With a jacket too light for a 20-degree day and earbuds dangling from his pocket, Mark Crain’s laid-back style doesn’t match the image most students have of him.
For Members Only headline-making events define the Weinberg senior in recent campus memory. Crain preceded Rev. Jeremiah Wright and delivered a speech detailing the university’s failings of the black community. On Oct. 13, Crain was at the Rock protesting low black student enrollment. FMO organizers call the events a “prelude” to new efforts to bring more minority students to Northwestern.
“He doesn’t bite his tongue. If he’s really passionate about something you’ll know what he’s thinking,” says Weinberg senior Jeniece Fleming, a former ASG senator for FMO.
When he first took the position of coordinator in his junior year, Crain catalyzed a reorganization within FMO. “We tried to break out of that mold, to not focus so much on our big money events but to focus more on community building events: to look at what ways we thought Northwestern’s institutions weren’t serving us necessarily the best they could,” Crain says.
Shawna Cooper-Gibson, former Director of African American Student Affairs and adviser to FMO during Crain’s tenure as coordinator, attributes a significant attitude change within the black community to Crain’s ignition of activism on campus. “When he came in as a freshman, the African-American community was a little apathetic; he brought a little bit more energy and student involvement to the forefront.”
That’s who Mark Crain is to Northwestern: someone who, in Cooper-Gibson’s words,“pushes the envelope,” ignites activism and questions authority.
Although it seems like Crain thrives on conflict, he says it all really happens on its own. “I don’t know that I’ve ever thrust myself into controversy,” Crain says in reference to black enrollment protest efforts. And according to Crain, he never saw the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright — he was simply honored to share a stage with Wright.
Fleming agrees, saying that Crain possesses a genuine desire to build a stronger community at Northwestern not just among black students, but all students.
“Community” comes up again and again when talking about Mark. “One of Mark’s philosophies is that when he’s working with people he takes that commitment a lot more [seriously] because it affects someone else,” Weinberg senior Usman Mian says.
Crain notably ran for ASG president last spring. Even after losing the election, he remains influential within student government. According to Mian, ASG senator and Senior Academic Committee member as well as Crain’s Alpha Phi Alpha brother, “When he goes to senate meetings and he speaks, that carries a lot of weight.” Because of Crain’s credibility, ASG and other student group leaders running for office often ask him to speak on their behalf. “His influence carries over,” Mian says.
It’s debatable whether all of his actions have helped transform Northwestern into Crain’s goal of a cohesive community — Weinberg junior Aisha Smith, former FMO treasurer and Crain’s ASG campaign manager, admits that Crain’s decisions are not always popular, but Crain made it clear through his work in both FMO and ASG that he ultimately seeks unity.
“What we try to do is defeat a sense of individualism that can conquer a student, and really focus on that brother’s keeper, sister’s keeper mentality,” Crain said. “That’s what we tried to contribute.”