Today’s reason to love Chicago is the celebration of the American Spanish Dance & Music Festival. This festival is sponsored by Ensemble Espanol, a Center for Spanish Dance and Music at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). So here’s what I learned about how NEIU impacts Chicago:
- NEIU has more than 11,000 students, 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and 5 campuses.
- One of those campuses, the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS), is dedicated to “meet the educational needs of Chicago’s inner-city communities” and offers studies that “are distinguished by their interdisciplinary nature in the social sciences and humanities with an emphasis on ethnic and racial issues as they apply to basic urban studies.” Living in a time where ethnic studies are being abolished, nay censored, by legislation, makes this a venture that I am glad part of my tax dollars support.
- NEIU has a wealth of programs that support its community commitment that are aimed at promoting “academic excellence among traditionally under-served populations,” with community and private partnerships that support at-risk schools and students.
Why is this exercise becoming so important to me? In part, because I love knowing how communities operate. For example, educational access is a passion of mine. There are so many teacher education programs in the metropolitan area, and I wonder why teachers would select the programs they enter. Knowing that NEIU impacts not only Chicago Public Schools, but also other urban at-risk schools gives me a broader picture of what is going on to improve urban education locally.
And learning about it through the lens of cultural events is a huge boon. As I hear from colleagues across the state whose budgets continue to be slashed, I worry about the place for the arts in higher education. Some of my fondest college memories are of dressing up and heading over to the Lied Center for Performing Arts with Jason to see something that neither of us had grown up with as part of the regular fabric of our lives. My life is so much richer for the people I’ve met that majored in fine and performing arts that are now managing performing arts venues or creating new community arts programs. I think I had better listen a little more closely to their expertise in finding venues and outlets like the Ensemble Espanol. And now I’m even more excited for DePaul’s under-construction Theatre School Building and will smile a bit brighter when I see the School of Music buildings on my way to McGaw tonight for class.