Steans Center > About > News > "The Way They Saw lt": Book on Bronzeville shares student research, reflection

"The Way They Saw lt": Book on Bronzeville shares student research, reflection


This fall, student research, photos and reflections about the Black Metropolis are brought to life in the new scholarly work, The Way They Saw It: The Changing Face of Bronzeville (Dorrance Publishing Company). The Way They Saw It builds on Horace Clayton and St. Clair Drake’s landmark study of the neighborhood, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, published in 1945. The Black Metropolis Project, a long-term collaboration between Professor Ted Manley (Sociology) and the Steans Center, focuses on the transformation of Bronzeville. The Project and They Way They Saw It are prominently concerned with a different kind of transformation, the kind that happens when students are engaged in a service learning project that transforms their perceptions of a subject and a neighborhood. The Black Metropolis Project embodies a service learning model focused on intensive community-based research conducted by students—research that draws from sociology, history, economics, the arts and many other disciplines. Three DePaul students who contributed to the book shared thoughts about this experience and what it meant to their academic life at the university. Doreen Hopkins Native to the South Side, Doreen Hopkins was no newcomer to Chicago when she first took a class on the Black Metropolis. “The Project gave us a different lens to look at the things we saw. DePaul is full of commuter students and transfer students—many of whom have grown up in Chicago. We take trains and buses—we see neighborhoods changing every day. What this experience gave me was a different pair of glasses to look at the city. Now, when I see a billboard, or a housing development, or a new Starbucks, I ask different questions about that neighborhood. You can’t go out and collect data and think ‘That was just for class,’ because we would see​ evidence of the same thing when we went home.” Hopkins, who graduated from DePaul in 2001 and majored in Psychology, now works for the McNair Scholars program at DePaul. She adds that learning about Bronzeville through this project was significantly different than being in a classroom. “When you are in a classroom, you expect lectures, facts,” she says. “You are supposed to learn material and take a test. This class made everything current. I remember how we used to go out on Saturday mornings to do field work—walk the street and record what we saw on a pad of paper. If there was an empty parking lot, we would estimate the address for that. From week to week, we might even see the neighborhood changing. It was happening right in front of us. At the same time, we talked with residents who wanted to share their story. They were excited to see us.” Matthew Murphy Matthew Murphy, who graduated from DePaul with a marketing degree last spring, vividly recalls taking digital pictures in Bronzeville of landmarks, changing landscapes, housing and businesses. Just as indelible as those photos, he says, is the way his preconceived images of Bronzeville and the South Side changed because of this project. “Outside of going to Sox games, I had never crossed the Dan Ryan,” says Murphy. “This was a whole different world for me. On top of that, I never thought I’d go into public housing units. The first time I went to Bronzeville, I was kind of scared. It felt strange walking around with a camera in what was a new world for me.” The process of observing and learning that comes through in The Way They Saw It was a key part of the learning process for Murphy. “I listened, and that really made a difference in my academic career at DePaul. It’s easy to treat people as subjects, especially if you are looking to have them fit specific stereotypes. But a lot of it was about listening.” Murphy says The Way They Saw It, like the rest of this project, provides a “necessary tool” for studying Bronzeville. “In essence, if you only go by secondary research, books or statistics from a census, you will never know firsthand what happened in a community. To actually be there and think about issues—that was a great experience.” Molly Szymanski Some students who contributed to this book and are already on a path to working with urban communities say the project provided them with invaluable experiences. “This Project solidified my passion for working with urban populations and the economically disadvantaged. It gave me knowledge and tools,” says Molly Szymanski, who is pursuing a master’s in public service at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Working on the book and Project not only exposed her to the community— it allowed her to learn a wide range of skills. “Through the project, I learned so many skills,” she says, “including geographic mapping, data entry, qualitative research, how to conduct interviews, how to organize meetings at the public library. And, because I was also a teaching assistant, how to work with students.” For Szymanski and many other students who produced this book, the experience had an impact on how she learns and how she views the city. “Going out and getting that firsthand data—actually walking the streets—you are gathering information, not just reading about what happened. Because of this Project, I definitely have become a more attuned observer of my environment. Your city as you see it gets bigger,” she adds. “It’s not just the four blocks near where you live or go to school.” In her senior year at DePaul, Szymanski worked with Manley and the late Caleb Dube (right) to select photos for the project and collaborate on the development of its editorial content.
The book is dedicated to Dube, a former visiting professor in the Department of Sociology and, later, principal investigator for the Black Metropolis Project. The book credits Dube for his “unfailing commitment, devotion and passion for African American culture.” Community as Partner Manley and students who participated in the Black Metropolis Project worked closely with a range of community partners, including several libraries on the South Side where “town hall” meetings on the project were held. According to Sherri Ervin, Head Librarian at the George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, “This Project encouraged people who were interested in the changes occurring in Bronzeville to come together. Anything that has a direct impact on community residents as it relates to housing, education and other key issues—that’s important for people to know about.” Meanwhile, this new book not only depicts how history transforms a community—and the students who learn about it. Manley says that The Way They Saw It could also serve as a learning tool for students, schools and organizations that want to understand a neighborhood’s history and how it is changing. “This book, and the Black Metropolis Project, demonstrate how students can learn about a community by documenting the history of that community. The Way They Saw It shows how service learning plays a key role in the academic experience of students—while contributing to what we know about the Black Metropolis.”