Diversity "Speak Out" brings faculty into conversation

    Faculty and students met Monday to continue the diversity discussion. Photo by author.

    After attendees introduced themselves to their neighbors at NU4DiversityNow’s “Student-Faculty Speak Out!” Monday evening, Ski Team president Matt Dolph asked of his discussion group, “It’s always the same people at these events…what can be done to get different people to come?”

    That question, and others like “How do you feel about the way students have reacted to recent events on campus?” and “What is the difference between ‘cultural’ and ‘social’ diversity?” framed the event, held on the Norris lawn.

    More than two weeks ago, an occasion on Deering Meadow fostered personalized discussion by pairing students with several strangers and giving them questions to steer the dialogue to diversity-related issues.

    Since then, events throughout the past few weeks, hosted by various student groups and characterized by a utilization of the “break-out groups” method of facilitating dialogue, have shown that some sort of conversation is happening. But many of the professors and students who spoke Monday voiced their intentions of moving on to the next stage. Faculty speakers said that a step forward could be defining “diversity” in more appropriate terms, pushing administration or transitioning from talking to more tangible action.

    “I do feel like these discussions are very important, because I think that’s the way our university operates, and I think that’s the way people learn,” said Communication junior Jazzy Johnson, the organizer of the event. “Because you’re not gonna just get everyone to jump in.”

    The NU4DiversityNow gathering aimed to steer the conversation towards the faculty, a body of Northwestern students with a unique view on diversity and NU-centric goals and difficulties, according to Johnson.

    “A lot of them have been around for a longer time,” Johnson said. “And they can speak from their own experience and…contextualize a lot of the things that we're dealing with.”

    Two kinds of diversity

    Associate professor of African American Studies Barnor Hesse, a co-chair of the committee that created the recently released diversity report, broke it down into issues he said he felt weren’t being addressed well enough by the administration.

    Jazzy Johnson speaks about the next steps to ensure that Northwestern students and staff foster diversity. Photo by author.

    Hesse, who also teaches political science and sociology at Northwestern, said that crimes from the “blackface” incident several years ago to the recent egging of two NU students provide evidence of the university’s failings when it comes to diversity.

    The university has created a community in which “diversity here is…confused and disturbing, and becomes threatening and inhospitable, and [the university] has not accepted that,” Hesse said.

    The type of diversity Northwestern proponents sees as necessary for their image is what causes trouble, according to Hesse. One type, “social” diversity, as he defined it, has framed the administration’s response to calls for change.

    A “socially” diverse school will have the numbers to claim it's at least a little diverse, with an adequate representation of minority groups through clubs on campus and maybe staged photos of the president standing amongst a mix of different students. However, a “culturally” diverse environment actually integrates these diverse social groups that to some NU students at the meeting seem very isolated from each other.

    One of Johnson’s plans, to ask for a public commitment by the administration to ensure action, fizzled due to lack of administration presence at the end of the event.

    Johnson said before the end of the school year she wants the university to specify “what are you going to do, what does the timeline look like, what are the steps you’re going to take. Because what we’ve gotten from them is more of a public reference to things.”

    Using the pronoun “I”

    Each small roundtable of students and faculty was given a slip of paper with three questions on it, asking the groups to shape their answers with personal understanding or experience. The attendees were later asked to diversify their discussions by switching into new groups, and were then given three new questions about reactions to “recent events on campus.”

    In one circle, Weinberg freshman Pleshette Strong discussed the merits of the proposed diversity requirement. She recalled a conversation with “a girl who made it very clear she thought she knew where I was from,” and mentioned stereotypes like dealing drugs and gangs.

    “If you took a class on this sort of stuff, you’d realize I’m not a representative for those people,” Strong said.

    Another student in the same group, Weinberg junior Satugarn Limthongviratn, spoke about the different backgrounds people bring with them when they come to Northwestern.

    “You don’t get other perspectives,” he said. “You’re on this straight path. But when you go into the real world, things are so different.”

    The next step

    One student raised his hand and spoke about the lack of faculty members in attendance. He said he was surprised to learn that a sizeable number of them did not agree with student and faculty action on campus. About seven professors attended the "Shout Out," and students greatly outnumbered them in the breakout groups.

    “Threaten them with CTECs,” associate professor of history Ji-Yeon Yuh said simply in reply before handing the microphone back, garnering laughter and applause.

    In a second faculty speech, assistant professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies Nitasha Tamar Sharma introduced what she felt should happen next.

    “Really, move from speaking about things to action. I’m really, really calling you to arms,” Sharma said. “I would have you just think about…what actions are you going to implement, and what actions are you going to demand?”

    Sharma’s words proceeded several calls to action.  The professor and several students suggested class walk-outs, strikes, boycotts of graduation and demonstrations during Dillo Day. No concrete plans were made.

    “I do feel like…Northwestern is afraid of radicalism,” Johnson said.

    “I can’t tell you how many times that like I’ve been called radical in the past few months. But it’s like, I’m not doing anything radical…but I think we have to disrupt the norm…to get what we really need.”


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