives. In The Life Story

Interview, participants were asked to de-

scribe their respective lives as if they were

novels, being sure to name chapters, key

scenes, characters, and themes. To sample

the narration of regret, we considered the

following question that was asked as a part

of the larger interview:

“Everybody experiences failure and

regrets in life, even for the happiest and

luckiest lives. Looking back over your

entire life, please identify and describe

the greatest failure or regret you have

experienced. The failure or regret can

occur in any area of your life – work,

family, friendships, or any other area.

Please describe the failure or regret and

the way in which the failure or regret

came to be. How have you coped with

this failure or regret? What effect has

this failure or regret had on you and

your life story?”

Procedure

A graduate student or postdoctoral fellow

administered interviews lasting approximately

two hours to each participant at

three different points over a 10-year period

using a standardized life-story protocol

developed by Dan P. McAdams. 21 Interview

questions asked about the life stories

of participants, including questions on best

and worst memories, turning points, and

regrets, but only the interview question on

regret was used for data analysis.

The coding scheme was developed by

reading the first 40 interviews. Two independent

coders assigned quantitative values

for each item and recorded descriptive information

about what the regret was about

and what the methods of coping were.

18 McAdams, D. P., & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and

narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003–1015.

19 Janis, L., Canak, T., Machado, M. A., Green, R. M., & McAdams, D. P. (2011). Development and validation of the Northwestern

Ego Integrity Scale. Evanston, IL.: Northwestern University.

20 Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,

69, 719-727.

21 McAdams, D. P. (2013). The redemptive self: Stories Americans live by (revised and expanded edition). New York: Oxford University

Press.

84


1. Object of regret: The topic or object

of the participant’s regret. Coding for

this collects basic descriptive. Coders

classified each participant’s response as

fitting in at least one of the following

categories, which were not mutually

exclusive: romantic love or marriage,

children, other family issues (e.g., parents,

siblings, in-laws), friendships, career,

financial issues, education, physical

appearance, personality/character

(personal traits), and other (list).

2. Omission versus commission:

Whether participants have regrets

of omission, meaning they regret not

taking certain actions, or regrets of

commission, meaning they regret

taking certain actions. Like coding for

object of regret, coding for omission

and commission collects descriptive.

Coders rated participant responses on

a 3-point scale, with a score of one indicating

a regret of omission, a score

of two indicating a mix of commission

and omission, or if it was indeterminate

or could not be coded, and a score

of three indicating a regret of commission

(inter-rater reliability: r = 0.66).

3. Method of coping: The ways in which

participants chose to cope with, deal

with, resolve, or handle their regrets.

Coding for method of coping collects

descriptive information about the

kinds, frequency, and effectiveness of

the coping methods participants used.

The following were the methods that

participants used most often to cope

with their regrets, which were not

mutually exclusive: denial, ignoring

the problem/issue, rationalization

(explaining or finding an excuse), cognitive

reframing (finding a good way

to think about it), benefit finding (construing

a positive meaning), developing

goals, taking direct action to solve

the problem, religion, social support

(from family or friends), atonement,

forgiveness, and rumination.

4. Degree of resolution: The degree to

which participants are perceived to

have resolved their regrets. Coding for

degree of resolution allows for analysis

of the first hypothesis. Coders rated

participants on a 5-point scale, with

one being low and five being high (inter-rater

reliability: r = 0.59).

5. Internal versus external source of

regret: Whether the source of regret

is internal and it is perceived that the

participants blame themselves for their

regret, or if the source is external and it

is perceived that the participants blame

someone or something else for their

regret. Coding for the source of regret

allows for analysis of the first part of

the second hypothesis. Coders rated

participant responses on a 3-point

scale, with a score of one indicating

the regret is internal and caused by

the self, and a score of three indicating

the regret was caused by someone else,

something else, or the environment

(inter-rater reliability: r = 0.51).

6. Hopefulness for the future: The degree

of overall optimism or pessimism

that the subject expresses throughout

the narrative. Coding for hopefulness

for the future allows for analysis of the

second part of the second hypothesis.

Coders rated participant responses on

a 5-point scale, with a score of one being

low and five being high (inter-rater

reliability: r = 0.55).

Results

Taking scores for generativity (M = 43.16,

SD = 8.88), ego-integrity (M = 4.32, SD

= .66), and psychological well-being (M

85


T Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of Total Sample.

Mean Standard Deviation Minimum Maximum

Generativity 43.16 8.88 17.00 58.00

Ego-Integrity 4.32 0.66 2.33 5.93

Psychological Well-Being 202.65 26.45 113.00 245.00

Omission vs. Commission 1.68 0.74 1.00 3.00

Internal vs. External 1.64 0.75 1.00 3.00

Degree of Resolution 2.87 0.98 1.00 3.00

Hopefulness 3.46 1.11 1.00 3.00

T Table 2. Descriptive Statistics Comparing White Adults and African American Adults.

White Adults

African American Adults

Mean Standard Deviation Mean Standard Deviation

Generativity 41.16 8.76 45.54 8.52

Ego-Integrity 4.17 0.68 4.54 0.60

Psychological Well-Being 195.50 26.37 211.70 24.18

Omission vs. Commission 1.69 0.73 1.65 0.73

Internal vs. External 1.62 0.71 1.65 0.79

Degree of Resolution 2.92 1.04 2.81 0.90

Hopefulness 3.40 1.11 3.52 1.13

T Table 3. Descriptive Statistics Comparing Men and Women.

Men

Women

Mean Standard Deviation Mean Standard Deviation

Generativity 42.40 8.82 43.48 8.93

Ego-Integrity 4.19 0.71 4.39 0.62

Psychological Well-Being 196.10 26.11 206.30 26.07

Omission vs. Commission 1.75 0.73 1.65 0.74

Internal vs. External 1.55 0.70 1.69 0.77

Degree of Resolution 2.66 0.94 2.98 0.98

Hopefulness 3.28 1.10 3.56 1.11

86


=202.65, SD =26.45), we converted them

to Z scores and added them together in

order to assign scores for each of the participants

for the variable of psychosocial

adaptation (M = -0.022, SD = 2.48). We

found that scores for omission versus

commission and internal versus external

source of regret tended to be below the

arithmetic midpoint, suggesting a slight

tendency towards more regrets of omission

rather than regrets of commission (M

= 1.68, SD = .74) and towards more regrets

attributed to internal sources rather than

external ones (M = 1.64, SD = .75). Similarly,

scores of resolution (M = 2.87, SD =

.98) were a bit below the midpoint, while

scores of hopefulness (M = 3.46, SD = 1.11)

were a bit above the midpoint. Table 1

displays the means, standard deviations,

minimums, and maximums of scores of

psychosocial adaptation, generativity,

ego-integrity, psychological well-being,

T Table 4. Frequencies and Instances of Objects of Regret.

Object of Regret Instances Frequency

Career 36 24%

Education 34 23%

Marriage/Romantic Relationships 31 21%

Children/Parenting 26 17%

Family 14 9%

Friendship 13 9%

Financial Issues 10 7%

Personal Character Trait 9 6%

Other 5 3%

T Table 5. Frequencies and Instances of Methods of Coping.

Method of Coping Instances Frequency

Rumination 47 32%

Direct Action 39 26%

Rationalization 36 24%

Cognitive Reframing 30 20%

Benefit Finding 27 18%

Ignoring the Regret 18 12%

Forgiveness 16 11%

Social Support 13 9%

Religion 10 7%

Atonement 8 5%

Making Goals 5 3%

Denial 4 3%

87


degree of omission versus commission,

degree of internal versus external source

blame, degree of resolution, and hopefulness

for the future, with respect to the

overall sample, inclusive of white adults,

African American adults, men, and women.

African American adults (M = 1.06,

SD = 2.13) scored significantly higher

than white adults (M = -.78, SD = 2.46)

on psychosocial adaptation, t(128) = 4.38,

p < .001. Indeed, African American adults

scored significantly higher than white

adults on generativity (M = 45.54, SD =

8.52; M = 41.16, SD = 8.76), t(157) = 3.17,

p < .01; ego-integrity (M = 4.54, SD = .60;

M = 4.17, SD = .68), t(128) = 3.19, p < .01;

and psychological well-being (M = 211.7,

SD = 24.18; M = 195.5, SD = 26.37), t(158)

= 4.01, p < .01. However, when examining

the architecture of the regrets themselves,

there were no significant group differences

for regrets of omission and commission,

source of regret, degree of resolution, or

hopefulness for the future. Table 2 displays

race differences.

There were only group differences

in gender in relation to psychological

well-being, with women (M = 206.3, SD

= 26.06) scoring significantly higher than

men (M = 196.1, SD = 26.11), t(161) =2.39,

p < .05. Similar to our findings with race,

there were no significant group differences

for regrets of omission and commission,

source of regret, or degree of resolution.

However, there was a trend towards women

showing higher hopefulness for the

future (M = 3.56, SD = 1.11; M = 3.28, SD

= 1.10), t(147) = 1.92, p = .056. Table 3 displays

gender differences.

When examining participants’ objects

of regret, we found that 24% had

regrets of career choices, 23% had regrets

of education, 21% expressed regrets in

their marriage or romantic relationships,

17% regretted parenting or relationships

with their children, 9% had regrets relating

to other family members, 9% had regrets

concerning friendships, 7% regretted financial

issues, 6% regretted some personal

character trait, and 3% had other regrets

not included in our coding scheme. Table

4 displays the instances and frequencies of

the different objects of regret.

Similarly, when studying methods

of coping, we found that 32% ruminated

and excessively worried about their regret,

26% took direct action, 24% rationalized

or explained away the regret, 20% utilized

cognitive reframing to think about their

regrets in a positive way, 18% found some

benefit in their regret, 12% ignored the regret,

11% forgave themselves or others, 9%

reached out for social support, 7% turned

to religion, 5% atoned for their regret, 3%

developed goals to assist with coping, and

3% utilized denial. Table 5 displays the

instances and frequencies of the different

methods of coping.

Overall, we found strong support that

psychosocial adaptation is related to degree

of resolution. As predicted in our first hypothesis,

we found a significant positive

correlation between degree of resolution

and psychosocial adaptation (r = .25, p <

.01). In fact, there was a small but positive

correlation between resolution of regret

and all the variables that operationalized

psychosocial adaptation, including generativity

(r = .19, p < .05), ego-integrity (r =

.19, p < .05), and psychological well-being

(r = .25, p < .01). After running a partial

correlation controlling for income, which

was significantly positively correlated with

degree of resolution (r = .27, p < .001), we

found that degree of resolution was still

significantly positively correlated with

psychosocial adaptation (r = .26, p < .01).

Essentially, findings indicate that late to

88


“The most common regrets in late to midlife adults are those

relating to career decisions and education, followed by

regrets concerning relationships with significant others and

family members.”

midlife adults who scored high on self-report

measures of psychosocial adaptation,

generativity, ego-integrity, and psychological

well-being tended to tell stories of

regret in which their regrets were more

resolved than adults who scored lower on

these measures.

Our second hypothesis was only partially

supported in that while there was a

significant positive correlation between

psychosocial adaptation and hopefulness

for the future (r = .24, p < .01), there was

no significant correlation between psychosocial

adaptation and attribution of external

regrets. These findings indicate that

late to midlife adults who scored higher on

self-report measures of psychosocial adaptation

tended to tell their stories of regret

with more hope for the future or belief that

the future would be more favorable than

the past and present.

Discussion

Turning to understand how regret is

related to psychosocial adaptation, we

hypothesized that the degree of resolution

of regret is positively associated with

psychosocial adaptation. This hypothesis

was supported, as not only was degree

of resolution positively associated with

psychosocial adaptation, but it was also

positively associated with generativity,

ego-integrity, and psychological well-being.

However, these associations were all

small, and the largest relationship was not

with ego-integrity, as predicted. We had

hypothesized that ego-integrity would

have the strongest correlation with degree

of resolution since at its essence ego-integrity

is about acceptance of one’s life and life

choices, which aligns with resolving regrets.

This hypothesis was not supported,

as psychological well-being had a stronger

association with degree of resolution than

ego-integrity, although this difference was

not significant.

For our second hypothesis, we predicted

that psychosocial adaptation would

be positively associated with both attribution

of external blame and hopefulness for

the future. However, we found that psychosocial

adaptation was only positively

associated with hopefulness. These results

show that blaming the self as the source of

regret does not have a significant relationship

with psychosocial adaptation. Rather,

the amount of hope for the future plays a

role in determining this. This was as expected,

as previous findings have shown

that having hope is linked to psychosocial

adaptation, especially in patients under

medical care. 22 As applied to late to midlife

adults, hope may be key in securing high

psychosocial adaptation because it may

allow people to accept the possibility of

a better future in which the regret is less

salient or relevant, giving them something

to work towards and expect.

Results from this study indicate that

the most common regrets in late to midlife

22 Livneh, H., & Martz, E. (2014). Coping strategies and resources as predictors of psychosocial adaptation among people with

spinal cord injury. Rehabilitation psychology, 59(3), 329.

89


adults are those relating to career decisions

and education, followed by regrets

concerning relationships with significant

others and family members. This may be

the case due to the demographics of the

participants, who are all baby boomers.

Indeed, according to the Pew Research

Center, only 24% of baby boomers received

a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to

39% of millennials. 23

Additionally, we found that the most

common method of coping — or rather

handling the regret — was rumination. In

essence, our findings showed that a large

number of participants relied on rumination,

therefore failing to cope with the regret,

rather than utilizing healthy methods

of coping. Of those who were able to cope

with their regrets, the second and third

most common methods were using direct

action and rationalization, respectively.

Direct action is a kind of action-focused

coping and involves actively doing something

to reverse the regret, such as going

back to school to complete a bachelor’s

degree that one regretted not finishing.

Rationalization, on the other hand, is more

cognitive and involves explaining away the

regret and justifying it to the self in order

to alleviate the negative effect caused by

regret. Since the most common regrets of

this sample were related to career and education,

problem-focused coping may have

been the most appropriate since many of

these regrets were able to be reversed or

reconciled by taking action to undo the

cause of the regret, such as by finishing

college education.

Discrepancies in the number of

participants who produced self-reported

measures of generativity, ego-integrity,

and psychological well-being were a limitation

to the study. Due to the nature of

the FLSA study and dataset, measures for

ego-integrity were not set in place until

later in the longitudinal study. As a result,

while 163 participants produced scores for

generativity and psychosocial well-being,

only 133 participants produced scores for

ego-integrity. Therefore, there were only

132 standardized scores for psychosocial

adaptation, as it was necessary for each

participant to have all three scores in

order to produce scores for psychosocial

adaptation. Additionally, only 149 participants

were able to articulate regret narratives,

as the others claimed they had no

regrets in their lives.

Findings from this study will provide

insight into adult personality development

and provide an overarching framework

on how regret influences social and personality

development. As midlife adults

transition into late adulthood, some may

have difficulty adjusting and display lower

generativity, lower ego-integrity, or lower

psychological well-being. Especially as

adults belonging to Generation X reach

late adulthood, more and more will find

themselves facing their regret narratives.

Although still far off in the future, millennials,

who are currently the largest generation

according to Pew Research Center,

will likely also grapple with similar struggles

as they reach mid to late adulthood. 24

As a result, forming a strong understanding

of how regret stories influence this

life stage transition can be key in helping

struggling adults overcome these developmental

obstacles. Future studies should

23 Bialik, K., & Fry, R. (2019, February 14). How Millennials compare with prior generations. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from

https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/millennial-life-how-young-adulthood-today-compares-with-prior-generations/

24 Fry, R. (2020, April 28). Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation.

Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/28/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers-as-americas-largest-generation/

90


explore the direction of causality between

these associations, as it is currently uncertain

whether low psychosocial adaptation

leads to regret stories with lower regret

resolution, or vice versa. Though there is

much work to do, the findings from the

current study and other similar studies on

generativity, ego-integrity, and psychological

well-being such as the one proposed may

inform research in clinical settings in developing

interventions for late to midlife adults

struggling with psychosocial adaptation. ■

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Green, R. M., & McAdams, D. P.

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The Dearborn Observatory in 1889. University Archives,

Northwestern University Libraries. (1889). Dearborn

Observatory, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

Retrieved from https://dc.library.northwestern.edu/

items/4257692e-8d56-4593-b316-1a57042e6716

92 FEATURE


A Brief History

of the Dearborn

Observatory

By Andrew Laeuger

A brief history of the Dearborn Observatory, from its historic rise to its quiet and

unsuspecting presence on campus today.

Hidden in the cove formed by

the Technological Institute, Silverman

Hall, and the Garrett-Evangelical

Theological Seminary, the

Dearborn Observatory lies secluded from

Northwestern’s skyline. Here, it serves as

a reminder of the University’s historical

role in observational astronomy.

The Observatory began not as a

project funded by bureaucratic grant

sources nor by University budget

decisions, but instead out of pure public

interest in the beauty of the heavens.

Documents from the establishment of

Dearborn tell how money was raised

under the condition that donation

size would correspond to a patron’s

level of access to the telescope. For

example, a donation of $100 in the

1860s would earn one lifetime access to

the observation room.

In that same spirit of enthusiasm for

astronomy, the Chicago Astronomical

Society would not settle for anything less

than the best. One of the founding members

of the Society, Thomas Hoyne, traveled

from Chicago to Boston in four days to

purchase what was, at the time, the largest

refracting lens ever produced. The polished

piece of glass had a 1.5-foot diameter!

Equipped with one of the most

powerful refracting telescopes in the

world, the Observatory became effective

at producing high-resolution images of

the night sky on photographic plates.

This precision allowed for two types of

FEATURE

93


astronomical measurements to be carried

out with great accuracy: the determination

of the distance from Earth to a star based

on its parallax 1 and the detection of

double stars. 2

Throughout its lifetime, Dearborn

has accounted for the discovery of more

than 100 binary stars and thousands of

long-exposure observations of dim red

stars. 3 It has also improved precision in

models of the positions of objects orbiting

throughout the solar system. 4

One of the most famous discoveries

from the lens that was installed in

Dearborn’s main telescope was the

detection of Sirius B. While testing the

lens prior to its sale to Hoyne, lensmaker

Alvin Graham Clark became the first

person to observe that Sirius A, the

brightest star in the night sky, has a

companion (Sirius B) that is about 10,000

times dimmer than itself.

Additionally, in the early 1930s,

astronomers used photographs taken

by the Dearborn telescope of the dwarf

planet Eros as it completed a near-

Earth pass to conduct one of the most

complete measurements of the parallax

of the sun to date.

However, as early as the late 1910s,

ambient light pollution began affecting

astronomical data collection at the

Observatory. Then-Director Philip Fox

began to grow wary of the proliferation of

Chicago’s presence in the night sky, citing

the inexorable spread of smoke and electric

lights as the city continued to expand.

Even today, new sources of light

pollution, like the clusters of StarLink

satellites launched by SpaceX starting in

2019, make the work of ground-based

astronomical observatories ever more

difficult. One can only hope that we begin

to appreciate the role of astronomy in both

the ancient stories that have inspired our

modern culture and the contemporary

discoveries that drive us towards new

understandings of the universe. Then, with

steps to reduce light pollution and bring

new sources of funding to this all-important

science, observational astronomy may once

again thrive in Chicago, and Dearborn may

bring its guests the same wonder it brought

150 years ago. ■

1 A parallax is the slight change in a star’s location in the sky based on our own position in our orbit about the sun.

2 Double start are stars which when seen through our eyes appear as one bright spot, but are actually composed of a pair of stars

orbiting about each other.

3 With enough searching, one can dig up the hundreds of pages of meticulously catalogued observations, dating back to the first

years of the 20th century, which the observatory’s directors published in hopes of passing on all that they learned to the next generation

of astronomers.

4 Today, the original Dearborn refracting telescope has a home in Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, where the public can continue to

admire the skill and craftsmanship required to assemble such a powerful and elegant instrument.

94 FEATURE


Oklahoma! was written with the intention

of boosting morale and celebrating the

strength of a unified United States of

America post-World War II. 1 The play

tells the story of a young woman named

Laurey Williams who is being courted

by the heroic cowboy Curly McLain and

her menacing farmhand Jud Fry. When

Laurey chooses Curly as her husband, Jud

returns on their wedding day to dispute

the match, and the encounter escalates

to violence, leaving Jud dead at the hand

of Curly. A trial ensues in which Curly is

found not guilty, and Curly and Laurey

come of age with the Oklahoma Territory

as it moves towards statehood. This thesis

analyzes the role of the law in Daniel Fish’s

revival of Oklahoma! in order to discern

how the production portrays the legal repercussions

of violence towards the “other”

Department of Legal Studies

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Joanna Grisinger, Ph.D.

“Territory Folks Should

Stick Together”:

The Role of the Law and

the “Other” in Daniel Fish’s

Oklahoma!

by Taris Hoffman

and to examine how legal proceedings are

represented in contemporary pop culture.

By subverting traditional interpretations

of Oklahoma!, Fish uses a piece about the

greatness of an idealized America to implicate

audiences in and express displeasure

with the corruption in the American legal

system, a directorial stance not often taken

in artistic renderings of court cases. 2

During the historical era of Oklahoma!,

the Oklahoma Territory had a strong

Black presence and frequent racial conflict.

The post-Reconstruction era saw many

African Americans emigrate to the Oklahoma

Territory and attempt to form all-

Black settlements in areas that were previously

inhabited by mostly white and Native

American populations. 3 While emigration

was happening in large numbers and

other Black settlements were developing

1 Kirle, “Reconciliation, Resolution, and the Political Role of Oklahoma! in American Consciousness,” 251-274.; Bond, “Still

Dreaming of Paradise: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and Postwar America.”; Filmer, Rimmer, and Walsh,

“Oklahoma!: Ideology and Politics in the Vernacular Tradition of the American Musical,” 381-395.

2 Papke, “The American Courtroom Trial: Pop Culture, Courthouse Realities, and the Dream World of Justice,” 919-920, 931.;

Kuzina, “The Social Issue Courtroom Drama as an Expression of American Popular,” 94-95.; Kohm, “The People’s Law versus

Judge Judy Justice: Two Models of Law in American Reality-Based Courtroom TV,” 725.

3 Catherine Lynn Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier

Settlements in the Oklahoma Territory.,” (PhD diss., University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2010), 9-11.

95


across the United States of America, these

all-Black communities were particularly

concentrated in the Oklahoma Territory. 4

White popular culture mocked these Black

separatist communities and committed

acts of racial violence against them. However,

despite the racial backlash, these settlements

continued to grow and make both

economic and political advancements. 5

White settlers and Native Americans, feeling

threatened, took legal action against

these African American settlements, attempting

to enact laws that would limit the

civil rights of the Black population, make

segregation legal, and discourage any further

immigration. 6 When statehood was

established, “Black codes” and Jim Crow

laws were put into place, causing political

and social conditions to worsen for the

Black settlers and thus ending the All-Black

Town Movement, as there were no longer

opportunities for African Americans to

create a better life for themselves in Black

settlements. 7 These all-Black settlements

would have existed during Oklahoma!, but

they are not acknowledged by the script or

traditionally considered in casting.

Daniel Fish’s production of Oklahoma!

acknowledges the historical Black presence

in the Oklahoma Territory with its casting.

The pared-down cast of 12 consists of 10

central characters, one ensemble member

(Mike), and one dancer (Lead Dancer). 8

This cast is diverse in race and physical

ableness, a choice that is Fish’s alone, as it

is not designated by the script. 9 The show’s

heroine Laurey Williams is played by

Rebecca Naomi Jones, a biracial woman,

and Gabrielle Hamilton, a Black woman,

represents Laurey’s inner thoughts during

the Dream Ballet as the Lead Dancer. 10

Additionally, the federal marshal Cord

Elam and the ensemble member Mike are

both played by Black men. 11 The community’s

matriarch (Aunt Eller), judge (Andrew

Carnes), local “Persian” peddler (Ali

Hakim), hero (Curly McLain), villain (Jud

Fry), and other members (Will Parker,

Ado Annie Carnes, Gertie Cummings) are

all cast as white men and women.

The 1955 Oklahoma! film features

traditional casting and expected characterization.

The 31-person ensemble is comprised

of white or white passing actors that

all “radiate good cheer … except for the

baleful Jud.” 12 The swarm of traditionally

beautiful actors are able to create a visually

codified ensemble, as they all resemble each

other. This differs from Fish’s production,

in which each actor functions as an individual

with a unique point of view. Fish’s

retelling also chooses to infuse race more

4 Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory.,” 11-12.

5 Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory.,” 11-14.

6 Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory.,” 14-15.; Contested Territory: Whites, Native Americans, and African Americans in Oklahoma, 1865-1907 (1996) by

Murray R. Wickett covers the legal battles between these racial groups.

7 Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory.,” 17.

8 Program for Roger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma at the Circle in the Square Theatre, New York. Playbill, 2020

9 “Oklahoma! Musical Script,” The Musical Lyrics, accessed January 8th, 2020, https://www.themusicallyrics.com/b/348-broadway-musical-scripts/3611-oklahoma-musical-script.html.

10 Program for Roger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma at the Circle in the Square Theatre, New York. Playbill, 2020.; Ellen Gamerman,

“‘American Idiot’s’ Rebecca Naomi Jones on Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Singing in Her Underwear,” The Wall Street

Journal, April 2, 2010, https://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/04/02/american-idiots-rebecca-naomi-jones-on-green-day-billie-joearmstrong-and-singing-in-her-underwear/.

11 Program for Roger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma at the Circle in the Square Theatre, New York. Playbill, 2020.

12 “Oklahoma! (1955),” IMDB, accessed January 8, 2020, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048445/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0.; William K.

Zinsser, “‘Oklahoma!,’” Herald Tribune, October 11, 1955.

96


prominently into the storytelling by putting

a Black woman and her sexuality at the

center of the narrative and giving a Black

man a leadership role within the community

as a federal marshal. In reviews of the

film, Shirley Jones is described as playing

Laurey to perfection as the “epitome of

well scrubbed Midwestern girldom” with

the film “[capturing] the light in her eyes

… and the horror that clouds her face when

Jud gets too close. Those are her two main

emotions, but they may well be the only

two that the role calls for, and Miss Jones

is an engaging heroine.” 13 Rebecca Naomi

Jones completely rejects this interpretation

with her Laurey, as reviews describe her

as “arresting, determined, and smart. She

is presented unvainly, in jeans and a plaid

shirt, but she radiates confidence and beauty,

a notable contrast to Curly’s ambling

peacock.” 14 Jones gives Laurey a point of

view and a voice in Fish’s production, as

she experiences a large range of conflicting

human emotions. Laurey’s love interest is

also subject to reinterpretation, as reviews

of the revival argue that he is

not your usual solid slab of beefcake

with a strapping tenor … this lad of the

prairies is wiry and wired, so full of

unchanneled sexual energy you expect

him to implode. … Doing his best to

project a confidence he doesn’t entirely

feel, to the accompaniment of a downhome

guitar, he seems so palpably

young. As is often true of big boys with

unsettled hormones, he also reads as

just a little dangerous. 15

This charged and immature version of

Curly is not seen in the 1955 film. Instead,

Gordon MacRae is a “wonderfully relaxed

and unaffected” hero who is “not ...

everybody’s idea of a raw-boned cowboy,

but he is all smiles with exuberance.” 16

MacRae’s Curly is a traditional hero who is

in control of his actions, and he establishes

himself as a trustworthy protector. As with

Laurey, Aunt Eller projects more strength

in the revival than the 1955 film. Charlotte

Greenwood’s Aunt Eller is described as

“rangy,” with “real compassion to the robust

rusticity of the role,” while Mary Testa’s

Aunt Eller is “rough,” and “authoritative.” 17

She is no longer a simple, delicate maternal

figure, but a significant matriarch with

control over the community. The shift in

casting and characterization differentiates

Fish’s production from its predecessors

and allows it to engage with America’s

relationship with race and the law.

The characterization of the racialized

foils Ali Hakim and Jud Fry is significant

to the interpretation of the legal elements

in Oklahoma!. The two men’s actions define

them as distinct opposites. Ali Hakim

exists as a sympathetic, comedic figure,

and although the traveling peddler is an

outsider, he is ultimately accepted into the

community because of his willingness to

assimilate. Aunt Eller initially rejects his

attempt to align himself with her when she

says, “I ain’t yer Aunt Eller! Don’t you call

me Aunt Eller, you little wart. I’m mad at

you,” and criticizes the quality of his products,

but she still humors him, eventually

relenting and saying, “Bring yer trappin’s

inside; mebbe I c’n find you sump’n to eat

13 Zinsser, “‘Oklahoma!.’”

14 Sarah Larson, “Daniel Fish’s Dark Take on Oklahoma!,” New Yorker, October 15, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/22/daniel-fishs-dark-take-on-oklahoma.

15 Ben Brantley, “A Smashing ‘Oklahoma!’ Is Reborn in the Land of Id,” New York Times, April 7, 2019, https://www.nytimes.

com/2019/04/07/theater/oklahoma-review.html.

16 Bosley Crowther, “The Screen: ‘Oklahoma!’ Is Okay,” New York Times, October 11, 1955.; Zinsser, “‘Oklahoma!.’”

17 Crowther, “The Screen: ‘Oklahoma!’ Is Okay.”; Larson, “Daniel Fish’s Dark Take on Oklahoma!.”; Brantley, A Smashing ‘Oklahoma!’

Is Reborn in the Land of Id.”

97


Each design element in Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!

rejects the abundant, rose-tinted depiction in the

[1955] film, setting the trial scene up to be an

impactful reflection of reality.

and drink.” 18 Despite being described as

“Persian” in the script, Ali Hakim is clearly

coded as a Jewish character by Rogers and

Hammerstein. 19 Historically, many Jews,

specifically of German descent, were peddlers

on the American frontier, and his

last name is most likely derived from the

Yiddish word “hacham,” meaning “clever

man.” 20 Despite possessing racialized traits

that “other” him, Ali Hakim is constantly

inserting himself into the community, and

by the end of the play, he has fully assimilated,

as he marries one of the central characters,

Gertie Cummings. 21 Ali Hakim is a

racialized “other” that actively assimilates

into the community by complying with the

community’s moral code in both the 1955

film and the Daniel Fish revival, and he is

accepted by the farmers and the cowmen as

Oklahoma becomes a state.

The character of Jud Fry starkly

contrasts to that of Ali Hakim, but is still

coded as a racialized “other” by Rogers and

Hammerstein. Jud lacks Ali Hakim’s theatricality

and eagerness to assimilate, with

a performance grounded in realism and

isolation from the rest of the community. 22

Both Jud and Ali Hakim are drifters, as a

farm hand and a peddler respectively, but

Jud is perceived as a “cultural outsider.” 23

While Ali Hakim is coded as a “white”

immigrant, Jud is characterized as a “dark”

man. 24 Stage directions refer to Jud as a

“burly, scowling man,” “bullet-colored,”

and “growly.” 25 In reviews that address the

film adaptation, he is referred to as “dark

and vengeful,” “a meaty brute with an

unplaceable accent,” and “less degenerate

and little more human and pitiful than

he is usually made.” 26 The unshaven, dirtsmeared

villain is both visually coded as a

racialized “other” in his disheveled, dark

appearance that directly contrasts with the

clean-cut, bright ensemble, and also aurally,

as his accent in the film differentiates

him as an ambiguously racialized figure

separate from the all-American community.

27 He is also geographically separated

from the community, as he does not live in

the pristine house 28 of his employers Aunt

Eller and Laurey, but in a smokehouse with

the rats and his collection of pornographic

18 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”

19 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”; Most, “‘We Know We Belong to the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation in

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” 82.

20 Most, “‘We Know We Belong to the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” 84.

21 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”

22 Most, “‘We Know We Belong to the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” 81.

23 Larson, “Daniel Fish’s Dark Take on Oklahoma!.”

24 Most, “‘We Know We Belong to the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” 81.

25 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”

26 Zinsser, “‘Oklahoma!.’”; Larson, “Daniel Fish’s Dark Take on Oklahoma!.”; Crowther, “The Screen: ‘Oklahoma!’ Is Okay.”

27 Oklahoma!. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. Los Angeles, California: Rogers & Hammerstein Productions, 1995: 16:00, 19:57.

28 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 19:20.

98


images lining the wall. 29 Jud is not only an

outsider but also a deviant. With his production,

Fish keeps these “othering” traits

of isolation, sexual aggression, poverty,

and filth as an undercurrent of Jud’s characterization

but also layers in moments

of sympathy for Jud, as he “is played with

great sensitivity and quaking instability by

the lean, fair Vaill. This complicates him;

he could be your high-school crush, with a

frisson of Kurt Cobain.” 30 This iteration of

Jud possesses a “charismatic, hungry loneliness

to the part that’s guaranteed to haunt

your nightmares,” and plays to the humanity

of the character instead of the villainy. 31

By strengthening the sympathy for Jud, the

trial of Curly, his murderer, becomes a significant

event in the play instead of a procedural

roadblock to overcome to achieve

the happy ending.

The design elements of Daniel Fish’s

Oklahoma! also diverge from traditional expectations

and allow audiences to view this

show as a part of the real, contemporary

world that they can actively engage with.

While reviews describe the 1955 film as

“gay to look at,” 32 Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!

is “staged plainly.” 33 Instead of beautiful

party gowns, colorful neckerchiefs, 34 and

billowing suede chaps, 35 designer Terese

Wadden takes a contemporary direction

with the costumes. Distressed denim, crop

tops, flannel, and skin-tight, well-worn

leather chaps adorn Fish’s ensemble. Even

their party items are simple, functional,

and contemporary, with the women donning

apparently handmade canvas dresses

and the men swapping their flannel work

shirts for Jericho western shirts. Instead

of creating another magical world of

whimsy and beauty, Wadden’s costumes

ground the play in a gritty sense of reality.

The harsh lighting choices made by

designer Scott Zielinski contribute to this

mood. The house lights are up for almost

the entirety of the show, except for a few

moments of complete darkness and some

green- and red-outs. The uniform lighting

throughout the audience and playing space

creates a sense of community, encouraging

audience members to interact with

each other as well as the actors. Instead

of experiencing a theatrical experience

from a distance, the line between actor

and audience becomes blurred. The set

design is also minimalistic, featuring only

a few picnic tables and chairs identical to

the ones that serve as seating for the onstage

audience members, a minimalistic

sepia-toned backdrop loosely evoking the

Oklahoma plain, guns ominously hanging

on the walls, and multicolored foil fringe

strung up across the theater’s ceiling. Each

design element in Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!

rejects the abundant, rose-tinted depiction

in the film, setting the trial scene up to be

an impactful reflection of reality.

The specific design elements in the

final scene of Fish’s Oklahoma! further

diverge from tradition and contribute to

the messaging and emotional intensity

of the production. When Jud enters at

the beginning of the scene, he has on an

ill-fitting, worn brown suit. This is the

first time Jud has appeared on stage without

his ragged base costume of old boots,

jeans, and a tattered flannel, and this shift

in physical appearance establishes a sense

29 Most, “‘We Know We Belong to the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” 82.

30 Larson, “Daniel Fish’s Dark Take on Oklahoma!.”

31 Brantley, A Smashing ‘Oklahoma!’ Is Reborn in the Land of Id.”

32 Zinsser, “‘Oklahoma!.’”

33 Larson, “Daniel Fish’s Dark Take on Oklahoma!.”

34 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 1:35:13.

35 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 27:05.

99


“No one speaks

for Jud at this

trial, alluding to

historical instances

when white men

could kill Black men

with impunity.”

of rehabilitation and cultivates ethos. In

the 1955 film, Jud dons a filthy costume of

a once-white, short-sleeved henley with

a deep v-neck, work pants, heavy boots,

a belt, and suspenders, 36 changing into a

mismatched shirt and vest when taking

Laurey to the dance. 37 During the scene in

which he is murdered, Jud is again filthy.

He has removed his vest, his party shirt

is unbuttoned with his sleeves rolled up,

and he is still wearing his work pants and

boots. His appearance closely resembles his

initial costume, signifying regression, and

it supports the subtext that Jud deserves

his death. 38 Another significant design

element in Fish’s Oklahoma! is Laurey and

Curly’s wedding clothes. At the beginning

of the wedding scene, they are joyous and

pure newlyweds wearing white. However,

when Curly shoots Jud, the pair is sprayed

in fake blood, completely tarnishing the

cleanly white garments. The murder of Jud

has tainted this new matrimony, physically

marking both Laurey and Curly as guilty

parties, and they remain in these clothes

during the trial scene in which they manipulate

the law. In the film, there is no gore

or blood depicted, and Laurey’s and Curly’s

costumes remain unscathed, neither of

them carrying the emotional burden of Jud’s

death. 39 The various lighting choices made

in the film and Fish’s revival both hold significance

as well. During the post-wedding

encounter with Jud in the film, it is a dark

and shadowy night, obscuring the heroic

Curly’s vision and resulting in Jud falling

on his own knife. 40 In Fish’s version, both

the stage and house lights are up when

Curly shoots Jud and is tried for murder,

implying that Curly took a much more

active role in Jud’s demise and involving

the audience as witnesses and ultimately

excusers of the crime. After being found

not guilty in the film, Laurey and Curly

literally and figuratively emerge from the

darkness and step into the bright sunlight

as they begin their lives together. 41 The

lighting design in Fish’s revival emphasizes

Curly’s culpability while the film’s design

detracts from his guilt. Similarly, Fish takes

a minimalistic approach to sound design,

with the deafening gunshot being the only

distinct noise in the calculated final portion

of the play, where the movie leans on

the aural chaos that ensues 42 during and after

43 Jud’s murder. Both the set in the stage

and the film version indicate to audiences

that they are being invited to view something

private, but the two portrayals have

different degrees of intimacy. During the

trial in the film adaptation, audiences are

given a window into the home, a private

36 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 16:55.

37 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 1:32:18.

38 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:19:32.

39 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:19:54.

40 Ibid.

41 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:24:28.

42 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:18:39.

43 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:23:15.

100


space. 44 In Fish’s version, the set includes

the audience as the attendees of the trial, as

the cast shares picnic tables with the audience

members. The specific design choices

made in the final moments of Fish’s Oklahoma!

create sympathy for Jud, emphasize

Curly’s autonomy in murdering him, and

actively invite audiences to engage in the

scene’s heightened emotional intensity.

The staging of Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma!

is rich in nuance and meaning,

revealing much about the production’s

point of view about the law. The show is

performed on a thrust stage, which extends

into the audience on three sides, with the

audience sitting in the theater’s built-in

seats as well as at picnic tables that line two

sides of the stage. Instead of a traditional

orchestra positioned out of sight in a pit,

the re-arranged score is played by a seven-piece

folk and bluegrass-inspired ensemble

that sits on the stage and interacts

with the actors freely, creating a sense of

reality and cultural authenticity. At intermission,

all audience members are given

chili and cornbread, further strengthening

the sense of community and camaraderie

in the space. The thrust stage and close

proximity to the actors mean that audience

members are constantly interacting with

each other or the actors via eye contact

or even direct address. The seating, the

acknowledgement of the existence of the

band, and the presentation of a shared

meal for the show’s attendees ground the

production in a sense of reality and allow

bonds to develop between actors and audience

members. These staging elements

create an overwhelming sense of intimacy

and community. Audiences are adopted

by what feels like a real community as

opposed to watching a theatrical spectacle

from an emotional and physical distance.

Involving audiences implicates them in

events of the play and encourages a personal

stake in the legal elements.

The 1955 film adaptation of Oklahoma!

shares very few staging similarities

to Daniel Fish’s revival during its last few

scenes. During a good-natured shivaree, 45

Jud returns to the farm and begins lighting

haystacks on fire, including the one

that Laurey and Curly are perched upon,

as he laughs manically. Curly acts quickly,

pushing Laurey off the haystack to safety

and then jumping off the haystack himself,

knocking Jud to the ground. 46 Once Curly

sits up, he realizes that Jud has fallen on his

own knife and is dead. 47 The men encircle

Curly and Jud, attempting to help any

way they can and rushing to bring Jud to

a doctor. 48 The trial then occurs, and the

entire community piles into Aunt Eller and

Laurey’s modest dining room. This creates

a claustrophobic, frenetic stage picture as

the cast huddles around the table where

Judge Carnes is sitting to shout, laugh,

and interject their personal biases. 49 The

blocking of these scenes emphasizes Jud’s

culpability, as he instigates a life-threatening,

overwhelming event in which Curly is

forced to respond instinctively. Curly’s actions

are rational given the circumstances

and would not have resulted in death had

Jud not been holding a knife. The community

witnessed this event, so the trial does

not hold significance, as they had already

decided that Curly would receive the “not

44 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:21:56.

45 A noisy mock serenade for newlyweds.

46 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:19:54.

47 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:20:12.

48 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:20:26.

49 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:21:38.

101


“The power struggle between the Black and white

members of the ensemble and the eventual silencing of

the people of color ‘others’ them collectively.”

guilty” verdict. Additionally, community

members made their best effort to save Jud,

getting him immediately to the doctor. No

one in the community feels responsibility

for the death of Jud, so Curly’s trial is not

treated as a weighty event in the film.

The staging decisions made by Daniel

Fish in the final scene of Oklahoma! inform

the production’s representation of the law.

The scene begins with the introduction of

Curly and Laurey as a married couple, and

the raucous celebration immediately falls

silent when Jud enters, announcing that

he’s “got a present for the groom, but first

[he] wants to kiss the bride.” He then slowly

crosses the stage to tenderly kiss Laurey

while a single tear falls down his cheek.

After crossing back to stand face to face

with Curly, Jud unwraps the box and drops

it to the ground to reveal a pistol, which he

loads and places in Curly’s hand. For a few

moments, the men remain in this intimate

position, with Jud’s hand wrapped around

the wrist that Curly is using to hold the

weapon, gently petting him with his thumb

and tearfully staring into Curly’s blank,

hardened eyes. Anticipating an altercation,

Laurey disrupts the stillness of the scene

by hurriedly crossing to stand between

Curly and Jud, acting as a human shield,

standing equidistant from both men. This

instinctual fear and urgency dissolves into

thoughtful indecision as she looks back and

forth between these two men. Eventually,

she walks to Curly’s side, clinging on to his

arm. Jud absorbs her decision and begins

to take a deliberate step forward, both towards

the newly married couple and the

exit that is positioned behind them. Curly

immediately and unflinchingly raises his

arm and shoots Jud with the gun that was

his wedding gift. This staging allows the

audience and the majority of the cast to

witness Curly murdering Jud unnecessarily,

humanizes Jud by exhibiting his inner

turmoil, and emphasizes the indecision

Laurey feels about aligning herself with the

community or the “othered” individuals.

After the gun goes off, Curly and

Laurey are left covered in blood, while Jud

stands there staring at them. This stage

picture is held in extended silence, and no

effort to feign death or injury is made by the

actor who portrays Jud. Finally, the ensemble

begins quietly asking questions about

what happened and if Jud is alive. After a

few more seconds of stillness, Jud walks

around Laurey and Curly, making eye contact

with the pair and laying down on his

back behind them. Laurey maintains eye

contact with Jud while Curly does not, as

his eyes are still trained straight ahead with

the same glazed look he had when he shot

Jud. Laurey quickly becomes distraught,

dropping Curly’s hand and running back to

Jud to kneel by his side. Curly then drops

to his knees and acknowledges the weapon

and the literal blood on his hands. However,

he ignores Jud’s body completely. Jud’s

body is not touched for the remainder of

the show. His body remaining on stage is a

physical reminder of the murder; yet, it is

not acknowledged by anyone but Laurey, as

Curly is only concerned about himself. Jud

is a dispensable “other,” and no one will miss

him. This blocking indicates that Laurey is

102


questioning her choice to align herself with

Curly and the community, abandoning her

individual autonomy as an “other.”

The blocking during Curly’s trial is

static, heightening the tension between the

characters on the stage. Laurey remains

stationary next to Jud’s body with her gaze

primarily trained on him, while Curly

stands behind and offsets the pair. The rest

of the ensemble remains lining the edges of

the stage. Notably, the three main players

in the trial are positioned in a triangular

configuration. Aunt Eller and Andrew

Carnes, the acting judge, are sitting next to

each other on one side of the stage, while

Cord Elam, the federal marshal, is sitting

positioned in between them on the other

edge of the stage, physically representing

the two-against-one power struggle. The

entire ensemble is abnormally still, and

when micro-movements are necessary, they

are done at an incredibly slow tempo. This

minimalism heightens the importance of the

trial, as it strips away all other distractions,

and audiences are forced to be complicit in

deliberate and obvious legal corruption.

The tone of the murder and trial

scenes in the 1955 film and Daniel Fish’s

revival is starkly different. In the film, Jud

is portrayed as deranged, and his attack on

Curly and Laurey is both unexpected and

immediately dangerous. The act of Curly

tackling Jud is a justified response to the

intensity of the situation and is not an

action that should have resulted in Jud’s

death. The film version frames Jud’s death

as his own fault, as he instigates a dangerous

situation and is brandishing a weapon

while no other characters are armed. The

ensuing trial is then viewed as a mere formality,

as the community believes, with

only Cord Elam weakly protesting, that the

vilified Jud is deserving of his fate. 50 Aunt

Eller and the rest of the ensemble push the

trial along as quickly as possible saying,

“C’mon, Andrew, and start the trial. We

ain’t got but a few minnits,” 51 and that they

need to “get the happy couple on the train

for the States” 52 in order to celebrate their

honeymoon. Aunt Eller makes jokes such

as, “Well, le’s not break the law. Le’s just

bend it a little,” 53 and the crowd rowdily

echoes her, undermining the severity and

procedures of the trial. No significance is

placed on the trial in the film, as it takes

place during the falling action and a vast

majority of the characters do not take it seriously.

The community’s collective moral

compass decides Curly’s fate as opposed to

the letter of the law. The film is not critical

of this disregard for the law, and it glamorizes

the lawlessness of the Territory. The

historical context of 1955 contributes to the

tone of these scenes, as America was eager

to legally condemn the “other” during the

Red Scare in order to protect itself from the

threat of communism and fortify the nation

from foreigners during the Cold War era. 54

Additionally, the civil rights movement

had just begun, and racial conflict was at the

forefront of the American consciousness. 55

Daniel Fish radically reimagines the

tone of the murder and trial scenes, and

as a result, he redefines Oklahoma!’s messaging.

Unlike the frantic, rushed tempo

in the film, Fish’s interpretation features

eerily slow and deliberate pacing. This departs

from the majority of the play, which

50 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:23:36

51 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:22:26.

52 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:23:42.

53 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:22:20.

54 Joseph Locke, John Wright, The American Yawp (Stanford University Press, 2020) chap. 25, 26, http://www.americanyawp.com/

index.html.

55 Ibid.

103


embraces a sense of realism that is not

often seen in other stagings of Oklahoma!.

Jud entering the stage during the wedding

celebration marks the abandonment of

realism, and this tonal shift draws focus

to the unique significance that this revival

places on the final scene. While the film

uses Jud’s final moments to emphasize his

villainy, Fish creates pathos for the character.

The rejection he has experienced from

Laurey specifically and the community as

a whole has not caused him to return for

revenge but instead to pitifully surrender

himself. Unlike in the film, Jud is portrayed

as a deeply wounded character that is not

an active threat to the community in this

scene. Curly’s lack of emotion tonally contrasts

with Jud’s tearful plea for his pain

to be recognized. Although Jud is moving

in the direction of the exit in a physically

non-threatening manner, the hardened

Curly shoots him. The action taken against

Jud is not portrayed as a de-escalation tactic

or self-defense, as in the film. Instead, it

implicates Curly as a murderer.

With the suggestion that Curly has

committed an unwarranted crime, Fish’s

trial shoulders a new significance, and

the tone of the revival reflects this shift.

No longer is the trial simply an obstacle

threatening a young couple’s honeymoon;

now it is a moment in time that can disrupt

the delicate balance of a volatile community

that is just barely maintaining peace

as statehood looms on the horizon. 56 The

social events of 2018 also color the tone

and interpretation of these scenes, as 2018

was a year in which powerful men such

as Judge Brett Kavanaugh and President

Donald Trump evaded the hand of the law

and “othered” immigrants were deported

by the legal system. 57 The bizarrely slow

tempo, extended moments of silence, and

almost completely static blocking is consistent

throughout the trial, and it gives

both the actors and the audience time and

stillness to understand both the severity of

the situation and the community’s criminal

complicacy as they use the law to excuse

murder. Curly abandons his cocky confidence,

suddenly appearing immature and

completely lost as he is guided through

his trial. Conversely, Aunt Eller emerges

as a powerful and threatening matriarch,

willing to cold-bloodedly manipulate the

law in order to best benefit her and her

loved ones. Lines that were delivered with

glib humor in the film, like “Well, le’s not

break the law. Le’s just bend it a little,” 58

and “You’ll feel funny when I tell yer wife

you’re carryin’ on ‘th another womern,

won’t you? [CORD ELAM: I ain’t carryin’

on ‘th no one.] Mebbe not, but you’ll shore

feel funny when I tell yer wife you air,” 59

become chilling threats. Similarly, Judge

Andrew Carnes’s tone is elevated from

abrasive to threatening in Fish’s revival,

as he barks at Federal Marshal Cord Elam

“Oh, shet yer trap. We can give the boy a

fair trial without lockin’ him up on your

weddin’ night!” 60 Carnes not only follows

suit with Aunt Eller’s intimidation tactics,

but also very clearly baits Curly into saying

just enough so that he can give the “not

guilty” verdict. While Carnes appears as

an impartial figure who is attempting to

maintain order and give Curly — who is

not familiar with the legal system — a fair

56 Altercations between the farmer, cowman, and peddler occur throughout the show, but the physical violence is contained until a

brawl takes place during “The Farmer and the Cowman.”

57 History.com Editors, “2018 Events,” History.com, December 6, 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/21st-century/2018-events.

58 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

104


Leaving the text largely untouched, [Fish]

completely reimagined the messaging, using

a play originally about the strength of idyllic

America to highlight systematic legal flaws that

existed at the conception of the nation and still

plague society today.

trial in the film, he is very clearly biased in

Fish’s adaptation. Carnes adopts a different

tone of voice when addressing Curly, as if

he were sternly speaking to a clueless child,

and he very deliberately steers the trial as

he teaches the younger, more foolish man

what to say. Aunt Eller and Judge Carnes

reveal themselves as corrupt community

leaders as they manipulate the law to protect

their community’s hero.

While the white members of the ensemble

unwaveringly support Aunt Eller

and Judge Carnes’s abuse of power, the

people of color in the cast express their displeasure

with the corruption they identify,

departing from the relative unity depicted

in the film. 61 Most notably, the Federal

Marshal Cord Elam’s weak protests have

deepened to resistant argumentation.

When Aunt Eller pushes a wavering Judge

Carnes to hold the trial in her home, where

she holds a position of authority, and “say

we did it in court,” Cord firmly protests. 62

He advocates for proper procedure, saying,

“’T wouldn’t be proper. You have to

do it in court. … We can’t do that. That’s

breaking the law. … Andrew — I got to

protest,” which culminates in Carnes om-

61 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:22:26.

62 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid.

inously telling him to “shet [his] trap,” and

continuing the trial without the Federal

Marshal’s blessing. 63 A tense power struggle

between the white and Black authority

figures reveals that the voice of the white

man is more powerful, and when Cord

“feels funny” about the plea of self-defense,

Aunt Eller ensures that this skewed power

dynamic remains by threatening to ruin his

marriage if he does not comply with their

rigged trial. 64 She even screams at Cord

aggressively, in an act of disrespect for

him and his authority, “Oh, shet up about

being a marshal! We ain’t goin’ to let you

send the boy to jail on his weddin’ night.

We just ain’t goin’ to let you. So shet up!” 65

When Carnes asks for witnesses of Curly’s

act of self-defense, the white ensemble

members respond hurriedly and earnestly

that they saw it happen. However, Mike,

the only person of color asked to testify,

derisively says, after breaking the rhythm

of responses, “self-defense all right.” 66

Mike ultimately conforms to communal

pressures, but he subtextually communicates

that he does not believe that justice

is being served. Ali Hakim remains silent

and continues his journey of assimilation. 67

105


While the community is engrossed in the

trial, Laurey is the only person, Black or

white, that shows any emotion towards

Jud’s body or grief towards his death. No

one speaks for Jud at this trial, alluding to

historical instances when white men could

kill Black men with impunity. 68

The responses of various racial

groups towards Jud’s death and Curly’s trial

reveals the production’s messaging about

the law’s relationship to the “other.” Historically,

Black people inhabited the Oklahoma

Territory at this point in time, living

in their own self-sufficient communities. 69

Despite their independence, the citizens

of these settlements still experienced extensive

racism. 70 This historical reality is

mirrored by the way that people of color

function within the trial scene. The Black

individuals are all pushing for an impartial

trial that follows proper legal procedure,

only to be screamed at or dismissed by the

white community leaders. As with their

historical counterparts, the people of color

are simply trying to lead a just life. Their

refusal to assimilate into this community

and its morals, like Ali Hakim has, inspires

a violent backlash from the other characters.

Just as the all-Black, well-established

settlements threatened the rest of the historical

Territory, the white characters in

Oklahoma are disturbed by the independence

and strength of the people of color.

Even after removing the racialized threat

of Jud’s existence, the community still

experiences unrest. The power struggle

between the Black and white members of

the ensemble and the eventual silencing of

68 Most, “‘We Know We Belong to the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” 84.

69 Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory.”

70 Adams, “Africanizing the Territory: The History, Memory and Contemporary Imagination of Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory,” 11-15.

71 Leslie Hewes, “Making a Pioneer Landscape in the Oklahoma Territory,” Geographical Review 86, no. 4 (1996): 588-603.

doi:10.2307/215934.; W. Edward Rolison “Murder in Custer County: A Case Study and Legal Analysis of Herd Law vs. Free Range

in Oklahoma Territory,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 90 no. 3 (2012): 260-285.; Orben J. Casy “Governor Lee Cruce and Law Enforcethe

people of color “others” them collectively.

The community is defined by the

white matriarch — Aunt Eller — and how

she manipulates the law to protect the individuals

that conform to her idea of what

the Territory should be. The outsider Jud

and the individuals who fought for legal

justice are all racialized characters that are

ultimately not protected by the law, just as

the all-Black settlements were not protected

by the law. As a biracial woman, Laurey

straddles the racial divide presented in the

trial scene. She and her husband benefit

from the protection of Aunt Eller and the

rest of the community’s support, but she

understands the injustice that has befallen

Jud. While she is eager for Curly to receive

his “not guilty” verdict, Laurey also spends

the final scenes kneeling next to Jud and

crying over his body. She participates in

the systematic legal corruption but has

sympathy for the “othered” community to

which she inherently belongs.

Historically, the territory of Oklahoma

had difficulties embracing the legal

reformations that came with the transition

to statehood. Hewes describes how the

common man, not just the elite, began attaching

himself to the pioneer landscape in

Oklahoma during the 1890s. The territory

soon fell into lawlessness, drunkenness,

and violence due to legal ineffectiveness;

the analysis of legal disputes reveals that

herd and free range laws were unclear,

and law enforcement was inconsistent

and biased, specifically when enforcing

laws concerning prohibition, gambling,

and violence during the early 1900s. 71

106


Law enforcement officials routinely broke

these laws and looked the other way when

their friends wanted to participate in illicit

activities. 72 Creel further details this legal

ineffectiveness, as he noted that the new

state struggled to keep a murderer in jail

that had been convicted when Oklahoma

was a territory. 73 Dale claims that during

the years 1900-1936, the United States

attempted to control popular justice by

professionalizing policing and adapting the

criminal justice procedure to increase the

number of fair trails, but that these federal

and state-level changes had not yet reached

Oklahoma in the first decade of the century.

74 Before and during its transition from

territory to state, Oklahoma was a place

composed of often corrupt quasi-legal

figures that served the interests of the

immediate community, not the larger legal

system. The manipulation of the law that

occurs in Oklahoma! is not an invention

of Rogers and Hammerstein; rather, it is

rooted in a documented historical reality.

Despite the radically different representations

of the law that Daniel Fish’s

Oklahoma! and the 1955 film portray, there

are very few discrepancies in the scripts,

especially in the murder and trial scenes. In

fact, most of the lines are translated wordfor-word

from the stage to the screen, and

Fish chooses to embrace this text mostly

as it was written. Any mentions of the

shiveree, the knife, and the fire are cut for

continuity in Fish’s version, as those events

and props are not used in his staging. Additionally,

Jud does not get an opportunity

to kiss Laurey in the film due to staging

“The manipulation

of the law

that occurs in

Oklahoma! is

not an invention

of Rogers and

Hammerstein;

rather, it is rooted

in a documented

historical reality.”

limitations, so he says “I didn’t get to kiss

the bride” instead, and there is an additional

threat made to Cord Elam made during

the trial scene, as he is told, “If we get to be

a state we gunna elect ourselves a sheriff.

If you don’t keep your mouth shut, ain’t

nobody gonna vote for yuh.” 75 The lack of

significant script alterations highlights the

weight of the directorial choices made by

Fish. Leaving the text largely untouched,

he completely reimagined the messaging,

using a play originally about the strength

of idyllic America to highlight systematic

legal flaws that existed at the conception of

the nation and still plague society today. In

between Jud’s death and Curly’s trial, Aunt

Eller comforts Laurey and tells her,

‘At’s all right, Laurey baby. If you cain’t

fergit, jist don’t try to, honey. Oh, lots of

ment in Oklahoma, 1911-1915” Chronicles of Oklahoma 54 no. 4 (1976): 435-460.

71 Casy, “Governor Lee Cruce and Law Enforcement in Oklahoma, 1911-1915,”435-460.

Casy, “Governor Lee Cruce and Law Enforcement in Oklahoma, 1911-1915,”435-460.

73 Von Russel Creel, “Vignette,” Oklahoma City University Law Review 29, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 441-448.

74 Elizabeth Dale, Criminal Justice in the United States, 1789-1939 (New Histories of American Law. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge

University Press, 2011), 97-121.

75 Zinnemann, Oklahoma!, 2:23:34

107


things happen to folks. Sickness, er bein’

pore and hungry even-bein’ old and

afeared to die. That’s the way it is-cradle

to grave. And you can stand it. They’s

one way. You gotta be hearty, you got

to be. You cain’t deserve the sweet and

tender in life less’n you’re tough. 76

In Fish’s revival, a single word is

changed, as Aunt Eller says “lots of things

happen, folks,” and the direct address of the

audience causes the monologue to shoulder

a much stronger significance. No longer is

this speech a simple source of comfort for

her niece; now it is a proclamation of her

intense ideology to the larger community.

Each audience member is directly implicat-

ed as the impassioned Aunt Eller justifies

the legal corruption she will instigate in

the following scene and perpetuates the

concept of the mythological “American

Dream” — that those who work hard and

weather the storm can achieve whatever

they set their minds to in the budding

nation, and those who do not achieve

success do not deserve it. During the trial

scene, Aunt Eller protects her family and

treats those who she perceives as threats

abusively, effectively expelling them from

her community. This quote itself, as well as

the act of altering it, perfectly signifies the

messaging and intentions in this reimagined

Oklahoma!. ■

76 The Musical Lyrics, “Oklahoma! Musical Script.”

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Billie Joe Armstrong, and Singing in

Her Underwear.” The Wall Street Journal,

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the Territory: The History, Memory

and Contemporary Imagination of

Black Frontier Settlements in the

Oklahoma Territory.” PhD diss.,

University of Massachusetts Amherst,

2010.

Bond, Randall Ives. “Still Dreaming

of Paradise: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s

Oklahoma!, South Pacific,

and Postwar America.” PhD diss.,

Syracuse University, 1996.

Boss, A. G.. “(Un)Related Purposes:

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the Land’: The Theatricality of Assimilation

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Analysis of Herd Law vs. Free Range

in Oklahoma Territory.” Chronicles of

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109


by Joy Zhao

Ryan Serrano is a graduate student in

the Department of Slavic Languages and

Literatures. He is in the final year of his Ph.D.

studies and is finalizing his dissertation.

Serrano is a teaching assistant for “Introduction

to Russian Literature,” which is taught by

Professor Gary Morson, and “Economics

and the Humanities: Understanding Choice,”

which is co-taught by Morson and Economics

Professor Morton Schapiro.

[This interview has been edited for brevity

and clarity.]

110


Tell us about your path from your undergraduate studies to where

you are today.

I was an undergraduate at Princeton University and planned to pursue

mathematics. Before having to declare my major, I realized that, despite my

interest, it wasn’t what I wanted for my future. So, I looked at the classes that I’d

enjoyed most [up] to that point, computer science and Russian literature. After

taking another one in each area, I decided to major in Russian literature and minor

in computer science. After graduating, I took a year off and gained some real-life

experiences by working various jobs. I chose to attend Northwestern University for

graduate school primarily because of its location, reputation, and the faculty I met

during the process.

What drew you to Russian literature?

At the time, I had a hard time accepting that I wasn’t going to be a mathematics

major, something that defined my identity and interests for a long time. In that

emotional time, Russian literature felt important to my growth as a person. There

was a depth and urgency in the way it addressed the big questions of life that I

hadn’t seen elsewhere. I was also lucky enough to take a class with the incredible

Caryl Emerson, whose enthusiasm for the subject was infectious. Since I was

learning Russian as a second language at the time, I thought, If the English translations of

these books are this incredible, imagine reading them in the original Russian!

Do you have a favorite Russian novel?

Yes, “Petersburg” by Andrei Bely. I was immediately drawn to it because it didn’t

feel like anything I’d ever read before. It presents a unique take on the city of

Petersburg and incorporates famous works of Russian literature, like Pushkin’s

“Bronze Horseman.” There are also some really weird moments. For example, one

character’s thoughts escape from his brain and become another character. The book

also has an oddly mathematical feel at times, which of course I love. I wrote my junior

paper at Princeton on “Petersburg,” and it was the writing sample I ended up submitting

in my Northwestern graduate school application. I could reread it endlessly.

What does being a graduate student look like?

At each stage, it looks very different. The first and second years are pretty similar

to being an undergraduate. Once the teaching requirement starts, you have to

take on an authoritative role while continuing with your own learning, so that’s

certainly an interesting balance. When you are done with your classes and the

qualifying exam, the challenges become totally different as you start writing your

dissertation, which is a massive project that you work on for years. While writing

the dissertation is your main focus during this time, you also attend conferences,

submit publications, and teach along the way.

111


“With everything that’s been happening

in the world, I really wanted to work

on something that feels important and

relevant to the world at large.”

Was it easy for you to choose the topic for your dissertation?

Not at all! It’s really difficult to choose a topic that you will work on for several

years. I actually started with a very different idea and completely switched gears to

my current topic, which focuses more on close reading and literary analysis. It took me

several years to settle on my topic, and I spent another year revising my main thesis.

What is your thesis for your dissertation?

I’m proposing something that I call “prison of performance,” a category of

characters whose self-performance causes moral problems for them. We all take

on roles to some extent when we interact with others. My argument is that there

are people who play roles so often that playing them becomes second nature;

eventually, these roles invade their inner consciousness, and the individual becomes

an audience to their own behavior. They lose control of their own choices, and this

causes moral problems. In the different chapters, I apply my idea to superfluous

men (a literary type), Dostoyevskian characters, and modern social media culture.

Essentially, social media is a constant performance, and I draw conclusions about

potential moral problems that we could fall into. With everything that’s been

happening in the world, I really wanted to work on something that feels important

and relevant to the world at large.

Looking back, what is your proudest moment?

In 2016, I successfully defended my master’s thesis on Valentin Rasputin’s “Farewell

to Matyora” and Venedikt Erofeev’s “Moscow-Petushki.” There were moments

along the way when it felt like I would not ever finish it, but with help from a few

of my professors, I managed to produce something that I think was meaningful. It

was definitely a highlight!

If you could give some advice to graduate students, what would it be?

The biggest thing I would say is to be your own advocate in terms of pursuing

opportunities and getting what you want out of the program. Compared to

undergraduate studies, you have to take a lot more initiative and ownership in

terms of meeting deadlines, getting the most out of your classes, and applying for

fellowships. It’s important to not wait around for opportunities to arrive, but to

actively look for things to deepen your experience.

112


Did you experience any challenges along the way?

Definitely! Every graduate student I know has questioned whether they belong in

graduate school. It can be a challenge to stay upbeat and to focus on getting what

you want out of the program. For a while, I had a hard time with the feeling that

I always could be doing more, since there is no rigid division between when you

should work and when you can relax like in a traditional 9-to-5 job. It can be very

stressful! I had to come up with better systems for apportioning my time for the

sake of my own mental health. I also originally had a vision of graduate school

that was kind of naive; I thought it would be a magical place where everyone is

only occupied with intellectual pursuit. But a lot of it is not like that, so I think it’s

important to be realistic and treat it like any other career path.

How has being a teaching assistant (TA) changed your perspective?

Originally, I considered my TA duties as a requirement that I had to check off. But

now, my TA duties have become the most rewarding part of my day. I really enjoy

running discussion sections, interacting with students, and even grading (to an

extent). I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do, and I honestly value it even more

than my own scholarship. After all, only so many people will read my dissertation,

but I can reach so many students and hopefully make a positive impact on their lives.

What are your plans after graduating from graduate school?

Originally, my goal was to become a professor, and I could still see myself teaching

eventually. However, I would not be surprised if I end up outside of academia for

the immediate future. For now, I’m focusing on finishing my dissertation and will

take a few months off afterward to figure out the next step.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in

graduate school?

My first piece of advice would be to take some time off after graduating so you

don’t spend 10+ years straight in school and burn out. Real-life experiences are

important! My second piece of advice would be to make sure you really, really

love your field and aren’t just going to graduate school because it seems like the

“obvious” next step. ■

113


Department ‌of‌ ‌Performance‌ ‌Studies‌

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Joshua Chambers-Letson, Ph.D. ‌

‌Department of ‌Art‌ ‌History

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Rebecca Zorach, Ph.D.

Knowledge‌ ‌and‌ ‌Wonder’s‌

‌Place,‌ ‌Policy,‌ ‌and‌ ‌Publics:‌

Kerry‌ ‌James‌ ‌Marshall‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌Henry‌ ‌E.‌

‌Legler‌ ‌Library’s‌ ‌Percent-for-Art‌ ‌Commission‌ ‌

by Meghan‌ ‌Clare‌ ‌Considine‌

Abstract

Despite its unique position within Kerry James Marshall’s (b. 1955) celebrated

body of work, the public mural Knowledge and Wonder (1995) has received little

scholarly attention to date. It was loaned for exhibition only once and was

featured in just a brief footnote in the artist’s now-definitive 2016 monograph

before it was embroiled in controversy in October 2018, when then-Chicago

mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to sell the work as a municipal asset at

auction, resulting in major media coverage and widespread public outcry.

By tracing a longer history of the work, or what theorist Arjun Appadurai

would name the “social life” of Knowledge and Wonder, I argue that this mural

is resoundingly site-specific, responding to the unique space and history of

the Henry E. Legler Regional Library. By elaborating on the history of this

library and its surrounding community of West Garfield Park, collecting and

synthesizing oral histories from key participants in the commission, and critically

engaging the logics of the 2016 exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, I

attempt to fill a lacuna in discourse surrounding the artist’s practice, which is

typically discussed in relation to the scopic regimes of whiteness within Western

art history as a disciplinary formation and the complicity of museums in

shaping that canon. Ultimately, I endeavor to demonstrate that Knowledge and

Wonder presents a formal anomaly within Marshall’s broader body of work,

one that can be accounted for by the fact that it was forged within a network

of relations for a specific community, not a museum industrial complex comprised

of galleries, collectors, curators, and other institutional actors. This

mural’s eventual confiscation from West Garfield Park marks a particular, and

perhaps irreparable, violence in that it emblematizes the exploitation of Black

labor and extraction of value from Black communities that is, and has been, a

constant feature of American life.

114


This mural’s eventual confiscation from West

Garfield Park marks a particular, and perhaps

irreparable, violence in that it emblematizes the

exploitation of Black labor and extraction of value

from Black communities that is, and has been, a

constant feature of American life.

Introduction

Seventeen enraptured Black figures plant

themselves upon a checkered precipice.

This intergenerational group, composed

predominantly of children, stands with

their backs to the viewer in varying states

of curiosity, shyness, and sheer awe. Heads

are cocked, hands are held, and arms are

crossed. This assembled collective bears

witness to three larger-than-life-sized

books: A Big Book of Knowledge, The Golden

Book of Wonder, and The Wonderful Book of

If. These texts are overlaid and intersected

with astrological phenomena: stars, comets,

planets, and constellations. Toward

the left of the canvas a terrific solar eclipse

casts its beams far and wide. Creatures of

the imagination then come to the fore: a

pink and red dragon with delicate white

spots, and the strong blue arms of a hero

whose fist is limned with gold. One of

their number rockets off to the stars in what

appears to be a flying saucer (Figure 1).

Unabashedly stylized instances of

dripping paint soon make it clear to the

viewer that this all-encompassing scene is

indeed just a painting, and the hypothetical

viewer is whisked back into reality. Kerry

James Marshall’s 10- by 23-foot mural

Knowledge and Wonder was commissioned

in 1993 specifically for a public library on

Chicago’s West Side, the Henry E. Legler

Library in West Garfield Park (hereafter

referred to as the Legler). For nearly 25

years, the mural, installed in 1995, activated

an entire wall on the library’s second floor

(Figure 2), flanking the children’s section

S Figure 1. Kerry James Marshall, Knowledge and Wonder, 1995. Acrylic on

paper and canvas, 10 feet by 23 feet. Henry E. Legler Regional Library,

Chicago, Illinois. Photo provided by the City of Chicago for the New York

Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/arts/design/ kerry jamesmarshall-painting-chicago-proposed-auction.html

115


W Figure 2. Kerry James Marshall, Knowledge

and Wonder, 1995. Acrylic on paper and

canvas, 10 feet by 23 feet. Henry E. Legler

Regional Library, Chicago, Illinois. Photo

by Nathan Mason posted to Facebook 4

January 2018.

X Figure 3. Elizabeth Catlett, Floating

Family, 1995. View from entryway. Carved

primavera wood, dimensions unknown.

Henry E. Legler Regional Library, Chicago,

Illinois. Photo by Nathan Mason posted to

Facebook 4 January 2018.

and crowning a suspended sculpture by the

renowned artist Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915)

entitled Floating Family (1995) (Figure

3). Located at the apex of a grand marble

staircase, the mural, its monumental scale

coupled with its formal lavishness, lends

majesty to the quotidian act of a trip to the

local library, interpellating the presumed

viewer, a Black child, in meaningful ways.

One can recognize a Marshall canvas

from across the room. Throughout his

celebrated career, the artist’s use of highly

saturated and literally black pigments for

the skin of Black subjects, coupled with

an extensive repertoire of identifiable art

historical signifiers, has allowed a resounding

narrative of his practice to emerge:

Marshall’s body of work, particularly his

figurative painting, is consistently framed

as an intervention in redressing the scopic

regimes of whiteness within Western art

history itself, or as the artist himself has

suggested, “an argument for something

else.” 1 Marshall confronts his audiences

with the Black body’s systemic absence

from the transhistorical genre scenes made

familiar by the institutional authority of

the museum’s white walls, a confrontation

that is made formally legible by the majority

of figures across his oeuvre who look

out beyond the picture plane, locking their

eyes with the viewer.

The 17 figures in Knowledge and Wonder,

however, with their backs turned to

1 Kerry James Marshall, “An Argument for Something Else: Dieter Roelstraete in Conversation with Kerry James Marshall, Chicago,

2012,” in Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, exh. cat., ed. Nav Haq (Antwerp: Ludion, 2014), 28.

116


the picture plane, do not bear the burden of

such a confrontation. Rather, they invite a

viewer who is not necessarily presumed to

possess any preexisting art historical lexicon

to congregate and imagine. The formal

qualities of the mural and the historical

factors that ultimately led to its commission

and installation at the Legler, I argue,

render Knowledge and Wonder as singular

and resoundingly site-specific within the

artist’s broader body of work.

The artworks at the Legler have received

scant scholarly attention to date.

This is surprising for a city known for its

rich and widely touted history of public

art, from Pablo Picasso’s untitled sculpture

in Daley Plaza (1967) (Figure 4), to

Bronzeville’s 1967 Wall of Respect (Figure

5), which was created by the Organization

of Black American Culture (OBAC) and

sparked a nationwide community mural

movement. More contemporary icons such

as Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (2006), colloquially

referred to as “The Bean,” in Millennium

Park (Figure 6) have crystallized

the city’s reputation for public artwork,

and the city’s Department of Cultural Af-

fairs and Special Events even declared 2017

as the “Year of Public Art.” 2

My research endeavors to broaden the

scope of scholarly and civic engagement

with the mural to relay a longer history of

the object, or what Arjun Appadurai might

name its broader “social life.” 3 Dominant

accounts of Knowledge and Wonder

emphasize its unfortunate (though others

might argue inevitable) fate: its sudden

removal in October 2018, when then-mayor

Rahm Emanuel announced his intention

to sell the mural as a municipal asset at

auction for an estimated $10–$15 million,

proposing to use the revenue to restore the

library’s former status as a regional branch,

of which it had been stripped in 1977. This

rash decision was thankfully reversed due

to sustained public outcry and is further

detailed in the complete thesis, where I

argue it was emblematic of a tendency

scholars Lawrence Bobo, James R. Kluegel,

and Ryan A. Smith have called “laissezfaire

racism.” 4

In this project, I map out the space of

the Legler and its surrounding community,

emphasizing how the realm of the aesthet-

W Figure 4. Pablo Picasso, Untitled

(“The Chicago Picasso”), 1967.

Welded steel, 50 feet tall. Richard J.

Daley Center Plaza, Chicago, IL.

2 One of the many celebrations of the year was the installation of a new large-scale public mural by Marshall on the facade of the

Chicago Cultural Center. Marshall accepted a single dollar as compensation for the project, entitled Rushmore (2017).

3 Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1986),3.

4 Lawrence, Bobo, et. al. “Laissez-Faire Racism: The Crystallization of a Kinder, Gentler, Antiblack Ideology.” In Racial Attitudes in

the 1990s: Continuity and Change, ed. Steven A. Tuch and Jack K. Martin, 17.

117


S Figure 5. Visual Arts Workshop of the

Organization of Black American Culture

(OBAC), Wall of Respect, 1967–1971. Paint

on Masonry, dimensions unknown. 43rd

Street and Langley Avenue, Chicago, IL.

Photography by Robert A. Sengstacke: Image

courtesy of LUNA, University of Chicago.

ic works toward resisting dominant and

racist accounts of deprivation and decay.

Further, I explore how this particular mural

might fall outside of the logic and assumptions

of the celebrated 2016 traveling

exhibition, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.

Ultimately, I endeavor to demonstrate that

Knowledge and Wonder presents a formal

anomaly within Marshall’s broader body

of work, one that I argue can be accounted

for by the fact that it was forged within a

network of relations for a specific community,

not a museum industrial complex

comprised of galleries, collectors, curators,

and other institutional actors. This mural’s

eventual confiscation from West Garfield

Park marks a particular, and perhaps irreparable,

violence in that it emblematizes the

exploitation of Black labor and extraction

of value from Black communities that is

and has been a constant feature of American

life. In what follows, I reconstruct the

story of the commission on the basis of oral

S Figure 6. Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2006.

Stainless steel, 33 feet × 42 feet × 66 feet.

Millennium Park, Chicago, IL.

histories with key participants, emphasizing

the informal artistic networks within

Black cultural life in Chicago and beyond.

A Historic Commission

The library in question was closed entirely

for nearly two years prior to its rededication

on July 31, 1993. In sociologist Eve

L. Ewing’s recent ethnographic research

on Chicago Public School closings under

Emanuel’s administration, she introduces

the concept of “institutional mourning.”

I apply this hermeneutic to the site of the

Legler library to emphasize the gravity of

slowly, then suddenly, losing a community

gathering space and sanctuary such as a

local library existing under increasingly

precarious conditions. Defined by Ewing

as the “social and emotional experience

undergone by individuals and communities

facing the loss of a shared institution

… especially when those individuals or

communities occupy a socially marginalized

status that amplifies their reliance on

the institution or its significance in their

lives,” 5 this definition resonates with the

Legler’s precarious history. Although the

voices of many library users are woefully

obfuscated in contemporaneous news

5 Eve L. Ewing, Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

2018), 127.

118


“In an increasingly

privatized public

sphere, considering

public art and

its dynamic

relationships with

site, space, the law,

and constituents,

offers opportunity

to reflect upon

democratic ideals

themselves.”

accounts, we can infer that decreased

resources, the threat of complete obliteration,

and an eventual two-year closure not

only came with such institutional mourning,

but that the artists Marshall and

Catlett likely felt it imperative to recognize

and celebrate the stakes of the reopening

through their respective commissions.

A question that might arise after

considering the history of the Legler is:

How did a mural and a sculpture by two

renowned artists find their way into a

so-called “blighted landscape”? 6 One reason

attending to public art is important is

that it allows a rethinking of conventional

frameworks of value and ownership. For

art historian Rosalyn Deutsche, public

space itself is the corollary of democracy. 7

In an increasingly privatized public sphere,

considering public art and its dynamic relationships

with site, space, the law, and

constituents, offers opportunity to reflect

upon democratic ideals themselves. With

Catlett and Marshall having works in the

collections of major museums around

the world, typically flanked by the likes

of guards and glass and security alarms,

their unassuming presence in a West Side

public library presents a remarkable story.

In retelling it, depending largely on oral

histories I conducted in the fall of 2019, I

endeavor to position these works not as

the commodities the museum industrial

complex might frame them as, but rather

instead as a result of sustained, careful

engagement with the site, exemplifying an

informal but nonetheless rich gift economy

between Black artists in Chicago, and

indeed beyond.

Before delving into the relationships

between historical actors, however, it is

prudent to outline the municipal policy

that enabled this commission. While many

details behind the Legler commission have

eluded the archive, the fact that the project

was funded by the city’s Percent-for-Art

Ordinance is widely known. In fact, most

objects in the municipal collection on view

throughout the Chicago Public Library

system (that are not products of earlier

Depression-era Works Progress Admin-

6 Amanda I. Seligman, Block by Block: Neighborhoods and Public Policy on Chicago’s West Side (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

2005), 41. Seligman highlights the fact that this term is borrowed from the study of ecology, blight representing “a physical decay

with organic qualities … a blighted structure had the potential to infect nearby properties with its decay, thereby threatening the

vitality of the surrounding neighborhood.” The term “blight,” along with ideas such as urban decay, came into mainstream use in

the 1960s, when West Garfield Park’s Black population grew from 15.79% to 96.83% Black, and 83.65% to 2.82% white. The term

is, of course, racially coded. It is perhaps worth additionally noting that the 1999 Northwestern University department of History

PhD dissertation that germinated this book was titled Block by Block: Racing Decay on Chicago’s West Side, 1948–1968, (emphasis my

own). Amid these dominant accounts of decay, cultural production such as Knowledge and Wonder, Compensation, and Floating Family

presents an image of flourishing germination.

7 Rosalyn Deutsche, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 1996), 274.

119


istration cultural projects) arrived by way

of this particular ordinance. In 1978, the

Chicago City Council unanimously approved

the Percent-for-Art Ordinance,

which stipulates that 1.33% of the cost of

constructing or renovating a public space

or municipal building be reserved for the

purchase or commission of artworks. 8 One

half of these funds must be reserved for

local artists; Marshall had lived in Chicago

since 1987, 9 and although Catlett was by this

time based in Mexico, she had social ties to

Chicago; she graduated from the School of

the Art Institute in 1941 and ran in the same

South Side cultural circles as the founder of

the DuSable Museum (and skilled artist in

her own right), Margaret Burroughs. 10

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s,

federal agencies like the General Services

Administration, the National Endowment

for the Arts, and states and cities across

the country began advocating for the

purchase and commission of public artworks,

11 which notably followed on the

heels of countercultural community art

movements sparked by the OBAC’s Wall of

Respect (1967) in Bronzeville on Chicago’s

South Side. According to Miwon Kwon,

the leading theorist on the problem of

site-specificity in contemporary artistic

practice, the aim of this sort of codified

public art policy and legislation was to

“promote the aesthetic edification of the

American public and to beautify the urban

environment.” 12 While the intent of such

an ordinance, to increase exposure to the

arts to the greater populace, is undoubtedly

democratic, there is a degree of condescen-

sion inherent to this formulation. Present,

too, is a problematic assumption that the

“public” is a homogenous body in sore need

of moral and intellectual improvement, and

that the “urban environment” is inherently

ugly, as opposed to a landscape reflecting

structural inequities that disproportionately

allocate and concentrate resources,

including green spaces and cultural institutions,

in predominantly white and affluent

downtown areas that generate revenue as

tourist destinations.

When Emanuel proposed the sale of

Marshall’s mural in October 2018, he ignited

a deluge of media coverage and public

outcry around the mural. None of that

attention addressed the piece as a pendant

to the as-striking Catlett sculpture, and

none of the coverage addressed the mechanisms

and matrices of relationships that

led to the commission of these works at

all. Many people experience public art as a

permanent feature of the urban landscape.

Retelling the story of this commission

and foregrounding the human actors who

facilitated the Percent-for-Art commission

offers insight instead into a dynamic

unfolding in time and space marked by a

series of contingencies and relationalities.

Downtown Chicago’s Harold Washington

Library, which happens to be home

to dozens of public artworks whose origins

can be traced to the aforementioned ordinance,

houses an impressive archive of

Marshall-related ephemera in its collection

of “artist files.” In Marshall’s file, one can

find news clipping after news clipping on

his exhibitions, his rising fame, and his

8 City Council of the City of Chicago, “City of Chicago Percent-for-Art Ordinance,” accessed 25 April 2020. https://www.chicago.

gov/city/en/depts/dca/auto_generated/public_art_program_ publandreports/new_art_on _pink_line.html

9 Jason Farago, “Kerry James Marshall Paints for Chicago. His Mural Should Stay There,” New York Times, October 5, 2018. https://

www.nytimes.com/2018/10/05/arts/design/kerry-james-marshall-painting-chicago-proposed-auction.html

10 Bertrand D. Phillips, phone interview with author, December 5, 2019.

11 Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2002),

56-99.

12 Kwon, One Place After Another, 64.

120


impressive grants and fellowships, but

a glaring lack of coverage regarding this

particular commission at the Legler. My

mistake was in looking for a front-page

story, when details regarding the Legler

appeared instead as a passing sentence in a

2003 Chicago Magazine article. The curator

Hamza Walker, who was then working at

the Renaissance Society in Hyde Park, was

asked to provide some brief commentary

on Marshall’s practice. To contextualize

their relationship, the author of the profile

wrote, “[Walker] helped Marshall get

a commission for a mural in the Legler

Branch Library on the West Side.” 13 When

I contacted Walker for an interview, he

expressed surprise that public information

regarding the commission was so sparse,

and acute frustration that no one had contacted

him for commentary in the immediate

aftermath of the proposed sale.

At the time of the Legler renovation,

Walker was only a recent graduate from

the University of Chicago’s undergraduate

art history program. He was working his

first post-graduate job as the public art

coordinator in the city’s Public Art Program

(PAP). While more senior PAP staff

members including curators Mike Lash

and Steve Mitchell were busy assembling

a public art collection with the significant

Percent-for-Art funds that were generated

by, as it happens, the new Harold Washington

Library which had opened in 1991,

the young Walker was left to work independently

without significant oversight or

conventional bureaucratic hurdles. He assembled

acquisitions and organized commissions

for smaller local branch libraries

predominantly on the South and West

Sides, gaining significant curatorial skills,

instincts, and contacts in the process. His

final project before taking a job back in

Hyde Park at the Renaissance Society was

the Legler commission. 14

After being closed for construction

for two years as a result of Bethel New

Life (a West Side community organization

still active today)’s dedicated lobbying, the

newly renovated Legler reopened in 1993,

leaving $20,000 for a Percent-for-Art

commission or acquisition. Walker and

Marshall were personal friends; Walker

had been a major advocate for the artist

when he was getting started in Chicago in

the late 1980s, where he had moved after

completing a fellowship at the Studio Museum

in Harlem to be closer to the family

of his wife, the actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce.

Notably, Walker was also aware, though

the information had not yet been publicly

announced, that Marshall had been selected

to participate in the 1997 iterations of both

Documenta (X) and the Whitney Biennial.

15 1997 would also prove to be the year

that Marshall was awarded the MacArthur

Foundation’s “Genius Grant.” The artist

was on the brink of becoming much busier,

and his work was about to become prohibitively

expensive for any municipality

to think of purchasing or commissioning.

Evidently resisting the language of market

speculation, however, Walker instead insisted

that he had so staunchly advocated

for Marshall to secure the commission because

he knew that Marshall had “always

dreamed of illustrating a children’s book.” 16

Walker recalls circumventing typical pro-

13 Mara Tapp, “Visible Man,” Chicago Magazine, October 2003, 136.

14 The city of Chicago has a vast collection of public artworks in its branch libraries, many of which were commissioned or

acquired by Hamza Walker early in his career, which further researchers might consider taking up. Take for example, the photographs

by Carrie Mae Weems at the Chicago Bee Branch Library in Bronzeville. Hamza Walker, personal interview with author,

October 31, 2019.

15 Hamza Walker, personal interview with author, October 31, 2019.

16 Ibid.

121


“The sustained composition, the view from behind, offers

young viewers an invitation into an assembly, positioning the

library itself as a platform for accessing the very wonder and

knowledge promised by the title of the mural.”

tocol by bringing the Project Advisory

Panel to Marshall’s studio in lieu of a formal

perusal of the city’s designated slide

registry. He even remembers, with some

fondness, forgoing his position’s designated

neutrality in the deliberation processes, for

example, by successfully convincing a community

member on the Project Advisory

Panel to reconsider her assumptions when

she expressed offense toward the artist’s

trademark hyper-concentrated rendering of

Black skin tones in his previous paintings. 17

Walker shared that one of the artist

representatives on the panel was Bertrand

(Bert) D. Phillips. In fact, in Phillips’ account

of the same selection process, Walker

remained a far more impartial facilitator,

instead electing to relay his emphatic preference

for Marshall in the privacy of Phillips’

car while hitching rides to and from

meetings and site visits. 18 By Phillips’ recollection,

which he admitted was blurry after

more than 20 years, the most vocal party in

group deliberations was not Walker at all,

but instead the other artist representative

on the panel, Thomas Skomski. 19 This representative

also happened to be the only

white person on the seven-person panel,

which always comprises two local artists,

three community representatives, a repre-

sentative from the library, and the public

art coordinator. Phillips recalled Skomski’s

relentless advocacy for the commission to

be awarded to an unnamed white artist, but

others felt it was imperative that Black artists

be selected to take on this commission

for a majority Black community. Skomski’s

inability to recognize the importance of

such a gesture led to significant tension

among the group, 20 and a frustrated Phillips

(who had the bold suggestion to write

to his acquaintance Elizabeth Catlett to

gauge her interest in the first place) 21 left

the project dissatisfied, never seeing the

completed Legler commission. 22

After receiving Phillips’ letter, Catlett

paid her own plane fare from Mexico to

come back to Chicago and conduct a site

visit at the Legler. 23 Clearly inspired by the

existing architecture of the building, she

elected to suspend her sculpture from the

ceiling so that those on the second floor

balcony near the Marshall mural might experience

the work from above, and those

entering through the front door or waiting

in line at the circulation desk could look up

at Floating Family. She signed her contract

on Jan. 26, 1994, and her sculpture was installed

on May 24, 1995. 24

Marshall signed his contract just be-

17 Ibid.

18 Bertrand D. Phillips, phone interview with author, December 5, 2019.

19 Skomski was not willing to provide a comment and did not recall his participation, but Department of Cultural Affairs and Special

Events records do confirm his participation. Thomas Skomski, email message to the author, January 5, 2020. Daniel Schulman,

email message to the author, February 20, 2020.

20 Bertrand D. Phillips, phone interview with author, December 5, 2019.

21 Ibid., and Hamza Walker (untitled presentation presented at the Department of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University

“Visiting Artist Talk,” October 31, 2019.

22 Bertrand D. Phillips, email message to the author, December 6, 2019.

23 Ibid.

24 Daniel Schulman, email message to the author, February 20, 2020.

122


S Figure 7. Kerry James Marshall, Knowledge and

Wonder Preparatory Sketch, 1995. 25 by 58 inches.

Photo by Daniel Schulman.

fore Catlett, on Dec. 3, 1993, and completed

the mural onsite at the library in 1995,

though archival documents relaying the

precise dates of the installation have since

been lost. 25 Although he was already preparing

for prestigious international exhibitions,

this local commission presented a

major opportunity in and of itself: it was to

be Marshall’s largest work in terms of size

and scale to date. At 10 by 23 feet, Walker

recalls Knowledge and Wonder being far too

wide to fit into Marshall’s cramped studio

space at 1325 S. Wabash Ave., so it was

instead to be painted at the library during

open daytime hours. 26 Imagining Marshall

completing this mural onsite not only

helps account for notable changes from

the initial study to the final mural, but

strengthens our understanding of the work

as a site-specific intervention dependent

not only on existing library architecture

and infrastructure, but an interpersonal relationality

contingent upon the moment of

bodily encounter, as well. Any adolescent

library-goer approaching the monumentality

of the mural’s all-encompassing scale

is invited into a visual field far larger than

S Figure 8. Kerry James Marshall, detail of

Knowledge and Wonder, 1995. Acrylic on paper

and canvas, 10 feet by 23 feet. Henry E. Legler

Regional Library, Chicago, Illinois. Photo

provided by the City of Chicago for the New York

Times.

themselves, absorbed into the same collective

enrapture as the 17 pictured figures.

Indeed, the mural’s original accompanying

didactic text notes that Marshall expressed

a desire that young library patrons might

literally “become a part of [the mural],” indicating

that an affective embodiment was

central to both the initial conception and

realization of the work.

We might see both Percent-for-Art

projects at the Legler as embodying a category

of public art identified by Kwon as

“community based site-specificity,” wherein

“members of a community … will see

and recognize themselves in the work, not

so much in the sense of being critically implicated

but of being affirmatively pictured

or validated.” 27 Though Kwon remains

ambivalent on the political efficacy of such

25 Ibid.

26 Hamza Walker, personal interview with author, October 31, 2019.

27 Kwon, One Place After Another, 95.

123


a gesture, 28 this formal choice is undoubtedly

emotionally charged. On the most basic

level, Kwon’s formulation is evident in

that the skin color of the figures mirrors the

racial demographics of the neighborhood.

Along with skin color, but far more

subtly, the artist’s decision to render the

figures from behind has significant implications

for how library-goers, particularly

youth, might identify with them. At a

nearly larger-than-life scale, the assembly

allows for immediate bodily identification

within and among the ensemble on the

part of the presumed viewer. Figures seen

from behind have a longer history within

European painting, specifically German

Romanticism. Sometimes referred to as

the “Rückenfigur,” this not uncommon

trope in Western painting corresponds

to themes including man’s domination-cum-triumph

over the natural world,

as evident in many paintings by the artist

Caspar David Friedrich. It is far rarer,

however, to see this compositional strategy

mobilized under the sign of Blackness,

of youth, and of the collective, as Marshall

so deftly demonstrates.

Turning to Marshall’s initial sketch of

the work (Figure 7), housed today in the

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special

Events office suites at the Chicago Cultural

Center, we notice that in spite of significant

iconographic changes occurring between

the sketch and the final mural, this unique

compositional assembly remains almost

identical. Admittedly, certain figures in the

final mural do tend to be more daring than

their predecessors in the sketch. For example,

the figure in a green top and black

pants lying prone on the checkered floor;

where in the initial sketch each subject

stays cautiously far from the edge of the

precipice, in the final iteration this bold

child precariously and precociously searches

beyond, teetering over the edge. This

figure is not content merely watching from

a distance; the child takes the risk to satiate

their curiosity (Figure 8). Additionally, in

the initial sketch, the group is flanked by a

massive pterodactyl, whose almost-frightening

scale dwarfs those watching from

below (Figure 9). Painted without contours

or facial features and in Marshall’s characteristic

jet-black, the silhouette operates

as a void within a composition rife with

movement and bright color. By choosing

to eschew the pterodactyl in favor of a

jetpack-clad child commandeering a flying

saucer, Marshall offers further agency to

young library visitors who might too take

control of their own fate (Figure 10).

The myriad evolutions from the

sketch to the final mural are perhaps the

inevitable result of delights and distractions

28 Ibid., 95-99.

124

S Figure 9. Kerry James Marshall, detail of

Knowledge and Wonder Preparatory Sketch, 1995.

25 by 58 inches. Photo by Daniel Schulman.

S Figure 10. Kerry James Marshall, detail of

Knowledge and Wonder, 1995. Acrylic on paper and

canvas, 10 feet by 23 feet. Henry E. Legler Regional

Library, Chicago, Illinois. Photo provided by the

City of Chicago for the New York Times.


[Mayor] Emanuel thereby articulated market

value as the mural’s primary point of social

relevance, rather than as an opportunity to

picture and celebrate the richness of Black life

in a community that has continually

been pathologized.

accompanying the painting of a large-scale

mural onsite in a public location, but what

remains across the iterations relays just as

much information. I have argued that the

sustained composition, the view from behind,

offers young viewers an invitation

into an assembly, positioning the library

itself as a platform for accessing the very

wonder and knowledge promised by the

title of the mural. This phenomenological

reading has major implications that situate

the mural outside of the discourse in which

Marshall’s work has typically been framed.

What would it mean to consider that invitation

into the community alongside the

historical factors and relationships that led

to the Legler commission? From Marshall’s

personal friendship and private carpools

with Hamza Walker to Bert Phillips’ epistolary

relationship with Elizabeth Catlett,

not to mention Catlett covering her own

plane fare, the commission evidently rested

on a collegial network of collaborations between

Black artists and art workers that operated

within and sometimes circumvented

traditional bureaucratic frameworks. This

ethos continued into the installation process

with the onsite completion of the mural and

emphasizes the commission’s place within a

quasi-gift economy.

Labor and Extraction

“… it’s up on the second floor. Not many

people knew it even existed.”

—Rahm Emanuel, Oct. 1, 2018 29

The mural was removed suddenly

and without warning in October 2018;

then-mayor Emanuel announced his intention

to sell the mural as a municipal

asset at auction for an estimated $10–$15

29 Jennifer Smith Richards, “Valuable painting heading to auction to fund West Side library expansion,” Chicago Tribune, 1 October

2018, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-kerry-james-marshall-mural-legler-library-20180929-story.html

W Figure 11. Blank south-facing

wall, second floor of the Henry

E. Legler Regional Library,

Chicago, IL. Photo taken by the

author on 19 July 2019.

125


million, and use the revenue to restore the

library’s former status as a regional branch,

of which we know it had been stripped in

1977. 30 A municipality considering selling

their collection is not unheard of, but it is

nearly always controversial. For example,

when the city of Detroit, Michigan filed

for bankruptcy in 2013, there were major,

though since-halted, plans to sell works

from the collection of the Detroit Institute

of Arts. These proposals are seen as gravely

unethical, since these works are purchased

or accepted in the public trust. Significant

outcry quickly prompted Emanuel to reverse

his decision and keep the mural in the

city’s public art collection; however, as of

spring 2020 when I first wrote this paper,

the mural remained confiscated, off view

and in an undisclosed location (Figure 11). 31

I use the verb “to confiscate” above, with its

myriad connotations of delinquency and

presumptions of inadequate use or care,

quite intentionally. The etymology of the

word is telling, as it comes from the Latin

root “fiscus,” or “a money bag,” which over

time became “fisc,” or “the state treasury.” 32

Thinking of the mural’s sudden removal as

a confiscation illuminates the imbalanced

power relations and inherent logics of

value at play. Indeed, the controversy and

its discursive afterlives present occasion to

call attention to the ongoing extraction of

resources from Black communities.

I situate the mural’s ontological position

throughout its social history as oscillating

between something like a gift into a

clear commodity not to obfuscate questions

of labor but rather to foreground them, as

S Figure 12. Black Lives Matter youth artworks.

Second floor of the Henry E. Legler Regional

Library, Chicago, IL. Photo taken by the author

on 19 July 2019.

well as the ways in which that labor becomes

something immediately exploited in

the construction of the commodity. Kwon

has suggested that “ … the drive toward

identificatory unity that propels today’s

form of community-based site specificity

is a desire to model or enact unalienated

collective labor, predicated on an idealistic

assumption that artistic labor is itself a special

form of unalienated labor, or at least

provisionally outside of capitalism’s forces.”

33 Her choice of the word “provisionally”

is telling in this case, which reads here

as the impending reality of what Appadurai

would name the “commodity situation.”

For Appadurai, the commodity situation

occurs when an object’s exchangeability

30 Mayor’s Press Office, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Library Announce the Transformation of Legler Branch into

a Regional Library on the West Side,” news release, 1 October 2018, https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/mayor/

Press%20Room/Press%20Releases/2018/September/100118_Legler.pdf, accessed 1 December 2019.

31 Daniel Schulman, email message to the author, August 8, 2019. The city was held accountable to find funds for the library’s

renovation elsewhere, and the Legler finally reopened as a regional branch, for the first time since 1977, in late December 2020.

32 James Douglas, English Etymology: A Text-Book of Derivatives (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, Tweeddale Court, 1872), 53.

33 Kwon, One Place After Another, 95.

126


becomes its “socially relevant factor.” 34 It

would be naïve to pretend the commodity

situation did not, to an extent, haunt the

commission from its very inception — recall

the young Walker’s astute speculation

that it would be impossible for the city to afford

Marshall’s work after his participation

in the Whitney Biennial and Documenta

X was announced; to linger, however, in

that commodity situation is dangerous and

exploitative in that it distracts from artistic

labor and local relevance.

In October 2018, Mayor Emanuel

asserted the mural as a commodity by

suggesting that to auction off a community’s

cultural heritage, to recognize the mural’s

exchange-value for a staggering sum,

would be the only way to afford to restore

the library to its pre-1977 regional status. 35

Emanuel thereby articulated market value

as the mural’s primary point of social

relevance, rather than as an opportunity

to picture and celebrate the richness

of Black life in a community that has

continually been pathologized. The mural

was returned upon the library’s reopening

in December 2020 to a community that

has since borne disproportionate suffering

in the ravaging wake of the COVID-19

pandemic. The question now becomes

whether the commodity situation is a

social reality and mode of relation from

which an aesthetic object can recover.

Will Knowledge and Wonder remain a

surprise for those wandering upstairs,

interpellating children, filling an entire

wall, and responding to Catlett’s Floating

Family? Or, will the work return encased in

glass, surveilled and policed, and in a prime

position for art world aficionados to come

take their picture with the now widelypublicized

work, leaving before they have

to interact with community members?

Library users are crafting their own

responses. Children are tacking up their

own assembly of Black Lives Matter-inspired

graphic works, which are installed

directly parallel to the big, now-empty,

white wall (Figure 12). The vastness of that

south-facing wall across from this array of

colorful artwork is staggering, but they

speak to each other in meaningful ways.

Despite the historic and ongoing violence

of white supremacy in the United States,

which Marshall deftly tackles in his work

for both museums and public libraries,

Marshall ardently demonstrates the rich

plurality of Black life in America, asking

us to reconsider not only entrenched historical

narratives and assumptions, but the

possibilities for the future. ■

34 Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things, 13.

35 Ibid.

127


Bibliography

Interviews

Hamza Walker, interview with author,

31 October 2019, Evanston, IL.

Daniel Schulman, personal email

communication, 8 August 2019- 25

March 2020.

Bertrand Philips, phone interview and

email communication with author,

5-6 December 2019.

Thomas Skomski, personal email communication,

5 January 2020.

Lectures

Walker, Hamza “Visiting Artist Talk,”

Northwestern University Department

of Art Theory and

Practice 31 October 2019.

Published Sources

Appadurai, Arjun, ed. The Social Life of

Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective.

Cambridge, UK: Cambridge

University Press, 1986.

Bobo, Lawrence, James R. Kluegel, and

Ryan A. Smith. “Laissez-Faire Racism:

The Crystallization of a Kinder,

Gentler, Antiback Ideology.” In

Racial Attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity

and Change, edited by Steven A. Tuch

and Jack K. Martin, 15-42. Westport,

CT: Praeger, 1997.

“City of Chicago Percent-for-Art Ordinance,

1978.” City Council of the City

of Chicago. Accessed April 25, 2020.

https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/

depts/dca/auto_generated/public_art_program_publandreports/

new_art_on_pink_line.html.

Deutsche, Rosalyn. Evictions: Art and Spatial

Politics. Cambridge and London:

The MIT Press,1996.

Douglas, James. English Etymology: A

Text-Book of Derivatives. Edinburgh:

Oliver and Boyd,Tweeddale Court,

1872.

Ewing, Eve L. Ghosts in the Schoolyard:

Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s

South Side. Chicago, IL: University of

Chicago Press, 2018.

Farago, Jason. “Kerry James Marshall

Paints for Chicago. His Mural Should

Stay There.” New York Times, October

5, 2018. https://www.nytimes.

com/2018/10/05/arts/design/

kerryjames-marshall-painting-chicago-proposed-auction.html

Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another:

Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity.

Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004.

Marshall, Kerry James. “An Argument

for Something Else: Dieter Roelstraete

in Conversation with Kerry

James Marshall, Chicago 2012,” in

Kerry James Marshall: Painting and

Other Stuff, ed. Nav Haq (Antwerp:

Ludion, 2014), 28.

Mayor’s Press Office. “Mayor Rahm

Emanuel and Chicago Public Library

Announce the Transformation

of Legler Branch into a Regional

Library on the West Side.” October

1, 2018. https://www.chicago.gov/

content/dam/city/depts/mayor/

Press%20Room/Press%20Releases/2018/September/100118_Legler.

pdf

Richards, Jennifer Smith. “Valuable

painting heading to auction to fund

West Side library

expansion.” Chicago Tribune, 1 October

2018. https://www.chicagotribune.

com/news/ctmet-kerry-james-mar-

shall-mural-legler-library-

20180929-story.html

Seligman, Amanda I. Block by Block:

Neighborhoods and Public Policy on

Chicago’s West Side. University of

Chicago Press, 2005.

———. “Block by Block: Racing Decay on

Chicago’s West Side, 1948–1968.”

PhD diss., Northwestern University,

1999.

Tapp, Mara. “Visible Man.” Chicago

Magazine. October 2003, 136.

128


Department of American Studies

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Mark Sheldon, Ph.D.

A Reckoning with

Medicine’s Past

by Meilynn Shi

As the fear of contagion pushed us apart,

the thread of something else — justice,

humanity, frustration — pulled us back

together, tugging at our consciences,

driving us into the streets, and sharpening

the demand for transformation. The racial

reckoning of 2020 fired up a radical momentum

to break down old walls and build

up new visions. However, in medicine, as

elsewhere, little will change if there isn’t

first a reckoning with why so little has

changed in the past. While medicine may sit

atop a high tower of prestige, in its shadow

is a long and ongoing history of injustice.

Forty-five years ago in Chicago, interns

and residents at the Cook County

Hospital went on strike for 18 days, fighting

to fix a lack of baseline equipment and services

for patients. 1 As Chicago’s sole public

hospital, County was the only hospital in

the city that took in all patients who came

to its doors. Patients who were “undesirable”

2 to private hospitals — patients who

could not pay or who had the “wrong” 3

color of skin — were often “dumped” 4 at

County’s steps, bifurcating the delivery of

care along racial divides. Hospitals in Chicago

were not as segregated as they were in

the South, but the color line still ran deep.

County was once the premier place

for residency, where some of the best

physicians in the country trained. In

1945, about one in every five physicians

in the United States received some type

of training at County. 5 But as more physicians

began pursuing specialties and employment

at private practices that offered

higher salaries, better working conditions,

and greater autonomy, County fell into a

chronic state of neglect.

Frustrated with administrative disregard,

house staff at County mobilized in

the late ’60s and formed the House Staff

Association (HSA) in 1974, leveraging the

tools of union organizing to claim a voice

in hospital decision-making. The HSA

set forth a list of demands, all but two of

which — an 80-hour workweek limit and

1 Devinatz, V. G. (1996). “Never before have M.D.’s done so much for their patients”: The 1975 strike by the Cook County Hospital

House Staff Association against the Cook County Hospital. Journal of Collective Negotiations in the Public Sector, 25(2), 117-136.

2 Cook County Hospital perpetuates dual health system. (1970, September/October). The Struggle, 6. Northwestern University

Archives, Evanston, IL, United States.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission. (1979). Cook County Health Hospitals Governing Commission (Final Report).

129


130

a pay increase to make salaries comparable

with those at public hospitals in New York

and Los Angeles — focused on directly

improving patient care. 6 The HSA was

demanding, as one physician said, “just the

mechanical nuts and bolts of things that

you need to keep people alive,” 7 including

fully equipped crash carts so that physicians

wouldn’t be delayed in administering CPR,

24-hour X-ray and EKG services so that

patients wouldn’t have to wait seven days

to get a routine chest X-ray, and Spanish

and Polish translators so that patients with

life-threatening conditions wouldn’t mistakenly

be turned away. 8 Some of the other

demands were as simple as bedside curtains

to provide privacy, bedside lamps to see

patients at night without needing to light

up the full ward, and bedside juice boxes

for patients with diabetes. 9

But despite more than five months

and 20 rounds of contract negotiations,

hospital administration would not budge.

In an open letter to the community, the

HSA explained that it was being “forced to

strike by an administration who is telling

us that these things are none of our business.”

10 And at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 27, 1975,

a group of interns and residents, clad in

white coats, stethoscopes, and strike buttons,

willing to risk their professional careers,

walked out, formed a picket line, and

began a strike. 11

For the next 18 days, talks continued

“In medicine, as

elsewhere, little will

change if there isn’t

first a reckoning

with why so little has

changed in the past.”

to fail, and the HSA went on to lead one

of the longest physician strikes in U.S.

history. Many criticized the physicians for

degrading the medical profession, some

framed the strike as an attempt by radical

physicians to take over the hospital, 12 and

some even condemned the strike as an

attempt by white doctors to seize control

from a Black administrator by withholding

health services from a largely Black

patient population. 13,14 But such backlash

was more rhetoric than anything else.

The HSA had rallied a coalition of allies,

from senior physicians to trade unions to

community leaders to patients themselves,

who postponed their appointments and

stayed home during the strike. 15,16 What

drove the physicians to go on strike was a

professional duty to patients, to healthcare

equity, and to the Hippocratic Oath.

Yet, not much changed after the

strike. It was one of many job actions that

disrupted hospitals across the nation in the

’70s, and it stood at the center of tensions

6 Devinatz, “Never before have M.D.’s.”

7 Hoffman, J. (Producer). (1975). HSA Strike 1975. [Film]. Kartemquin Films.

8 Bonnell, M., Fischer, T., & Moore, D. (1975, November 12). Studs Terkel interviews three Cook County Hospital doctors about their

1975 strike [Interview]. Studs Terkel Radio Archive; The Chicago History Museum. https://studsterkel.wfmt.com/programs/studsterkel-interviews-three-cook-county-hospital-doctors-about-their-1975-strike

9 Ibid.

10 House Staff Association. (1975, October 26). Physicians on Strike [Open letter to Communities Served by Cook County Hospital].

Quentin Young Papers (Box 23, Folder 6), Northwestern University Archives, Evanston, IL, United States.

11 Devinatz, “Never before have M.D.’s.”

12 Young, Q. (2013). Everybody in, nobody out: Memoirs of a rebel without a pause. Copernicus Healthcare.

13 Jarrett, V. (1975, November 9). Under the knife at County Hospital. Chicago Tribune. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

14 County Hospital Crisis. (1975, October 28). Chicago Defender. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

15 Devinatz, “Never before have M.D.’s.”

16 Bonnell, Fischer, & Moore, Studs Terkel interviews.


“Since the ’60s,

medical students

have been grappling

with how to remain

’radicals in the

professions.’”

arising from an agitated labor movement, a

changing medical profession, and the shadow

of the civil rights movement. But it became

another instance of how an attempt

at reform galvanized momentum, seemed

on course to reimagine social structures,

but then quietly sputtered out.

However, physicians have never

stopped fighting. Since the ’60s, medical

students have been grappling with how

to remain “radicals in the professions,” 17

how to not lose sight of what happens on

the ground from the high office windows

of the M.D. With the Medical Committee

for Human Rights, Student Health

Organizations, Physicians for a National

Health Program, White Coats for Black

Lives, and more, physicians have written

their own history of rising up against the

status quo and taking the gavel into their

own hands to try to bend the arc towards

justice. During the summer of 2020, in the

days following the deaths of George Floyd,

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean

Reed, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks,

and too many more, medical students rallied

alongside Black Lives Matter, urging

for a re-examination of the medical curriculum,

the construction of race, and the

physician’s voice.

But it was not enough in the ’60s and

’70s, and it was not enough in 2020. As

physicians scramble to contain transmission

of SARS-CoV-2, especially in public

hospitals and communities of color, the

medical institution is once again facing the

cracks in its reflection. Medicine has recognized

that it must do better, but it has never

fully reckoned with its own institutional

complicity. The profession’s privilege and

prestige have allowed it to look past its

history of abuses and shift the focus toward

remaining “apolitical.” But medicine

has never been apolitical — not since the

founding of the American Medical Association

and organized medicine, not since the

first attempt to pass a national health care

bill in the early 1900s, not since the rise of

third-party payers, pharmaceutical corporations,

and managed care organizations.

Rather, the medical profession can

provide an anchor in modern civil rights

movements. As a profession that catches

the victims of our deepest social and political

struggles, it can lead the vanguard to

create change not only within but beyond

its white walls. It requires change at the

top, but it must begin among physicians

themselves, in the ways that physicians understand

people, in the ways that hospitals

serve communities, in the ways that the

profession carries out its codes, and in the

ways that physicians break down the walls

built to isolate medicine from the messy

world outside.

In the years following the 1975 strike

at County, the HSA never stopped fighting

for its patients. If it weren’t for its efforts,

County most likely would have been shuttered

and repurposed. Instead, in 1994,

Illinois approved the construction of a new

county hospital, and in 2002, the John H.

17 Fein, O., & Fein, C. (1967, July). Notes on Alternatives Facing the Radical in Medicine. Quentin Young Papers (Box 46), Northwestern

University Archives, Evanston, IL, United States.

131


Stroger, Jr. Hospital opened its doors. 18

Today, the old County building remains as

a historical landmark, and last year, after

more than $140 million of renovations, it

reopened as a Hyatt Place Hotel. 19 After a

century of disinvestment as a public hospital,

money is now pouring into the building.

But behind the façade of marble and

terracotta is a history of some of the worst

abuses of the medical institution. Until the

medical profession dismantles the façade

and looks deeper into how and why it got

to where it is, its shadow of injustice and

complicity will only continue to grow.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Dr. Mark

Sheldon for his guidance on the research

and writing. ■

18 Raffensperger, J. (Ed.). (1997). The Old Lady on Harrison Street: Cook County Hospital, 1833-1995. Peter Lang.

19 Kamin, B. (2020, May 22). An exclusive look at the reborn Cook County Hospital: Once facing the wrecking ball, the West

Side landmark is about to reemerge, beautifully remade. Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/blair-kamin/

ct-biz-old-cook-county-hospital-kamin-20200522-rspawd7gbbcwtd5fh4at5r4rja-story.html

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Bonnell, Mark, Tessa Fischer, and David

Moore. “Studs Terkel Interviews

Three Cook County Hospital Doctors

About Their 1975 Strike.” By

Studs Terkel. WFMT, November 12,

1975. Studs Terkel Radio Archive.

https://studsterkel.wfmt.com/

programs/studs-terkel-interviewsthree-cook-county-hospital-doctorsabout-their-1975-strike.

Chicago Defender. “County Hospital

Crisis.” October 28, 1975. ProQuest

Historical Newspapers: Chicago

Defender.

Hoffman, Judy, prod. HSA Strike 1975.

Chicago: Kartemquin Films, 1975.

https://docuseek2.com/kq-hsa75.

Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission.

Cook County Health Hospitals

Governing Commission (Final Report).

Chicago: Illinois Legislative Investigating

Commission, 1979.

Jarrett, Vernon. “Under the Knife at

County Hospital.” Chicago Tribune,

November 9, 1975. ProQuest Historical

Newspapers: Chicago Tribune.

Kamin, Blair. “An exclusive look at the reborn

Cook County Hospital: Once facing

the wrecking ball, the West Side landmark

is about to reemerge, beautifully

remade.” Chicago Tribune. May 22, 2020.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/blair-kamin/ct-biz-old-cook-county-hospital-kamin-20200522-rspawd7gbbcwtd5fh4at5r4rja-story.html

The Struggle. “Cook County Hospital Perpetuates

Dual Health System.” September/October

1970. Northwestern

University McCormick Library of

Special Collections.

Young, Quentin. Papers. Northwestern

University Archives.

“Cook County Hospital Community

Education Project.” 1975. Box

23, folder 6, Quentin Young

Papers, Northwestern University

Archives.

Fein, Ollie and Charlotte Fein.

“Notes on Alternatives Facing

the Radical in Medicine.” July

1967. Box 46, Quentin Young

Papers, Northwestern University

Archives.

“Re: Physicians on Strike, An Open

Letter to Communities Served

by Cook County Hospital.” 1975.

Box 23, folder 6, Quentin Young

Papers, Northwestern University

Archives.

“The Residents and Internes Association

of Cook County Hospital.”

May 17, 1971. Box 23, folder 3,

Quentin Young Papers, Northwestern

University Archives.

“Treatment of Prisoners.” Box 46,

folder 2, Quentin Young Papers,

Northwestern University

Archives.

Young, Quentin. Everybody In, Nobody

Out: Memoirs of a Rebel without a

Pause. Chicago: Copernicus Healthcare,

2013.

Secondary Sources

Devinatz, Victor G. “‘Never Before

Have M.D.’s Done So Much for

Their Patients’: The 1975 Strike by

the Cook County Hospital House

Staff Association against the Cook

County Hospital.” Journal of Collective

Negotiations in the Public Sector 25, no.

2 (1996): 117-36.

Raffensperger, John, ed. The Old Lady on

Harrison Street: Cook County Hospital,

1833-1995. New York: Peter Lang,

1997.

132


Tracking Pandemic

Sociology

The Coronavirus U.S. Project

by Prerita Pandya and Grace Lee

C

oronaData

U.S. is a nationally representative longitudinal

survey that tracks U.S. public opinions, behaviors, and attitudes

related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The principal

investigator of the project, Beth Redbird, discussed the motivations

and implications of her research with the Journal.

FEATURE 133


“If you want to

not just solve this

pandemic but

help with future

pandemics, you need

to understand not

just how diseases and

viruses work, but also

how people work.”

Sociology Professor and Principal Investigator

of CoronaData U.S. Beth Redbird

remembers when the COVID-19 pandemic

first hit the United States in early 2020.

She, like many other Americans, wondered

how this virus would impact her life. As

she began to realize how quickly and drastically

the virus was changing the lives of

many across the country, Redbird decided

to use her expertise as a survey researcher

to investigate the sociological effects of

the pandemic.

With a team of other Northwestern

University researchers, Redbird assembled

a survey aimed to capture the sentiments

of the nation. She explained that the

goal of the CoronaData U.S. project is

“to preserve as much data as possible for

future researchers.”

Redbird understands the pandemic

as not only a public health issue, but also

a social issue — one that greatly affects

people’s behaviors, opinions, and social

interactions. “How the pandemic spreads,

how prevalent it is, and how it works is

in part about how we treat each other,

what we do, how we behave, and how we

interact,” Redbird said.

Redbird believes it is crucial for people

to have this understanding about the pandemic,

especially going into the future.

“If you want to not just solve this pandemic

but help with future pandemics, you

need to understand not just how diseases

and viruses work, but also how people

work,” she emphasized.

Once the initial survey was finalized in

March 2020, invitations to participate in the

survey were distributed to randomly selected

addresses across the country. Participants

who accepted the invitation were sent the

survey and paid for their participation.

Redbird explained that participants

were chosen in this manner to ensure that

the survey results would be nationally representative.

“It’s not the kind of thing people

select into. We’re trying to get people from

all walks of life — all political orientations,

all social statuses, all income groups, [both]

rural areas and urban areas,” she said.

As of February 2021, Redbird and her

team have a panel of about 8,000 participants

to whom the survey is regularly sent

in order to track changes in opinion over

time. Since the first rollout of the survey,

Redbird and her team have been constantly

updating, editing, and adding questions

to reflect the changing social and political

landscape of the country. For example,

questions about face masks were not initially

included in the survey.

“In March, states had started with

stay-at-home orders, and everybody was

being told, ‘Don’t wear masks. Preserve

those for healthcare workers,’” Redbird

explained. “So we didn’t ask any mask

questions, and it wasn’t until the summer,

when masks became a ‘thing,’ that we started

to adjust the survey to capture that.”

Currently, the team is working on

the fourth wave of surveys and plans to

include questions regarding newer aspects

134

FEATURE


“Typically during disasters,

there’s this kind of a

solidarity effect. We didn’t

really see that in the

pandemic, so the question is,

did we not see that because

the pandemic is so long?”

of the pandemic and current life, such as

vaccination and the Biden administration’s

policies. They plan to continue conducting

the survey every six months until about

2022 in the hope of capturing how life returns

to normal.

Of all the trends Redbird has observed

through the survey, the lack of solidarity in the

country was something she did not expect.

“Typically during disasters, there’s

this kind of a solidarity effect,” she said.

“We didn’t really see that in the pandemic,

so the question is, did we not see that because

the pandemic is so long?”

Rather than coming together in this

time of upheaval, people seemed to drift

apart and away from the idea of community,

possibly due to the isolationist nature of

pandemic public health measures.

As life gradually returns to normal,

people will likely begin to come together

in the aftermath of this shared experience

that has altered every aspect of our lives.

As the isolation of the pandemic becomes a

thing of the past, the ideals of community

and interaction that we have lost can be

rebuilt, and CoronaData U.S. will be here

to document it. ■

To learn more about CoronaData U.S., visit the project website at https://coronadata.us/.

FEATURE 135


Department of Sociology

Faculty Adviser: Prof. Jeannette Colyvas, Ph.D.

Designing Equity:

Stakeholders’ Perceptions of an

Equity Initiative in a California

School District

by Riley Ceperich

Introduction

Once championed as the great equalizer,

the American education system has now

been exposed by researchers for the

systematic role it plays in reinforcing

inequality. It is well documented that large

achievement gaps continue to exist between

racial groups as a result of structural

inequalities. In 2015, the average score of

Black students on the National Assessment

of Educational Progress was 26 points

lower than that of white students. 1 Many

factors explain this gap. For example, 71%

of white students attend schools that offer

the full complement of courses that the

United States Department of Education

deems necessary to be college ready, compared

to only 57% of Black students. 2 Black

students are also more than twice as likely

to attend schools with higher concentrations

of first-year teachers and are four

times more likely to attend schools where

80% or fewer teachers have obtained their

teaching certification. 3 Further, Black

students are more likely to attend schools

with fewer resources and suffer more

disciplinary action than white students

due to teachers’ and administrators’ underlying

biases. 4

In order to combat these inequities,

public schools have been implementing

reforms for decades. Yet, despite major

efforts, large gaps persist, and some educational

leaders even assert that certain reforms

are “making things worse.” 5 Therefore,

the solution to educational inequity

remains unclear.

In order to narrow achievement

gaps, agents of change must think critically

about why equity reforms have failed so

consistently. My thesis aims to answer this

question by analyzing teacher and administrator

perceptions of an equity initiative,

1 “K-12 Disparity Facts and Statistics,” UNCF, UNCF, 2019.

2 Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant, “College Preparation for African American Students: Gaps in the High School Educational Experience,”

CLASP, CLASP, 2015.

3 UNCF.

4 Ibid.

5 Valerie Strauss, “Perspective | Yes, Teacher-Preparation Programs Need to Be Fixed - but More than 350 Education Leaders Say

Reforms Are ‘Making Things Worse,’” The Washington Post, WP Company, 2019.

136


“In order to narrow

achievement gaps,

agents of change

must think critically

about why equity

reforms have failed

so consistently.”

SPARK, 6 with the goal of understanding

how those perceptions might be related

to the reform’s strengths or pitfalls.

My central research question is: How do

stakeholders perceive equity-oriented reforms?

I studied the interview transcripts

of teachers, principals, and district leaders

in two historically underserved elementary

schools where a large-scale equity reform

was implemented.

I investigated variation between

organizational levels in order to better

understand both how different types of

stakeholders perceive reforms and whether

school organizational level maps on to differences

in perceptions. My findings shed

light on the problems with current equity

reforms and provide recommendations for

future initiatives.

Literature Review

Sociologists have studied both educational

inequity and school organization at length.

Much of the literature surrounding edu-

cational inequity focuses on achievement

gaps between racial groups and identifies

the social and institutional factors that

contribute to these gaps. Considerable

literature also highlights the ways that

school organization affects students and

teachers broadly, as well as the ways in

which individuals from different levels of

school organization perceive school policy

and processes. The overlap of these two

fields has received decidedly less attention.

In particular, no studies have addressed

the way that individuals from different

school organizational levels perceive equity-oriented

reforms. My study aims to fill

this gap in the literature.

Many school districts have implemented

initiatives to combat educational

inequity. Initiatives include creating teams

of teachers to review student performance

data by racial group, changing how the

curriculum addresses race and power dynamics,

and training educators on equity

pedagogy, particularly outlining and discouraging

them from falling into “equity

traps” such as “color-blindness.” It is fairly

well-documented that these diversity initiatives

have high rates of failure. 7 Researchers

have attempted to explain this.

Theorized reasons for failure include a lack

of specialized support to marginalized populations

8 and teachers’ unawareness of the

existence of equity initiatives. 9

Research exists about teachers’

perceptions of testing structures, sex

equity in schools, and students of different

races than them, but limited research

explores teachers’ and administrators’

6 “SPARK” is a pseudonym I am using to maintain the privacy of subjects. All names of schools and individuals have also been

pseudonymized for this reason.

7 Adrianna Kezar et al., “Examining Organizational Contextual Features That Affect Implementation of Equity Initiatives,” The

Journal of Higher Education, The Ohio State University Press, 2008.

8 Sabrina Zirkel, “The Influence of Multicultural Educational Practices on Student Outcomes and Intergroup Relations,” Teachers

College Record, Teachers College, 2007.

9 Kezar et al.

137


perceptions of school reform. 10,11,12 There

is also well-documented research about

the differences between teacher and

administrator perceptions of district policy

and processes. 13,14 However, there is a

lack of research comparing teacher and

administrator perceptions of school reform

and, in particular, equity reform.

My project aims to bridge this gap

by studying stakeholders’ perceptions of

an equity-oriented reform. By “stakeholders,”

I refer to those who hold a stake in

the school. Edward Freeman’s Stakeholder

Theory explains that organizations should

try to consider all of the goals and mindsets

of those involved in the organization

in order to enhance its success. 15 I limit my

definition of stakeholders to teachers, principals,

and district leaders because those

are the interviews to which I had access. I

lacked access to the interviews of students

and parents who I would otherwise include

under my definition of stakeholders, and

I recommend that their perceptions be

studied in future research. Yet, excluding

students and parents does allow me to focus

on differences in perceptions between

organization levels in education.

I plan to examine the ways that stakeholders

perceive a specific equity reform.

By “perceive,” I refer to stakeholders’

opinions of the reform — how they describe

the reform and what they identify

as the strengths and weaknesses of the

“There is a lack

of research

comparing teacher

and administrator

perceptions of

school reform and,

in particular,

equity reform.”

reform. I draw on James P. Spillane’s idea

of sense-making to underscore the complexity

of these perceptions and therefore

the depth of information they could conceivably

offer. 16 By “equity-oriented reform,”

I refer to an initiative, which I will

henceforth call SPARK, 17 implemented in

2018 in a California school district with the

stated goal of increasing the educational

outcomes for Black students. Further detail

about this initiative is located in the methodologies

section.

Hypothesis: Stakeholders’ perceptions

of the design of SPARK vary between

organizational levels.

Past research indicates that teachers,

principals, and district leaders have fairly

different opinions about school processes

which are guided by norms and structures

10 Emily R. Lai and Kris Waltman, “Test Preparation: Examining Teacher Perceptions and Practices,” Educational Measurement:

Issues and Practice, vol. 27, no. 2, 2008, pp. 28–45.

11 Patricia S. Griffin, “Teachers’ Perceptions of and Responses to Sex Equity Problems in a Middle School Physical Education Program,”

Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol. 56, no. 2, 1985, pp. 103–110.

12 Julie Landsman and Chance W. Lewis. White Teachers, Diverse Classrooms: Creating Inclusive Schools, Building on Students’ Diversity,

and Providing True Educational Equity, Stylus Pub, 2011.

13 Nanette M. Keiser and Jianping Shen, “Principals’ and Teachers’ Perceptions of Teacher Empowerment,” Journal of Leadership

Studies, vol. 7, no. 3, 2000, pp. 115–121.

14 Anne Spidell Rusher et al. “Belief Systems of Early Childhood Teachers and Their Principals Regarding Early Childhood Education,”

Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 2, 1992, pp. 277–296.

15 R. Edward Freeman, “Divergent Stakeholder Theory,” Academy of Management Review, vol. 24, no. 2, 1999, pp. 233–236.

16 James P. Spillane et al., “Policy Implementation and Cognition: Reframing and Refocusing Implementation Research,” Review of

Educational Research, vol. 72, no. 3, 2002, pp. 387–431.

17 See note 6.

138


Teachers explained that they would like more

strategies or examples of culturally relevant

pedagogy and ‘more trainings on just how

to make culturally relevant teaching in

differentiating instruction.’

within their organization level. 18,19 I

therefore expected that my analysis of

the interviews would uncover differences

in opinion between organizational levels

about the design of SPARK.

Using the Consortium for Policy

Research in Education’s framework for

studying comprehensive school reform

programs, I posited that stakeholders’ perceptions

of SPARK would fall into three

main categories: design, implementation,

and efficacy. 20 For this condensed version

of my thesis, I focused solely on stakeholders’

perceptions of the design of SPARK.

By “design,” I refer to an improvement

process undergone by a school based

on a strategic plan that may include curricular

or instructional changes to the existing

organization and offers research-based

evidence for the strategies and a guide for

how to implement them. 21 The Consortium

explains that designs must include

both an effective instructional and implementation

strategy to effect change in

learning or instruction. 22

Methodologies

To answer my research question about the

way that stakeholders perceive equity-oriented

reforms, I conducted an exploratory

case study 23,24 of an equity initiative,

SPARK, at two elementary schools with

the goal of exploring diversity in perceptions

of an equity reform. I employed

qualitative methods for the individual

unit of analysis. 25 My analysis examines

individuals across the classroom and

school within a single district. The study

was cross-sectional 26 in that it examined

stakeholders’ perceptions of SPARK at

one point in time rather than exploring

how their perceptions changed over time.

Interviews allowed me to dive deeper into

each individual’s perceptions of the initiatives,

whereas survey data would have

only offered a cursory glance of perceptions

and inhibited me from delving into

the complexities in opinions that might

uncover greater variation in stakeholders’

perceptions. 27

I examined the interview transcripts

of stakeholders from two elementary

18 Nanette M. Keiser and Jianping Shen, “Principals’ and Teachers’ Perceptions of Teacher Empowerment,” Journal of Leadership

Studies, vol. 7, no. 3, 2000, pp. 115–121.

19 Anne Spidell Rusher et al., “Belief Systems of Early Childhood Teachers and Their Principals Regarding Early Childhood Education,”

Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 2, 1992, pp. 277–296.

20 Rowan, Brian, et al., “School Improvement by Design: Lessons From a Study of Comprehensive School Reform Programs,”

2009.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Earl R. Babbie, The Practice of Social Research, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013.

24 Charles C. Ragin and Lisa M. Amoroso, Constructing Social Research: the Unity and Diversity of Method, SAGE, 2019.

25 Babbie.