Trustee apologizes for heated exchange with student

    In light of a widely-circulated Facebook argument between Northwestern trustee Ben Slivka and Weinberg sophomore Pleshette Strong, Slivka released a statement Thursday apologizing for the exchange. Strong had taken a screen shot of the message thread, which began on Oct. 4 following the first presidential debate, to be spread over several blogs and Facebook. In the statement, Slivka explains why and how he contacted Strong and apologizes for his "tone" and "choice of words" in the electronic conversation:

    I recently had a Facebook message exchange with a Northwestern undergraduate student about a post she had put on her Facebook page regarding the presidential debate in which she used the term white male privilege. I had met her in line at the coffee shop in the student center last year and we became Facebook friends.

    I joined Facebook over eight years ago, and since then I have had spirited discussions with many of the hundreds of my Facebook friends who are current or former Northwestern undergraduates. I'm someone who enjoys a good discussion and I sent this student a message in hopes of initiating one.

    Upon reflection, however, I see that in both my tone and the choice of words I used in that exchange of messages, I may have inadvertently hurt that student. I sincerely apologize to her for doing so. Words matter, and I did not choose them well or think carefully about how I was using them. I also failed to keep in mind the appropriate relationship between a member of the University’s Board of Trustees and an undergraduate student. Facebook is an informal, egalitarian medium and I was using it in that way. But in doing so, I now realize I did not act in a manner appropriate for a member of Northwestern’s governing board. For that, I apologize to my fellow board members and the entire Northwestern community.

    Through my Facebook messages, I had hoped to initiate a discussion with this student about the issues of race, gender and power. I realize that I probably have now done so in a much broader way. While that is not what I intended, I do hope that some good will result from it.

    Again, I apologize to this student, to my fellow trustees, and to the University community.


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