African Americans make up 8 percent of the population of McLean County, but comprise around 36 percent of those who have served time in the county jail over the past few years, according to a new report by Illinois State University students.

Titled “Documenting Bloomington-Normal,” the report examines instances of intolerance, segregation, accessibility, inclusion, progress, and improvements in the community. Students presented findings of the extensive report to a packed room at the Bone Student Center on May 9. Along with community leaders and members of the public, the audience also held members of the local grassroots organization Not In Our Town (NIOT), which requested the report.

Students presenting in Old Main Room of Illinois State University.

Students from the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development presented a report on inequality in Bloomington-Normal to a packed house of community members and leaders.

Seven teams of students from the University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development spent a semester gathering statistics on housing and criminal justice, conducting focus groups with residents, and researching newspaper and museum archives.

“Those living in low-income areas are shown to be more vulnerable to pollution, and are more likely to live on flood plains,” said Teddy Dondanville, a sociology graduate student from Pasadena, California. Dondanville’s team used Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to gather data on the Twin Cities to track racial segregation in housing markets, access to fresh foods and resources for low-income residents, and the environmental disparities in poorer neighborhoods.

“We ask that when you think about community resources, you think about geography,” said Dondanville. “Just because a plan makes economic sense, it does not mean it makes sense in terms of social justice.”

The team studying crime and punishment statistics found that while the number of white males being booked for drugs is higher than other races in the county, African American males are being arrested at a much higher percentage. “They are being arrested at a rate disproportionate to their population,” said Dani Stevens, a graduate student in political science. Statistics also showed that when African American and Latino males are arrested, they spend more time in the McLean County Jail than white men.

Presenters discussed several conversations with residents that touched on disability issues, and perceptions of race and gay rights in Bloomington-Normal. Students also offered ideas on best practices from organizations around the country similar to NIOT.

“We hope this information can be used to move the community forward and help address issues in the future,” said Diamond Frison, a senior sociology major from Chicago.

The full report will be available soon.