I have been trying for a few weeks now to figure out what I want to say and how to say it. Last week was one of the most disheartening weeks in my four years here at Northwestern. I never thought I would be so disappointed in my classmates, many of whom I have worked with through various initiatives.
At last week’s ASG Senate meeting, I saw students from across campus berate three students who put their work on display to get confirmed for ASG executive board positions. This is not a message about their qualifications (all candidates were qualified) but about how their peers treated them. Students posed loaded questions and made hurtful remarks meant to entrap and demean the candidates. I also saw a lot of anger from students regarding the confirmation of my potential Diversity and Inclusion successor. Please do not interpret this the wrong way: Anger lights the fuse; it is essential to diversity initiatives across campus. But anger can only get you so far. Anger must be vented before entering a situation where you must be respectful. It is one thing to voice your opinion, it is another to yell misinformation and hate at another person.
Many students came up to me following that meeting and shared that they no longer feel comfortable talking about diversity in fear that they will be yelled at and disrespected. One student even told me that he was afraid to share an opinion that evening because he was “scared of being massacred.” This is a problem. There is so much work to be done on campus, and now we are one step back from where we were a week ago. We need all students on campus, regardless of race, color and background, to listen to our cause and understand that we are advocating for inclusion. Now, many students that we have been trying to reach do not even want to hear from us. Anger and disrespect turn people away from the cause; we have seen this before and now we see this again. We need students on campus to feel comfortable voicing their opinions. If their opinion offends you, you need to be just as comfortable respectfully sharing with this person why it hurts you.
We need to inspire a culture of respect at Northwestern. While it may seem like what happened in Senate was an isolated incident, in my four years here, I have seen students from all areas of campus attack people for so many different reasons. There is never any reason to emotionally or verbally (or God forbid, physically) attack another student here. We are all here to learn, and while half of our education comes from the classroom, we all know that the other half comes from our peers, student groups and our undergraduate experiences as a whole. We need to transform our community to include open cultural education and dialogue as well. For example, after the Senate meeting, a student asked whether a certain phrase was offensive. He then admitted that I was the only person he felt comfortable asking because he felt like I wouldn’t get mad at him for asking in the first place. We need more students to ask questions and we need more students to feel comfortable answering respectfully. It is okay to inquire about one another. It is OK to ask questions. It is OK to not know something. It is OK to educate. Let’s create a campus culture and community that promotes cooperative learning where we learn from one another in every aspect of our day. No one will ever understand what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes, but we need to get to a point where we can listen to any individual’s experience and empathize and learn just from hearing about their background. We need to develop this sense of community, because right now, we are just letting anger divide us.
Diversity and inclusion is perhaps the largest issue facing Northwestern; we are a community of so many incredible backgrounds and perspectives, but it pains me to see that some students find exploring each other’s experiences irrelevant to their personal perspective. Diversity means more than talking only about race, religion or ethnicity. We need to widen our scope, and we can start by listening to one another. This might sound silly, trite or cliché to say, but let’s promote kindness. As we saw in Senate, we are so ready to jump on people and get angry about how they seem or what they represent and we fail to ever applaud their contributions or their acts of compassion and kindness. Let’s be nice to one another. Let’s care for one another. Let’s support one another. I’m not going to end this on some mushy note about One Northwestern, but let’s just be a Senate, an Associated Student Government, and a Northwestern that treats every person here with greater respect, even people who seem like they have nothing in common with you. Just listen, be kind and be respectful. Everyone has something positive to contribute, you just have to be willing to hear it.
VP for Diversity and Inclusion, ASG
Student, Class of 2013