Staff Editorial

Despite Loyola’s Resources, Digital Divide Exists in Chicago

Ask any student at Loyola why he or she decided to attend this university, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a variation of this answer: “The campus is beautiful. By the lake or downtown, it’s a beautiful place to be.”

And it’s true. We’ve got some picturesque older buildings, and the completion of the 2009-2014 strategic plan brought about the construction of the Institute for Environmental Sustainability (IES) and the recently completed Schreiber Center.

New or old, though, what links all these buildings? Technology.

Sure, Dumbach Hall still has chalkboards, but it also has digital projection screens like every other classroom at Loyola. At the IES, students and professors work together in cutting-edge labs to find solutions to such problems as invasive species, water contamination and pollution. At the Schreiber Center downtown, students have access to Bloomberg Terminals, which provide real-time financial market data and news.

And then there’s the Klarcheck Information Commons (IC), the building most prospective students remember after touring Loyola. It boasts high-speed Internet, an array of Mac and PC computers and a team of librarians ready to help Loyola community members find whatever information they need.

In this environment, it can be easy to forget about the “digital divide,” a term that describes the gap in access to technology between different segments of the population. What does this look like in everyday life? Income, education, race and age all play a role.

For example, 87 percent of all adults in the U.S. use the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center. But breaking it down by income level, only 78 percent of adults making less than $30,000 per year use the Internet, while at the $50,000 level and up, more than 90 percent of adults are online. Furthermore, only 68 percent of adults who did not graduate from high school use the Internet in the U.S., but adults with a college diploma use the Internet at a rate of 97 percent.

In Chicago, the statistics are just as startling. Crain’s Chicago Business, compiling data from the city in 2013, found that broadband access varied widely. The neighborhood with the least access was Hermosa, on the northwest side, coming in at 36 percent. North Side neighborhoods had the most access: North Center had 94 percent access, followed by Wrigleyville, Lakeview and Lincoln Park at 93 percent. A majority of the West Side and far Southeast Side had about 50 percent access.

When it comes to education, our younger counterparts in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system also feel the effects of a digital divide. A 2013 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that the majority of CPS students in middle school and high school have access to the Internet, but only half of them use it regularly for schoolwork. Students at selective enrollment high schools, magnet schools and higher-performing schools used technology the most.

The study also found that male students and high-risk students (defined as special education students, poor students and students older than normal for their grade level) use technology less than their classmates. White, Asian and multiracial students use the Internet more than African American, Native American and Latino students.

On Oct. 27, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that CPS received a $37.7 million federal grant to increase high-speed Internet access in its schools. With the money, Emanuel aims to speed up his plan for making computer science a key part of the CPS curriculum.

It’s not hard to imagine the rationale behind his plan; studies from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Illinois at Chicago have found that employees in jobs that require the use of a computer earn more than employees at jobs that don’t. Even using a computer and the Internet at home had a positive effect on earnings, according to these studies.

As students at a private university where technology affects virtually every aspect of our learning, this kind of information, and initiatives like Emanuel’s, can seem pointless. But when we enrolled at Loyola, not only did we choose to attend a school with a beautiful, well-equipped campus, we also chose to attend a school with a social justice mission. We can take part in this mission by being aware of the digital divide that exists in our city, and by using what we’ve learned here — in the IES, the IC or the Schreiber Center — to lessen the divide for Chicago citizens who aren’t as lucky as we are.

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