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December 20, 2019

North Park Sociology Professor Examines Racial, Socio-Economic Inequality in Public Transportation

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Professor Gwendolyn Purifoye

While working towards her PhD five years ago, Dr. Gwendolyn Purifoye, a sociology professor at North Park, completed a small project regarding public transportation, specifically how people behave badly in wide open public spaces. The research, which later became the basis of her dissertation, took a new turn because of her frequent use of public transportation.

Soon, her use of CTA trains and buses inspired her to study confined, mobile spaces, resulting in “Examining Racial Residential Segregation Through Public Transportation in Chicago.”

Dr. Purifoye completed field research by riding and studying six bus lines, two Metra lines, and two CTA lines for a few years.

“Doing that,” she says, “I paid attention to who was getting on, but also where the rides were going.” She also researched CTA and Metra archives, studying how they distribute their services and resources.

In the past two years, Dr. Purifoye has analyzed how public transportation creates transit boundaries that support the boundaries of racial segregation. Through her research, she noticed favoritism toward wealthier, predominantly white communities. For instance, the CTA services the suburbs better than they do the South Side of Chicago, and transit-dependent communities are provided with fewer resources and older buses. She notes how these transit inequalities are keeping low-income racial minorities unable to get the places they need to be.

Metra Ogilvie Station

“For Chicago to really move as a city and to grow as a city, transit equity needs to be a part of that conversation,” Dr. Purifoye says. In order to see change, she explains that the conversation needs to take place city-wide, not just at the community level.

Train station servicing south side and south suburbs

Dr. Purifoye presents her research in her urban sociology class to teach students about the intricate connections between transit, housing, education, and government, as well as their influences on cities. Engaging with North Park’s core values of being Christian, city-centered, and intercultural, she hopes to show that “justice is for everyone, and we all do better when we all do better.”

Dr. Purifoye recently presented “Examining Racial Residential Segregation Through Public Transportation in Chicago” at the American Association of Geographers Conference in Washington D.C. and plans to continue researching mobility and inequality.

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