Some of Charlene Carruthers’ strongest memories from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago are of visiting the public aid office with her mother. Caseworkers spoke condescendingly from a desk so high it was difficult to see over. The desk reinforced the feeling of being talked down to. “I just remember as a child being very conscious of the differences when it came to class and race and even gender,” she said. “But I didn’t have those words at the time.”
Years later, Carruthers entered Illinois Wesleyan University as a pre-med student, hoping to become a surgeon.