“We’re not going to solve all of these problems in an hour, so just take a breath,” said Jazzy Johnson, opening Friday's student forum "How Many White People Do You Know?" at Deering Meadow.
After briefly addressing the crowd, Johnson, the chair of the Coalition of Colors, asked participants to form discussion groups with strangers. For more than an hour, students talked about issues ranging from the appropriateness of parties perpetuating cultural stereotypes, the administration and campus media’s reactions and what barriers exist between different Northwestern groups. Many added their own questions to the organizers’ prompts.
For the event, the ASG Diversity Committee, Alianza and the Coalition of Colors teamed up to create NU4DiversityNow, according to ASG Diversity Committee chair Hayley Stevens. Johnson and other event coordinators said the goal was to stimulate calm discussion, not anger.
“These were the questions we had been asking ourselves all week,” said Stevens. She estimated around 300 students participated Friday.
Many students said they came to not only have their voices heard, but also to hear how others felt about recent campus events, which some viewed as inevitable.
“Anyone who thinks this doesn’t happen year after year is kidding themselves,” said Weinberg junior Gabe Schonfield. “Holding an open forum is the most productive thing they could have done.”
Others said they had experienced these issues firsthand, including Medill sophomore Caroline Chauvet.
“I come from a mixed background. I’m black, I’m white," she said. "My pet peeve is when jokes make light of truthful events that happened in our past. It’s infuriating.”
Nitasha Sharma, a professor who teaches in the African-American and Asian Studies departments, read a statement signed by multiple members of the Northwestern faculty.
Stevens said there are plans for a similar open forum soon that will include the administration. But for now, she is happy with Friday’s outcome.
“This has never been done before and I was blown away,” Stevens said. “To see students put themselves in a new situation was cool to watch.”