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Instructor By Day, Investigator By Night

Photo: Ryan Lowry
 
When she's not asking students about mise-en-scene, plot points or the Kuleshov effect, CA+S adjunct faculty member Francine J. Sanders is posing tough questions to interview subjects.

Before she began her teaching career at Columbia College, Sanders worked as an investigator for the Chicago Police Department's now-defunct Office of Professional Standards. As a civilian investigator of police brutality and other misconduct complaints, Sanders spent her days interviewing people, and trying to figure out what was really going on. When she started teaching at Columbia, she discovered a lot of connections between investigative work and teaching.

"Investigative work, like teaching, often involves listening to people and trying to understand the real story. It involves looking for small clues and details that help you figure out what people really mean by what they’re saying, and what’s really going on,” says Sanders.

Her latest investigative project was to research and write a story based on interviews with a group of ex-cops, a project that was done with the support of a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. The article, The Questions I Never Asked, is featured as the cover story in this week’s (9/19/13) issue of the Chicago Reader. It was the result of almost two years of research and interviewing.

“Working on a piece like this takes patience,” she said, “something I always wish I had in greater supply. But what always gets me through is believing in the work.” Adding that she tries to instill that kind of passion and commitment when she teaches, “trying to get students to believe in themselves and to fully commit to whatever they set out to do.”

Sanders said that one of the highlights of the Questions project was having the opportunity to collaborate with really talented people, including the paper's editor and creative director.  A bonus collaboration was that she ended up working with a CCC alum, Ryan Lowry (BA ’11), who was the photographer hired by the Reader for her shoot. 

Sanders doesn’t see her investigative work (she still has a hand in doing it and not just writing about it) as a strange match with her career as a storyteller, writer and instructor.  In fact, she said, the two parts of her life constantly intertwine and reinforce each other.  “That’s another thing that I like to encourage in students—using their own lives to inform and inspire their creative work.”