A Chicago native who spent part of his childhood in Hyde Park, Joe Krupnick had his first Graham School experience while still in high school over twenty years ago when he took a class in the social sciences called “Wealth, Power, and Virtue,” taught by University of Chicago professor Donald Levine.
“I followed that up with a couple of philosophy classes,” Joe adds. “I can still remember the love of teaching my instructors at the Graham School had. There was a real commitment to first-rate scholarship as well as discussion and that was certainly part of what encouraged me to return to teach classes of my own.”
Graduating from Harvard College, Joe continued on there to get his PhD in sociology, where his research centered around issues of masculinity and inner-city gang violence. He returned to Chicago while doing his fieldwork and spent two years exploring the circumstances surrounding gang violence in the South Chicago neighborhood of Woodlawn.
“In particular, I was looking at the various ways that violence gets avoided,” he says. “Although it might seem counterintuitive, I began to understand how acts such as bluster, aggressive posturing, and exorbitant displays of machismo were actually ways of avoiding violent conflict. They were symbolic substitutes for violence.”
For a variety of reasons, after finishing his dissertation in 2016, Joe has decided not to pursue a career in academia, at least not immediately. For one, he’d spent the previous years growing his tutoring business, The Krupnick Approach, where he prepares high school students to achieve their goals in the increasingly competitive world of college admissions.
“It’s work I love doing,” Joe says, “but I do feel some sense of loss in stepping away from academia. Teaching in a classroom setting is something I have missed. Being at a university and working with college students while discussing sociological issues has been an important part of my life.”
Never having forgotten his early experiences at the Graham School, Joe realized his Chicago-centered sociological work might serve as an exciting foundation for a class there. He saw it as a way to link the University of Chicago’s deep roots in the social sciences with a topic pressingly relevant to Chicago today.
A Most Violent Year in Chicago, his first Graham School course, which he taught in Autumn 2017 and will offer again this winter, explored in both a theoretical and practical way the city’s 750 murders in 2016. Through discussing sociological texts, the course analyzed the upsurge in violence while also assessing potential policy solutions the city might undertake. For the Winter 2018 quarter, Joe will also be teaching The Rise of the American Alpha Male, which builds on his research focusing on the broad economic and cultural changes redefining how manhood is experienced today.
“Guys are always trying to prove their masculinity to each other,” he says. “Although the stakes might be significantly higher in the gang context of Woodlawn, the posturing I analyzed there served a similar function to what I’ve observed taking place in ‘alpha male’ social zones like gyms, locker rooms, and sports bars. Between the persona of Donald Trump and the spate of recent sexual harassment cases, there’s no question that we’ll have plenty to analyze and discuss in class.”
In the end, it’s the teaching and vigorous classroom debate that has Joe excited to return for his second quarter at the Graham School. While he always enjoyed teaching undergraduates, he admits that it was a pleasure occasionally diminished by their focus on grades and concern for their teacher’s good opinion. In that regard, Joe says his experience teaching adult professionals has been both refreshing and eye-opening.
“The experience was completely different and even humbling at times,” he says about teaching at the Graham School. “While I have the training to deeply explore the topics from a sociological perspective, the students in the class brought all their life experience and backgrounds to bear on the discussion. Whether it was from a legal background, or a career spent working in government or non-profits, the insight and opinions they provided really pushed the class to the next level. For me, the authenticity of their interest and willingness to ask tough questions brought a whole new set of rewards to the teaching experience.”
This course will consider recent masculinity movements like the rise of “men’s rights” activism, the establishment of “men’s studies” as an undergraduate field, and the expanding significance of “alpha male” social zones like gyms, locker rooms, and sports bars. The discussion will then turn to the 2016 presidential election to think about how men’s new self-understandings became have become materialized in the persona of Donald Trump.
With more than 750 murders and 4,300 shootings in 2016, Chicago witnessed its most violent year in almost two decades, suffering more bloodshed than New York City and Los Angeles combined. This course will undertake an exploration of violent crime and gang activity in Chicago to examine the causes of the 2016 upsurge and some of the policy solutions that may help curb the cycle of violence in the future.
Graham School's non-credit courses in the humanities, arts, and sciences aim to provide the foundational liberal arts education to adults to elevate their understanding of how people, life, and the world work. Course categories include: Arabic language and cultures, arts, classical Greek studies, China studies, history and politics, literature, music, and religious studies. Most courses are offered downtown at UChicago’s Gleacher Center. Learn more.