As it turns out, not everybody loved the Obama Foundation Summit on campus. In a time when the student body feels increasingly alienated and disconnected from administration, shutting down important academic buildings and inviting very limited numbers of students to a major on-campus event only furthers that divide. This hit some students worse than others — see: the Institute of Design students who do all of their work in Kaplan — and not everybody is exactly enamored with the presence and presidency of Barack Obama, either. The following concerns are split into three sections below to approach each one more directly.
1: Undergraduate exclusion and poor communication
The crux of student dissatisfaction with the summit comes down to the inconvenience and exclusion of the student body without any upside. The notice of the Obama Foundation Summit came through an unceremonious email one week beforehand, informing students that their classes would be moved without offering them much in the way of consolation.
The problem isn’t so much that students had to walk to a different building or adjust their schedule a little bit, but that their day is getting inconvenienced for seemingly no reason or payoff. The popular conception wandering around campus is that the event was only hosted at the Kaplan Institute, or the Illinois Institute of Technology at all, to hype up the new building and to show off for investors, having nothing to do with the student body or their interests at all. Given the minimal amount of student tickets that were extended, it isn’t difficult to see why this idea has taken hold.
The student body would have welcomed the event much better if the Kaplan Institute had advertised more and extended more student tickets, by some means of their choosing. They could have hosted a lottery multiple weeks out and had students apply, offered tickets to the winners of an essay or art contest, sold a limited amount of tickets at a reasonable price to the first few people to sign up online, or extended a few tickets to notable student organizations on campus; for example, if the presidents of the computer science, biomedical engineering, architecture, physics, psychology, and other professional student organizations had been extended a ticket along with Greek Council, the Railroad Club, the machine learning club, and other similar groups, almost every student would have known somebody there and felt tethered to the event in some way. Seeing Obama on the Instagram story of your friend from class, or that underclassman that you’re helping through calculus, or the senior you look up to, would make Obama’s visit seem much more personal to the campus. Instead, the curtains to Kaplan were totally blacked out, with students feeling isolated from this event that was supposedly supposed to be so massively important for their school.
From a very lazy calculation made during a lull between speeches, the summit had approximately 550 seats total, with many being vacant around the sides and back of the room, so any claim of "there was not enough room" is far from genuine.
Especially when your university apparently doesn’t have the money for decent mental health services or the organizational capacity to see that its survivors of sexual assault get the support they deserve, seeing that our school can somehow execute a presidential summit plastered over national news without student inclusion is bound to sting a little.
2: Imperfect Politics
The Barack Obama Presidential Center stands to be a disaster for the current residents of Jackson Park, the South Side community where the center is set to be constructed. It is slated to bring in a host of tourists (which isn’t a bad thing) and money (which isn’t a bad thing), but with this comes rising real-estate costs which threaten to hike rents up and push the current residents out (which is a bad thing). However, a type of contract called a community benefits agreement (CBA) exists in order to protect residents in situations like this, and the one proposed for Jackson Park would include ensuring that the current housing and any future housing stay at a reasonable price for current residents — or at least some percent of it would be — as well as ensuring that it is the current businesses, not new ones, that would look at the new money from tourists. It would still allow for the Barack Obama Presidential Center and for the creation of a new South Side landmark while protecting the current residents.
However, the Obamas refuse to sign the community benefits agreement despite fully well knowing what it means for the community. “[We’ve] got a long way to go in terms of economic development before you’re even going to start seeing the prospect of significant gentrification,” the former president said, taking a rather dismissive tone with the residents. Also citing how messy the politics can be, concerning which civic groups or city organizations the CBA is actually signed in partnership with, the Obamas claim that they will ensure that the surrounding community sees this new influx of money on their own, instead of relying on paperwork. However, this means that the Obamas would face no legal or civic repercussions if (when) they walk back on their words and let rent prices spike. It’s merely empty posturing while saving face in the meantime. Especially considering the nature of this Obama Foundation Summit as a large-scale fundraiser for the presidential center, our campus being used to sponsor a civically irresponsible construction project is concerning.
3: Petition Regarding Disruption of Learning at Institute of Design
Unsurprisingly, students at the institution most impacted by the facilities closures are the most upset. Following a string of other perceived insults, the Institute of Design Student Association put together a currently public petition with their grievances and demands, which ought to be on its way to Alan Cramb himself. “While we are proud that [Kaplan] constantly attracts well-known visitors and events, we find this level of disruption to our education, research, sponsored projects, and other activities absolutely unacceptable,” the petition begins. It cites short notices on cancellations and class movements as well as noise disruptions and missing, damaged, or misplaced works during events hosted in the upstairs of the Kaplan Institute. It calls for more student involvement in the decision making processes and better communication. With any luck, we should be able to attach the petition in full to this article: if not this week then definitely the next.