Losing Lincoln

A story for The Kitchen Sisters and Washington Post

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 90 colleges have merged or closed permanently. One of these schools, Lincoln College, closed its doors with only about one month’s notice in May of 2022 — after 157 years. Due to the pandemic and a ransomware attack, administrators say the school was unable to retain, recruit, or fundraise. Since then, students have been left scrambling and many have dropped out.

Lincoln College was a small private college in central Illinois — the only school named after Abraham Lincoln in his lifetime. But instead of attracting local students, the school drew many from three hours north: Chicago’s south and west sides. More than 40% were first generation college students and, even though the town is 95% white, the university was a Predominantly Black Institution. Students, alumni, and faculty described the community as deeply close-knit and, for many, a “second chance.” For some, it was also a refuge from gun violence.

After the sudden closure announcement, dozens of students confronted President David Gerlach expressing frustration and concern over what might happen to those who didn’t have a safe home to return to. It was the start of a fundraising predicament that drove a wedge between students’ grassroots efforts and administrators. How much money is enough to stay open? What’s at stake for Lincoln’s brittle economy? Over the course of a year and a half, we follow voices from across the community — professors, administrators, locals, and students dispersed across the Midwest. More than a year after closing, many continue to reel. The campus is still up for sale, but a new vision for Lincoln may soon be on the horizon.

Kitchen Sisters Story (October 2023)
Washington Post Article and Video (November 2022)

Produced between May 2022 and October 2023.

This project was made possible with support from the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation. Original soundtracks by Reed Rosenbluth. A special thank you to Pati and Danny Jinich for their endless support (and SUV), Deborah and Adam Strickberger for their lifelong role modeling, and for all those who helped along the way: Ron Keller, Tim Rivera, Ms. Linda, Aundrae Williams, Jaylah Bolden, Spencer Davis, David Gerlach, Scott Raper, Seth Goodman, Aaron Butler, David Upchurch, Julia Figueroa, Klaudia Blaszcyk, Dougie Barron, and the Rose family. One more big thank you to Nikki Silva and The Kitchen Sisters for their guidance and inspiration.