Chicago center struggling

Staff Writer

Chicago has been at the center of a national debate about gun violence for months. The city’s regular appearances for its violence in the national media has earned Chicago a reputation that is harming the Chicago Center, a Hyde Park-based urban studies program.

The Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture, 1515 E. 52nd St., has run a program since 1970 where college students from across the country can work an internship and live in an urban environment.
Executive Director Scott Chesebro said the near-constant reporting of Chicago’s South Side as a crime-ridden and violent place is keeping students from enrolling out of concern for their safety.

“With Chicago being in the news every week for its violence, particularly kids who are being killed on the South Side of Chicago, and the news reports naming how many blocks from the president’s house an incident happened, it’s hurt us really a lot,” Chesebro said. “Colleges caution students about coming to our program because it’s on the South Side of Chicago.”

The Chicago Center brings students from across the nation, often from rural environments, to spend a summer or a semester in an urban environment, earning college credit and working at internships.
The Chicago Center recently put the house it owns at 1347 E. Hyde Park Blvd. on the real estate market, in part because enrollment is down by half from last year.

Chesebro said the bank the organization works with is removing not-for-profits of Chicago Center’s size from its portfolio, which means the center needs to find a new line of credit with a new bank.
“We’re working hard to secure a bank,” Chesebro said. He hopes to secure a new line of credit so the building won’t have to be sold at all, he said. “We love the location. The thing about the building is its perfect for us, really — strictly finances — that’s the bottom line.”

The Chicago Center bought the home in 2009 as a cost saving measure. If enrollment reaches its full 27 students, it makes economic sense to own the building they stay in rather than renting apartments across the neighborhood.

But this summer’s enrollment was down by about half from the previous year, taking the organization’s revenue down with it.

Chesebro said some people have suggested that The Chicago Center move its operation to a North Side neighborhood that students would more typically live in, like Lakeview.

“I think that Hyde Park is where we want to be,” Chesebro said. “It’s not like we can put a staff or security person with every student 24/7 and we feel that it’s probably hurt us as much as anything. When you have a drop in enrollments, you have a drop in revenue and if it’s related to this violence it’s just unfortunate.”

In the decades that The Chicago Center has operated in Hyde Park, he said, there have only been a handful of incidents where students were the victims of crime.

Chesebro said the center plans to emphasize the safety of the program in its immediate marketing campaigns.

“We’ve had really minimal incidences of violence in our history, and it’s because we are really conscious about safety,” Chesebro said. Students are given workshops on safety, being aware of their surroundings and how to use public transportation safely.

“What we’ve been doing has worked,” Chesebro said. “We have to try to communicate it more clearly in our marketing.”