On partnering for a vibrant future: Adam Green speaks about UChicago’s role in South Chicago

The University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering held its fourth annual Celebration of African-American History and Culture this month, featuring a standing-room only address from Adam Green, associate professor in the departments of Race, Diaspora & Indigeneity, and History at the University of Chicago.

Green, who also is the co-chair of the University’s Council on UChicago/Community Relations, spoke about Chicago’s past and its role in the present moment, asking the audience to consider how to create a more fair and trusting relationship between UChicago and its neighborhood community.

“When we think about trying to support the effort to create a different climate, it's very important to be active,” said Green. “It's very important to be supportive. It's very important to listen to the stories, learn from them, and to perhaps share your own stories from the communities, the societies, the histories, the memories, the traditions that you come from. But above all, you cannot simply be a bystander and wait for things to calm down. Because if you do that, then nothing ever changes.”

Green talked about the Little Rock Nine, a group of teenagers who were the first African-American students to attend desegregated classes in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Their attendance became a national flashpoint at the time, necessitating the deployment of the national guard, and has reemerged in the present conversations on race and equality. Green explained that while many white students attending Little Rock Central High School did not harass their nine newly integrated peers, their inaction allowed it to happen.

Speaking as co-chair of the University’s Council on UChicago/Community Relations, Green discussed how the University is working to improve relations with the local South Side community.

“We on the council were charged to not only get the history of the University’s relation to these communities, but to think about those questions in the present and project some sense of best practices on what's already been done by the University, and what could be done,” Green said. “We want there to be a more effective, more rich, more positive, and—I use this word very intentionally—a more trusting relationship between the University of Chicago and its neighbors.”

Following the talk, Green took questions from the audience, covering topics such as mentorship and the need for continuing mentorship beyond when a University mentor graduates, monetary investment in black ventures, and school-led outreach activities like the South Side Science Festival.

As an engineering school dedicated to preparing the next generation of engineers, PME offers several educational outreach programs that encourage South Side students from middle school to college to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Professor Green’s address was encouraging as it reflected many of the ideals and values that already shape our strategic engagement with local communities — especially, the idea that we have as much to learn as we have to teach,” said Rovana Popoff, PME’s senior associate dean for education and strategy. “It also served to inspire greater investment and collaboration. To have a meaningful and enduring impact, our efforts in community engagement must be coordinated and sustained over time. In this way, we will also build greater trust and understanding — which our students and postdoctoral researchers will be able to carry into their personal and professional lives beyond PME.”

The celebration continued with a reception accompanied by live music performed by Wavelength. This year's event was brought together by Brandi Carr with help from PME faculty and staff.