Divided we stand
    Photo by Natalie Krebs / North by Northwestern

    There’s the Greek community. There’s North Campus and South Campus. There are residential colleges, halls and communities. There are the athletic teams and cultural groups. There are six different undergraduate schools. With all these classifications and descriptions of NU students, what does it mean to be ‘One Northwestern’?


    Miranda Zhao, president of the Residential College Board, says residential colleges comprise a “unique constituency of the Northwestern community” that is rooted in tradition. Residential colleges, many of which are interest-based or “themed,” have existed on campus for more than 40 years. This means that for decades, a significant portion of the housing options on campus have segregated students based on their interests in areas such as communications, international studies and performance arts. 

    Zhao feels that, although residential colleges have become less isolated over the years, they are still a distinct part of Northwestern’s community.

    “Without living in a residential college, you can’t really know what it’s like,” Zhao says. “It’s this shared experience among residential college people, but you have to experience it to understand what it really means and how it’s so important.” 

    Off-campus housing options also divide students, creating two virtually separate worlds. 


    The 2012-2013 Undergraduate Catalog opens by stating that Northwestern values interdisciplinarity. Many classes are open to students from any of the six undergraduate schools. Still, many students end up focusing on courses in their respective disciplines. Because many students meet their friends in classes, this reinforces social stratification.

    However, the University is actively trying to overcome these divides between schools. 

    Nancy Cunniff, project coordinator for One Book One Northwestern, says that although each of the undergraduate schools is “their own little silo,” OBON is interdisciplinary, meaning it fosters community between the schools. 

    “We try to do something that would appeal to people in the different areas,” Cunniff says of selecting the book each year and scheduling programming around it. Cunniff says that OBON, a program oriented toward incoming freshmen and transfer students, is a simple way new Wildcats come together. Last fall, OBON orchestrated a trip for incoming students to various neighborhoods in Chicago, to correspond with this year’s selection, Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz.

    “It really doesn’t matter what school they are in, everyone is doing the same thing. Everybody reads,” Cunniff says. “OBON is targeted to freshmen so they can have a common conversation, but the program is really for the community as a whole, and everyone is welcome and invited.”

    Greek life

    Fraternities and sororities have been a significant presence at Northwestern since 1859. With 42 chapters currently on campus, the Greek community has approximately 2,700 members—35 percent of the campus population. The University’s “Freshmen Freeze” policy prohibits first-year students from joining fraternities or sororities until winter quarter and from entering Greek houses for the first two weeks of fall quarter, but the system is still a prominent part of Northwestern life.

    Medill sophomore Jeremy Woo participated in fraternity recruitment but decided not to join. With close friends inside and outside of Greek life, Woo says he believes in the community divide, but that it’s not as significant as many think.

    “I think it’s integrated. Do [Greeks and non-Greeks] often interact? That, I’m not always sure about,” Woo says. Woo adds that some fraternities and sororities perpetuate the divide more than others, depending on their exclusivity. He says much of the separation of the two communities stems from “a sense of interests.”

    During Fall Quarter, the Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Northwestern’s Panhellenic Association collaborated on the “…and I am Greek” campaign, which showcased the Greek community’s assets. According to the NU Greek website, “while everybody has a story, every member of the community is connected through the shared Greek experience.” But this doesn’t necessarily mean the Greek community is integrated with all of Northwestern. 

    The future

    Jeffrey Porter (Speech ‘01), who chose Northwestern in part because of its “wonderful sense of community” and now works with alumni in the Los Angeles area, feels that Northwestern’s comaraderie is permanent. 

    The Northwestern community is a wealth of resources, Porter says, because “alumni are responsible for and dedicated to helping each other succeed” through sharing advice and information about jobs and internships.

    “I just love the fact that all Northwestern alumni feel a strong connection because of the school,” Porter says. 

    Because of this, no matter what affiliations you have, what school you studied in, what communities you found or what communities you built for yourself during your time at Northwestern, one truism applies to all: Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat. 

    “Having one Northwestern means that everyone can be happy where they are,” Zhao says.


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