The Northwestern Associated Student Government created the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in Spring Quarter 2012 to address what ASG members saw as a significant but frequently unaddressed campus issue. Hayley Stevens, Weinberg senior and former president of Alianza, serves as the associate vice president of the committee and spoke to North by Northwestern about the group's planned role on campus in its first full year of existence.
What are some of the committee’s current initiatives?
One of the things we are working on for the whole year is the academic requirement. We are working with the University Diversity Council and specifically within that the Academic Working Group, and we are working with various professors around campus as well so we can get that up and off the ground. We are working with Lesley-Ann Brown and Burgie Howard on the Respect NU website. We are working on getting another prayer space in Tech. We are also working with the Rainbow Alliance on gender-neutral bathrooms.
We are also working with the Chabad House, specifically the student advisory board, to see what happened there and see if we can help them. We are also working with Pleshette Strong to see how the response to her situation has been and if there is anything we can do. And we are also working with the Office of the Provost for various planned events on affirmative action.
What is important about a campus-wide diversity course requirement?
I think it’s just really going to allow students to understand different perspectives that they are not accustomed to. We all come from all different backgrounds and all different perspectives and that’s wonderful, and we really feel like that’s an opportunity for everyone to share these perspectives and share these backgrounds, but also learn about each other.
We’ve discovered that the more people learn about one another, the more open and accepting they are and the more welcoming our campus really becomes. We are looking to have the most open campus as possible.
What would a diversity course teach?
There are two different course options right now. One would be a distribution requirement similar to the one that already exists in Medill. It would probably be one course that everyone is required to take. That could be a variety of different things. It could be in the latino studies department or in the political science department — just a course that would fulfill this background.
The one that I think most people are leaning towards right now is a signature course that all freshmen through all six schools would have to take. So it would basically be a course about differences. One week you would have a portion about race, the next week a portion about gender, the next week about socioeconomic background, the next week about orientation — that sort of thing.
How do you think diversity is currently perceived on campus?
I think it is perceived differently for everybody. I think there are some people who are really excited to have these conversations. I think there are some people who have never had to have these conversations so it is a really new and sometimes uncomfortable thing. I think there are some people who don’t want to have these conversations at all, for whatever reason. But we just hope that these people recognize they are at an institution like Northwestern and these are conversations that regardless of how uncomfortable they are need to be had in order to make everyone feel like a part of campus, feel truly like a Northwestern student. I think most people feel pretty open and receptive to it.
Recently, there was some controversy surrounding a column in The Daily Northwestern about affirmative action. Is the committee doing anything to address this controversy?
The student who wrote the article is more than entitled to have those opinions. Personally I don’t agree with her and I think a lot of people on campus don’t agree with her, and that is where a lot of the problems stem from. But she is allowed to have those opinions and I respect those opinions. But what really hurt me most and what I think hurt a lot of people was that a lot of the things she presented as fact in her column are actually not factual and seem to have been totally made up. So this just really showed us that a lot of people don’t know enough about affirmative action and they don’t really know the basics about it.
That’s why we are actually looking into having professors coming and leading lectures or just general conversations about the history of affirmative action so people know truly what is going on. So these are sort of the conversations that it doesn’t matter what side of the opinion you fall on, just so that everyone gets as much fact as possible, so that a column like that doesn’t have to exist anymore because everyone knows truly what is going on. She is allowed to have those opinions, absolutely. It’s just that a lot of things presented in the article are not actually correct.
Editor's note, Oct. 31 at 12:52 a.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Lesley-Ann Brown as Lesley Anne Brown. Thanks to commenter Ani for pointing out the error.