A rough sketch for my capstone project- Detroit as told by Detroiters


When I was a younger, it was trips like these that ignited my initial interest in Detroit.  Painting graffiti, trespassing, exploring, and climbing to the roofs of abandon buildings a dozen stories tall for the thrill and the breath-taking views (pictured here, the former Fisher Body Plant 21).  It was the sense of lawlessness and excitement that was so alluring.  Completely oblivious to the wide array of ethnic neighborhood cultures, or the rich, and very troubling, history of such an important city–I was perfectly fitting the mold for your stereotypical white suburbanite who claimed to “love” Detroit without really knowing it.  Like many kids growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, I had fallen prey to a lust for the “ruins porn” archetype of Detroit.  Ruins porn describes a style of photography that focuses on glamorizing the severely dilapidated features of a historically struggling city while casually “glossing over the deep structural problems of the city” as Wayne State Professor John Leary says.  This is happening in urban centers all over the country, but Detroit in particular is frequently misrepresented and misunderstood this way by outsiders.

So how this all connects with my portfolio……

In class, I had said that I had been thinking about having my capstone portfolio focus on answering a rather broad, open-ended question of how to improve the quality of education in urban, low socioeconomic status areas.  I said this in part because my recent academic pursuits all have led me to the same question: can all children be given the same chances at academic success and receive the same opportunities regardless of where they grow up?  Unfortunately,  it seems that as long as there are differences in socioeconomic status, true educational equality will always remain an ideal rather than an attainable.  Because of this, I realized my interests in educational improvement could be more easily explored through a local focus in a city I am already very interested in.

I would now like to have education be one part of a multiple dimensional analysis of both social issues and social change in the city of Detroit as told by those individuals who work and live there.  While not a member of this community myself, in the last couple of years, various volunteer experiences, jobs, and other opportunities have led me to have several connections in the educational sphere and other social spheres in the city of Detroit.  Wanting to understand the truth for myself, my goal is to metaphorically paint an accurate portrait of both the daily social issues, and successes, that are going on in this city.  I also want to include historical aspects (perhaps this could be part of my essay, including gentrification, ect).

I plan to go into inner city school psychology, hoping to attend Wayne State next fall for graduate school.  Between then and now I would like to learn more about this city, and to educate myself while hoping to educate others through this portfolio.

I am also taking a mini-course that meets on U of M’s Detroit satellite campus called “Detroiters Speak” that holds lectures featuring local Detroiters speaking on social issues in the city that may be helpful in gathering resources.






10 thoughts to “A rough sketch for my capstone project- Detroit as told by Detroiters”

  1. Hey Conrad! A cool way to present both the history and current going-ons of the city might be to take a street, or a block or a corner, and look at the way it’s changed over the past 70 years or so, maybe do interviews with people you know, etc. However, I think that one of the things you’d really have a good perspective on is this whole issue of gentrification, white suburbanites coming into Detroit. As a white suburbanite with plans to move to the city, how will you reconcile your own ambitions with efforts to not be THAT gentrifier? You could talk about Midtown, for instance, and Wayne State’s massive police force, or about the new $350,000 condos opening up on Dickerson. I think that your learning process about existing with your identities in Detroit might be a more interesting angle than the actual history that you learn about, because there are already a lot of histories of Detroit written by people who are from there.

    1. Hey, thank you for your feedback! This was extremely helpful, and I am more than likely going to take/build upon some of your suggestions to make this project more original and personal. As you pointed out, I was concerned that there are already a lot of existing histories written by people from the city, and I was hoping to find that unique angle to make the project more interesting as we went on.

  2. Well, this project is really powerful for me as last summer I lived in Detroit and absolutely fell in love with it. I’ve never truly felt part of a community before, and yet this city that only knew me for a few months took me in.
    Though it does a have a thriving community, education is still a major problem in the city. And while schools that used to be considered poor, like Cass Tech, are now producing college-ready students, there is still a lot of work to be done. I would urge you to find people on Michigan’s or Wayne State’s campuses who attended schools in Detroit, because I’ve personally found their stories to be the most informative over data or studies.
    I would also encourage you to seek out professors at the school who do more qualitative research into the lives of Detroiters. Their stories are fascinating and the city deserves so much more than it’s funding is able to offer.
    Good luck!

  3. Hey, Conrad,

    I think you have some really valid ideas going on, and it may be in your best interest to find the best specific to focus on rather than painting an overall image of Detroit. I think if you really want to make this a story of Detroit by Detroiters, you should probably start interviewing relevant populations in Detroit on what THEY think a story focusing on Detroit should be. From their common themes, you could derive a story that’s both powerful to you and true to the people who live there. I think you should stay away from removed scholarly research before you have a specific narrative to explore–maybe you could use scholarly research from Detroit natives or denizens, but don’t use a U of M study done by people who have never lived in the city. Just my thoughts. I’m glad you have such productive interests!

  4. Hi Conrad,

    I really like this, and absolutely agree with the comments beforehand. Kind of bouncing off of Mary’s idea of making it more personal, I’m interested in why you want to go into inner city school psychology. How was your schooling experience different? What were advantages of yours? Disadvantages? What about advantages and disadvantages of the communities that you’re interested in working with? Do your social identities play any role? What sorts of psychology issues will you focus on in an inner city environment as opposed to a suburban, or rural environment? And what drew you to this discipline in the first place? I think these questions are crucial in so far as they’ll potentially help you place yourself in this space and situate your interests and provide a steady understanding with which to dive head first into the issues.

  5. Conrad,
    This is gonna be dope. I can already tell. The subject matter is relevant and engaging, especially for you and your future career prospects. Initial thoughts: Conducting interview is a must. Not only would transcriptions of interviews from real people enhance the image you are painting of the city, but it would give you personal experience interacting with Detroiters. You could write about why you chose certain people and stuff like that. Make it a Humans of Detroit type thing, ya know? In each interview addressing the issues that you want to address would keep your essay from straying into inspirational quotes, but either way, I am really into the human aspect of the project. It sounds really cool and I’m looking forward to discussing it and seeing what you’re gonna do with this beautiful idea.


  6. Conrad,
    This seems awesome. Detroit is such an interesting subject matter-no other American city has reached the same depths in its peaks and valleys like Detroit, so its a great test case to explore social issues. A few questions I have: what social issues in particular do you want to focus on? Will these issues also have economic dimensions to them–it would seem hard to ignore given what the city has been through. Also, will you exclusively be using anecdotal evidence, or are you planning on including other more formal/statistical research as well? It seems like you have the necessary connections to execute the anecdotal and narrative element very well, but adding that statistical can’t hurt.

  7. Hey Conrad,

    This a great idea and its cool to see hear how personally you are invested in it. I am really interested in the topic of educational reform that you mentioned, especially with how applicable it is to Detroit and DPS. I volunteered with the organization Summer in the City back in the day (if you haven’t hear of them they’re worth checking out) tutoring summer school students who had missed standardized tests during the school year. If anything, that work made me truly internalize how systemic the problem of educational disparity is, especially among the lower-class, black population. Reading your post, one of the first issues that came to mind was that of affirmative action. The politics surrounding it are incredibly controversial, and could be very interesting to examine, especially in the context of Detroit. I really look forward to seeing where you take this project. Good luck!

  8. Hi Conrad! Right off the bat, this project idea really has me thinking. There’s so much art that showcases the abandoned buildings of Detroit, making them look almost mystical. And to be honest, I never thought twice about this depiction. I figured that, if anything, it raised awareness. In a sense, I think it definitely does, but on the other hand, it’s still false representation. What is the value of such depictions and where does the balance between raising awareness and undermining the motivation to take more effective action come into play? On top of this, I think that you’ve thought of a pretty clever way to incorporate this into your own career endeavors. I think the topic in itself is thought provoking but also beneficial to your own knowledge in the long run.

  9. Hey Conrad,

    I think that one way you could avoid providing another history similar to those that we’ve already heard in the media, you might look at how you could find stories about Detroit as told by Detroiters. If you’re particularly interested in education, maybe reach out to teachers in the city, and see if they could then put you in touch with their current and former students who might be able to comment on their own experiences. I think that the closer to you are to the city and its actual inhabitants, the more accurate and real of a portrait you’ll be able to provide. Of course, I think you could also include some other outside research in order to try and create a more balanced project, too.

    I hope this helps!

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