Students, faculty and administration gathered Friday evening in Lutkin Memorial Hall for a community dialogue about recent events and developments on campus and across the nation impacting black and other marginalized students.
The discussion, led by Jabbar Bennet, associate provost for diversity and inclusion, and Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, served as a forum for Northwestern community members to address problems, as well as pose possible solutions or responses to hurt and pain on Northwestern’s campus due to marginalization and discomfort.
“Part of what we want to do is acknowledge that what happened at Missouri has happened other places in instances, perhaps it’s happened here as well,” Bennett said. “What we want to do is give you a chance to talk to us and share with us so we can learn what your experiences are and what we can do to make sure that everyone feels heard and supported and a part of this Northwestern community.”
After protests and a call to action on campus earlier in the day, as well as ASG’s recently approved legislation addressing Northwestern’s solidarity with the Univeristy of Missouri, students addressed the actions to gather insights into the student body and ensure that voices are heard. Many concerns arose regarding the silencing of voices of non-student leaders as well as graduate students on campus.
“There have already been requests from black students, from students of color, asking us to support them and I think it’s important for us to be actively engaging and actively supporting them,” said one student. “Provost [Dan] Linzer mentioned that there has been a lot of progress on this campus to make this campus more inclusive and safer for students, but I think it’s important to note progress for whom, because that’s not good enough to be complacent with how much progress we’ve made as an institution which has been a lot but there’s still a lot more.”
Conversation revolved around levels of discomfort students feel on campus, reiterating that there are certain steps and developments that must be implemented in order for administration to go beyond reactive. “We as Northwestern in the recent years have put a lot of initiative forward, whether that’s hiring new people or starting new offices,” said Dr. Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, director of Campus Inclusion and Community. “I think a lot of it has been like playing catch up. We haven’t yet been able to start moving ahead.”
Bennett touched upon the formation of Diversity and Inclusion curriculum requirement, a development also discussed in ASG. He talked about Diversity and Inclusion’s strategic plan to set out a “roadmap” for changes campus wide. The University plans to appoint a committee in Weinberg to address diversity within the curriculum. “I know that step is happening and it’s been a long time coming. It’s going to take some work,” Bennett said.
Much of the action discussed the challenging of systemic change and urging more participatory involvement, such as student boards and student involvement in administration. “It’s great that students have that agency but the administration needs to also be initiating these ideas or openly working with these organizations,” said Daniel Kinch, a junior in McCormick.
The terms diversity and inclusion are real buzzwords on this campus, but many students are unsure of what the definitions mean and promise in the context of the university.
“I feel as a white student I have a certain amount of privilege,” said Katie Pach, a Medill freshman. “It’s kind of a responsibility of mine to stay educated on things that are happening on campus and off campus and kind of educate and call attention to people that don’t possess the same privilege that I do.”
Both graduate and undergraduate students attended to join the conversation and get answers to what changes can be made both through administration and the student body. Focus later shifted to the barriers of change and the main barriers to change. Since 2012, in response to several racial incidents on campus, Telles-Irvin has helped create the Office of Campus Inclusion and Community, and continues to work to bring new developments to campus. But students still ask for more from the vice president.
“She has to jump through a lot of hoops to get there,” Communication junior Carmen Mackins said regarding Telles-Irvin's role in facilitating administrative change. “I think there has to be a way to find some kind of compromise so that things actually can get done without having to jump through those hoops and having to please everyone. We’re just trying to make things better overall.”