Biology major pursues research on housing policy, discrimination

As his college career comes to an end, biology major senior Ryan Carpenter decided to deviate from the sciences and pursue something completely different. 

Carpenter has spent the spring 2018 semester conducting a directed study with professor of history and Coordinator of Africana/black studies Emilye Crosby.

The directed study—known as Housing Policy—is a project created and led by Carpenter that consists of a collection of maps and photographs located in the Bridge Gallery in Brodie Hall. 

Carpenter said his project was greatly inspired by the book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America—by Richard Rothstein. Additionally, the project came about because of his interests in spatial thinking and mathematics. 

Carpenter conducted a case study in Rochester and used historic maps from the Homeowners Loan Corporation and security maps to show the vestiges of government mandated segregation. 

The map of Rochester used came out in 1938 and displayed multiple colored areas. Carpenter said that this is where the concept of redlining certain cities originated.   

“Redlining is when the Homeowners Loan Corporation was giving people loans on their homes in the ‘30s and ‘40s that they could pay back in 25 years,” Carpenter said. “If you were in a redlined area, you were assessed to be at too high of a risk and you weren’t awarded a loan.”

Redlining was used by the federal government as a technique to segregate African Americans to particular neighborhoods. In addition to the security maps provided by the Homeowners Loan Corporation were area descriptions.

“The area descriptions described the specific neighborhood and the reason for their assessment and often times the assessments would be very racist,” Carpenter said. 

Ultimately, these racist driven practices kept certain groups of people circumscribed to designated areas.

Beside the historic maps and descriptions, Carpenter took current photographs of various locations in Rochester. He wanted people who are familiar with the Rochester area to be able to place themselves within the map in order to feel the effects of the divisions.

“For the project, I wanted to do an art gallery because I thought it was a good way to show the images and I wanted it to be really visual,” he said. “I wanted people to see the huge map, the area descriptions and the contemporary images of the city. Instead of writing an essay or something, people can just walk through the gallery and see what the federal government had said about certain historically black neighborhoods.”

On top of redlining and writing area descriptions, the government took many other measures to ensure that cities stayed segregated. 

“American cities would be zoned commercially or industrially. If it was commercial or industrial then bars, restaurants and strip clubs could be put there,” Carpenter said. “A lot of times, they would zone a historic black community as industrial commercial and if you do that—you’re not in a single family home zone. You’re in a commercial zone where you can be denied loans. This was done on purpose.”

After college, Carpenter will attend either the University of Chicago to study biomedical informatics or he will pursue a position as an informatics officer for the Global Health in Rwanda. 

Carpenter hopes that people understand the role the government plays in segregation as a result of this project.  

“What I want people to take away is that the government really has their fingerprints on segregating America. A lot of people have this idea of de-facto segregation, which would be when white flight and real estate agents encourage certain people to live in certain areas, but those are private choices,” Carpenter said. “I think it’s important for people to realize that the federal government really did facilitate these private choices—but I think the main issue with segregation in American cities is what the federal government has done.”