Illinois Public Media News
Champaign city leaders may have taken the wraps off a new public recreation space southeast of downtown, but it is still covered in a thick layer of snow.
Beneath the snow is a new detention basin, the latest phase of the Boneyard Creek flood control project that's been decades in the making. However, city councilman Michael LaDue says the 11-million dollar Second Street Reach project is much more than just a place to hold excess water.
"On the ground it looks better than it looked on paper, and every effort was made by highly trained professionals to make it look as good on paper as possible," LaDue said during Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This beats the schematics. This is spectacular."
The pond is surrounded by walking paths, water features and a small amphitheater. Work also surrounded a stone-arch bridge in a corner of the park, one of the original bridges over Boneyard Creek from the mid 19th-century. City planner T. J. Blakeman said some additional work still needs to be done on the site - much of it to be done in the spring. But he said the walking paths are now open to the public.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
Two new reports released by the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society shed some light on the state of underrepresented minority students at the University of Illinois.
The first report, which looks at graduate education at the U of I, refers to campus data from the 2009 Strategic Plan Progress Report and population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the study, African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians groups in 2009 comprised a little more than 30 percent of the state's population. Meanwhile, the percent of those groups represented in the U of I's graduate school was significantly lower at around seven percent.
"The University has a persistent problem of inequity," said U of I African American studies Professor Jennifer Hamer, who helped write the study. "This is a public university, a flagship public land-grant university, and we don't have a population that represents the state, let alone the nation."
The report also found that in fall 2009, there were no Hispanic, African American, and American Indian students enrolled in many graduate level programs.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler issued a statement saying the university is committed to diversity in higher education, including graduate education.
"We have worked for many years to attract the best and brightest minority students to campus," Kaler said.
Hamer said she has been encouraged by conversations with the university's administrators about diversifying the campus.
"They clearly see diversity as a value to the campus," Hamer said. "Now, the question is how do they respond to that? Well, I think once you define something as a value, you set policy and practices that emphasize it."
Kaler noted some examples of campus-wide initiatives dedicated to attracting minority students to Illinois:
"Many initiatives across campus are dedicated to bringing excellent minority students to Illinois. For example, the Young Scholars Program in ACES, LAMP (LIS Access Midwest Program) in GSLIS, SURGE (Support for Under-Represented Groups in Engineering) and SROP (Summer Research Opportunities Program) and the Graduate College Fellows program in the Graduate College. Recently, the P&G Science Diversity Summit, a collaborative event among the College of ACES, College of Engineering, College of LAS and the Graduate College, brought partners from minority serving institutions to campus to create new partnerships and initiatives to support diversity in graduate programs at Illinois."
The second report released involved 11 focus groups with 82 minority students who were interviewed about their reactions to 'racial microaggressions' made in the residence halls (elevators, chalkboards, dorm room doors) and elsewhere on campus.
The report defined racial microaggressions as "race-related encounters that happen between individuals. Individual level encounters can be verbal, nonverbal, or behavioral exchanges between people. Microaggressions can also occur on the environmental level, which are race-related messages that individuals receive from their environment."
The report is coauthored by Drs. Stacy A. Harwood who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning; Ruby Mendenhall, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Sociology, African American Studies, and Urban and Regional Planning; and Margaret Browne Huntt, the Research Specialist at the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society.
Hunt said students who were interviewed perceived racial slurs negatively, even comments that were considered harmless.
"What we were finding is that the students were receiving the various forms of racism to be as hostile, derogatory," Huntt said. "Some students actually contemplated leaving the university because of these forms of racism that take place."
Students in the study that saw racial slurs written in dormitory elevators stated that they were more upset about the slurs not being removed immediately.
"I went to the front desk and I told them about it and it was a Caucasian girl there and she was just like, we've been hearing about it all day, and she kind of blew it off," one student said. "Then my floor had a meeting about the whole situation and my RA told me that nobody told them about the racial slurs on the elevator."
The report concluded that faculty and students should undergo training to help identify and stop racism, even when it is presented in an unintentional and subtle way.
"Some students won't speak up in class cause they feel like when they do say things, students won't believe their experience," Mendenhall said.
Huntt and Mendenhall said they are not sure if offensive racial comments at the U of I correlate with the number of underrepresented minority students as this was not part of their study.
The Savoy 16 is offering monthly screenings with the volume in the theatre turned down, and the lights brought up. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, it is part of an effort by the theatre's parent company to accommodate children with neurological disorders.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Champaign's school board is scheduled to vote next week on the design of a new grade school in Savoy.
A Unit 4 board member who is an architect said the key to the new Carrie Busey Elementary building will be flexibility in educational space. Christine Chalifoux said older school facilities have a hard time helping some students, since many kids develop at a different pace while they are still in the same classroom.
The Savoy grade school will feature collaboration spaces that teachers can adjust based on different teaching styles. Chalifoux said Unit 4 is taking the right approach with this building.
"We try to teach the way the kids learn," Chalifoux said. "We need flexibility in spaces. We need places we can have break-outs so we can have large groups. We can have special projects and things like that, and that's really been important in all three of these new schools: BTW (Booker T. Washington), Garden Hills, and the new Carrie Busey."
Champaign School Board member Greg Novak said the collaborative space concept is already in place at Stratton and Barkstall elementary schools.
Savoy Village Trustee Joan Dykstra said the configuration of classroom space and open areas will pay dividends for the school district and neighborhood, but she said the school will get its share of use in evening and weekend hours as well.
"There's agreements too that the building will be able to be used for multiple events," Dykstra said.
Dykstra explained that the plans for the new grade school have also been well thought out for special education needs, adding that she appreciates the traffic pattern for buses and parents to pick up and drop off students.
The preliminary design of the Savoy school also allows the library to serve as the anchor, with classrooms grouped around it. A second story will be built to allow for additional outdoor play space. The new Carrie Busey school is scheduled to open in 2012.
The head of a Champaign social service agency said its name had become too narrow when examining its broad range of services.
New signs are up at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, changing its name to Community Elements.
CEO Shelia Ferguson said the name change came as a result of three-year strategic plan. She said it reflects the fact that the agency does much more than help those with conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. She said it has also been reaching out to the homeless.
"We also have residential services and shelters and community kitchens," Ferguson said. "So this allowed us to have a dialogue with the community that we're more than mental health, but also to allow people to come meet us, reach out to us, if there needs were other than mental health."
Ferguson said the name change will also help the agency do more with less, by partnering with other social service groups in the community.
"We also need to partner where we can save money, where we can deliver services better, more efficiently," she said. "Where we can deliver services to the people who need then, who aren't community-based because they're limited by transportation or other resources in order to get to us. So you'll see a lot more partnership, a lot more discussing amongst social service agencies to make sure that continuum of care is available to those who need it in Champaign County."
Ferguson said Community Elements is still dealing with slow payments from the state. It's owed about $2.5 million between the last and current fiscal years.
(Photo courtesy of Community Elements)
The fatal shooting last year of Kiwane Carrington is the driving spark of this year's Unity March in Champaign-Urbana. The 7th annual social justice march takes place Saturday, October 9th, one year to the day after the 15-year-old Carrington was shot and killed during a police altercation. The march is sponsored by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, Champaign County NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign County, and the Graduate Employees Organization on the U of I campus.
Aaron Ammons of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice said that while he thinks progress in city government has been slow, Carrington's death has inspired many people and groups to make new efforts towards positive change.
"I believe most entities and institutions have opened up, and are trying to see things from a different perspective, since the killing of Kiwane Carrington," Ammons said. "Honestly, I believe some of it is out of genuine desire to change, and some of it is political pressure that comes, but certainly, there's been a lot more talk and a lot more meetings among several different entities since the killing."
Ammons said the Unity March is aimed at inspiring empowerment among victims of poverty and injustice, so they can take their own steps towards change.
"There are things that we can do as far as our own food security," Ammons said. "For example, to grow some of your own food at the community garden, or at your own home. That's a really basic thing that surrounds the idea of empowerment."
Ammons said another example is teaching young people how to act in contacts with police.
The march begins at noon, 906 West Vine Street where the Kiwane Carrington shooting occurred. From there, marchers will proceed north on Prospect to Bradley Avenue, and then head west to the Randolph Street Community Garden. At the garden, fruit trees will be planted in Carrington's memory, and a garden party will be held, featuring food and music. Ammong said the march is open to all.
In addition, a pre-march symposium is scheduled for 6:30 PM, on Friday, October 8th, at the Asian American Cultural Center, 1210 West Nevada Street, Urbana, on the University of Illinois campus. The topic is "Other Deaths and Other Truths" Communities Confronting State Violence". The symposium is sponsored by the "Landscapes of Struggle in Illinois" Focal Point Group of the Independent Media Center of Urbana Champaign.
Last year's shooting death of Kiwane Carrington by a police officer was ruled accidental, but the officer involved, Daniel Norbits, was given a 30-day suspension for improper handling of his weapon, which he is appealing. Critics say the incident is a symptom of long-standing problems in Champaign police-community relations, particularly where African-American youth are involved. Champaign city officials say they've made several changes in police procedures in the wake of the incident.
Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney about a series of attacks in the past several weeks, where groups of young men have attacked lone individuals on the street late at night. In 21 attacks spread out over a month and a half, the victims have been mostly young men on the University of Illinois campus. Champaign Police are asking anyone with information on any of the attacks to call 217-351-4545, or contact Champaign County Crimestoppers anonymously at 217-373-TIPS.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
The city of Champaign's new Fire and Police Memorial will be dedicated Tuesday evening at West Side Park.
Connie Finney, wife of Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney, co-chairs a committee of fire and police officers' wives. She organized the effort to choose a design and raise money for the new memorial. Finney said the memorial features a flagpole on a granite base featuring the names of Patrolmen Thomas Doddsworth and Robert Tatman and Firefighter Edward Hoffman.
"Fire and police officers put themselves out there every day," she said. "They make sacrifices that most people wouldn't do."
The new fire and police memorial replaces one erected on the same site in 1913, after Patrolman Dodsworth was killed while trying to arrest two suspected bootleggers. The old memorial had been the site of annual ceremonies held by the Champaign Fire and Police departments in previous years, but Finney noted the structure had deteriorated over the years.
"Being close to 100 years old, the concrete was crumbling, and it was kind of crooked," said Finney. "And one of the plaques was very hard to read. So I talked to my husband and said, 'You know, you really need to do something about this, because it doesn't look that great, and people really don't know it's a memorial.'"
So far, donors have contributed about $40,000 for the memorial. Finney said when another $60,000 is raised, statues of a police officer and firefighter will be added to the memorial site.
Fund-raising efforts for the new Champaign Fire and Police Memorial include the sale of bricks, which will pave the memorial site. For information on making a contribution, contact the city of Champaign at 217-403-8700.
More than a dozen social service agencies strapped for cash are getting an infusion of money from a religious organization.
It's the second year, the campus-based Illinois Disciples Foundation (IDF) has given out money from its endowment. This year $189,000 is going to 14 groups that range from the Wesley Evening Food Pantry to Crisis Nursery to the Greater Community AIDS Project. The group's director, Jen Tayabji, said many of those groups face a funding slowdown thanks to the recession.
"Some of it is state funding that's been cut or payments that are behind, and a lot of grant-making organizations have cut grants altogether because their endowments have lost so much money," Tayabji said. "So to be able to give these grants makes a huge impact on these organizations, and they've been very grateful for the money they can get."
Mary Ann Daly is a resident at Rantoul's Generations of Hope, where seniors volunteer to live near and assist troubled children. She said she agrees that charitable funding is crucial.
"We do save the state money, but it still is a very expensive program," Daly said. "We have to have social workers and therapists and people there to to work with these kids."
Tayabji said the IDF's endowment has grown despite weak investment performance - in part because the group sold off its former building on campus two years ago.
The board president of the Lincoln Trail Libraries System said she hopes a compromise can replace a new policy of charging Tolono and Mahomet library members $200 a year to check out materials from the larger Champaign Public Library.
The topic was a major topic of discussion at a meeting of the Lincoln Trail board Monday in Champaign.
Board president Roseanne Reidner said a recent change in Lincoln Trail's Reciprocal Borrowing policy allows a member library to restrict out of town borrowing in some cases. She added the Champaign policy is extreme, especially since it bars inter-library loans.
"The change that we made in the Reciprocal Borrowing Policy really was meant to allow some restrictions in reciprocal borrowing, and not to take the borrowing down to zero," said Ridener. "And it was to have nothing to do with the Interlibrary Loan."
Patrons in the Lincoln Trail Libraries System can normally borrow materials for free from any public library in its nine-county region, but Champaign library officials say residents of Mahomet, Tolono and Savoy are using their library so much that it is causing a strain on the system during times of tight budgets.
Reidner said she will organize a "brainstorming" session with Champaign, Tolono and Mahomet library officials in the next few weeks to try to come up with an alternative plan.
Reidner said the principle of allowing reciprocal borrowing is important to all member libraries in the nine-county Lincoln Trailsystem, and she said she wants to preserve that principle.
"But at the same time, we realize that there are certain financial concerns," she said. "We hope that those can be resolved, and we also hope that people are able to use their home library more."
Champaign library officials say the use of their library by out of town residents is up sharply --- especially by members of the Mahomet and Tolono libraries. Officials with the larger library say that is a financial strain on them. Ridener attributes the heavy use of the Champaign library to changing lifestyles, with many people finding it more convenient to use the library near where they work, rather than using a library in the town in which they live.
The Champaign Public Library plans to institute its new policy in November, on a six-month trial basis.
(Photo courtesy of Lester Public Library/flickr)
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