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A long-time Chicagoan, Maddie Anderson’s time at UChicago has been driven by community-focused work, from writing for the South Side Weekly to interning for the Invisible Institute. Maddie, now a fourth year majoring in Public Policy major and minoring in Creative Writing, is about to turn in her undergraduate thesis, which evaluates the $5.5M reparations package awarded to victims of police torture under CPD Detective Jon Burge.

Maddie first learned about the torture cases in Adam Green’s Introduction to Black Chicago, 1893-2010 course and, later, Susan Gzesh’s Intro to Human Rights class. As an intern at the Invisible Institute, Maddie worked on CPD misconduct under the direction of Jamie Kalven. The conditions of the reparations stipulated awards to victims of torture between 1971-1991, who had been tortured by Burge and/or his subordinates, and within Police Districts 2 or 3. Overall, 120 people were awarded reparations. Her research at the Invisible Institute and her classroom knowledge coalesced and sparked a desire to analyze the effectiveness of the reparations package, which had not been reviewed before. 

To better understand the impact of reparations on its recipients, Maddie decided to conduct 15 interviews with the mothers of torture victims and the victims themselves, as well as the designers and implementers of the reparations package. She describes the process as “emotionally taxing, but something that taught me the value of interpersonal skills and the necessity of active listening.” Maddie says that “it’s important to tell their stories correctly, because I want to do right by these people.”

Maddie stressed the importance of mentorship and professional support throughout the process of writing her thesis. From working with Assistant Professor Forrest Stuart, she was given the idea of constructing a typology of reparations based on international models, which she cites as key to her paper.

To future students working on theses or other forms of research, Maddie recommends “talking to someone who’s thinking you admire, whether professors, supervisors, or otherwise.” She’s found it critical to be involved in Chicago-based work, such as the Invisible Institute or Urban Labs, which “grant so many resources and give access to change-makers.”

Maddie also stressed the value of interview-based over exclusively quantitative work. Through her thesis interviews, she’s found it incredibly enriching to talk to people instead of solely analyzing data. She does admit that transcribing isn’t easy and suggests finding a transcription service if you can.

At the end of our conversation, Maddie noted that “it brings me pride to do this work—it’s academic work and also activist work. A lot of people write their BAs just to meet the requirement. . . but you can turn it into something meaningful.”  Reflecting on her relationship to the city, Maddie commented, “I definitely consider myself a Chicagoan. This work is so important to me because it feels like work for my community.”

To explore work similar to Maddie’s, and to contribute your own, visit the Chicago Studies Resource Portal.

April 2, 2018