Amidst a smattering of tables in Allison Dining Hall, four microphones stood above the crowd, providing a platform for NU students and faculty to converse about diversity course requirements, course affordability and faculty training.
ASG and Faculty Senate came together to host their first Community Dialogue of the academic year Wednesday, allowing students the opportunity to verbalize frustrations and questions on subjects of diversity and inclusion in the classroom at Northwestern.
Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Jabbar Bennett moderated the discussion, leading off by introducing the areas of discussion and setting the ground rules for the event: anyone who wishes to speak should step up to the microphone nearest to them, and anyone not speaking should respectfully listen.
This was the fifth Community Dialogue put on by the two groups, and is a relatively new opportunity for students and faculty to directly interact in a setting conducive to inciting change.
“The Community Dialogues began last year, specifically during the spring quarter, to help address student demands that were presented to the administration around things that students wanted to see happen in and outside of the classroom to better support them,” Bennett said.
Students representing all six Northwestern colleges spoke up about their personal experiences with professors who they said were uninformed about issues of diversity and created an unwelcoming, and in some cases unsafe, classroom space. Discussions also took place in regards to matters of textbook affordability, faculty diversity and the implementation of a diversity course requirement, which already exists in (Medill and SESP) in the other four colleges. Students from all different backgrounds shared their perspectives and experiences with issues including the challenges faced by minority students in McCormick, LGBTQIA+ inclusion in NU classes, and the difficulty for low income students to buy proper course materials. Hearing such a range of viewpoints was enlightening for students such as Weinberg senior Ashley Wood.
“As a student, it was really important to me to hear from other students the perspectives that they brought up that I hadn’t thought about,” Wood said. “I think that is really important, to have students sharing their stories and actually responding to each other immediately – I feel like it legitimizes a lot of the problems I’ve had.”
After over an hour of dialogue between students, professors and administrators, Bennett wrapped up the event by providing context for steps moving forward and thanking students for their participation.
“We’re going to continue to work on these issues,” Bennett said. “We ask that you be patient with us, but we also ask you to hold us accountable.”
This responsibility, however, does not lie solely with students. ASG president Christina Cilento said she believes that faculty play the largest role in creating positive change within the classroom environment.
“I’d really like to see faculty reaching out to their own peers and trying to work within their departments to spread word to their faculty, because I think it’s most effective when it comes to their peers,” Cilento said. “I don’t think it should be students who have to continually go to faculty and remind them about their experiences and hope that they listen, I think that it should be faculty who should be taking the responsibility to take this to their colleagues.”
Going forward, ASG and Faculty Senate plan on holding a Community Dialogue every quarter, with the next coming in February followed by a spring session in April. Topics have not yet been decided, but will stem from what students view as the most pressing issues that need to be addressed in the unique setting.
“The student-faculty interactions in the classroom and beyond came from the [students’] demands,” Bennett said. “So we will look at what we’ve made progress on and things we can address and share in the upcoming two conversations.”
Editor's note: Ashley Wood has previously held editorial positions for NBN.