SSA Remembers Professor Irving Spergel

Published in the Fall 2010 issue of SSA Magazine

Irving A. Spergel, one of the nation's leading experts on gangs and SSA's George Herbert Jones Professor Emeritus of SSA, died on December 3, 2010. He was 86.

Spergel's comprehensive gang prevention, intervention and suppression program has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice and used in cities across the country to combat gang violence. He wrote seven books and wrote, co-authored and edited more than 100 publications on street gang intervention.

After serving in the U.S. Army in Europe in World War II, Spergel studied at City College of New York and received a B.A. in social sciences in 1946. He went on to earn an M.A. in social work in 1952 from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in social work in 1960 from Columbia University. Spergel joined the University faculty in 1960 and was named the George Herbert Jones Professor in 1993. He also held the position of research associate (professor) in the Department of Sociology. He became an emeritus faculty member in 2002.

At SSA, Spergel helped build the school's group work program with Mary Lou Somers, professor emeritus, and Paul Gitlin, associate professor emeritus. He revitalized SSA's community organizing program by linking theory and practice through examples drawn from his grassroots activism and ongoing research in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.

Though retired from the faculty, Spergel continued to do research and lecture, and he wanted to be known and remembered, first and foremost, as a social worker. "Over the course of his career, Spergel has played many roles—youth worker, scholar, teacher, program designer, evaluator, mediator, activist," said Robert Chaskin, associate professor at SSA, who recently edited Youth Gangs and Community Intervention: Research, Practice and Evidence, which was created from papers presented at a 2006 conference honoring Spergel's retirement. "He embodied the commitment to bridge scholarship and action, and was remarkably successful in concretely translating his research findings and theoretical arguments into policy and practice that could be empirically tested."