This week, we’re doing something different. Our planned debate, on social media and misinformation, will be postponed in light of urgent developments on Northwestern’s campus regarding policing and the Black student experience. We will be holding a discussion--not a debate--on everything that’s been on students’ minds recently, and we want to hear your criticisms of and suggestions for the university. This blog post won’t be the same kind of debate primer that you’ve seen each weekend; instead, we thought it would be most helpful to piece together a timeline of the major developments in the campus-wide conversation over policing, protesting, and administrative response.
June 3, 2020
Northwestern students and student groups circulate a petition addressed to Northwestern administrators calling for the disbandment of Northwestern University Police Department, as well as the severing of ties with both Evanston and Chicago police. The petition also demands greater investment in the well-being of the Black community through extension of student health insurance coverage to injuries sustained during protests, as well as an investigation into potential historical exploitation of slave labor by Northwestern University.
June 14, 2020
Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro sends an email to students, families, and university staff explaining the administration’s commitments to diversity, equity, and the campaign against anti-Blackness. The email reads, “We need to identify and address all forms of implicit and explicit racism and bias on our campuses. We must, and we will, do more.” The email articulates a commitment to establishing diversity requirements for job candidates, and a $1.5 million budget for social justice in the regions around Northwestern’s Illinois campuses.
October 15, 2020
Northwestern University’s African American Studies Department writes an open letter to the administration detailing raising criticisms of President Schapiro’s June letter, as well as calls for quicker and more decisive action on the points listed therein. The department’s letter notes that administrative mentions of both additional funding for diversity investment and the institutional policy for diversity in job candidates were no longer circulating by September. The letter also takes issue with the search for a new chief diversity officer and the employment of a diversity consulting group for training purposes, questioning whether these policies really bear much substance.
October 17, 2020
The sixth night of student protests, led by student group Northwestern University Community Not Cops (NUCNC), culminates in damage to local businesses, graffiti on the Weber arch, a burned banner, and chanting in the vicinity of President Schapiro’s home. The protest was composed of some 300 students, according to reporting by the Daily Northwestern, many of whom made detours as far from campus as the headquarters of Northwestern’s police department, which was also tagged with graffiti. Graffiti on university property ranged from “ACAB” and “Abolish the police” to “F--k 12” and “more dead pigs.” Students cite the administration’s failure to reveal the NUPD budget, as well as unwillingness to accept NUCNC’s demands, as reasons for the protest.
October 19, 2020
President Schapiro responds to the weekend’s protests with a strongly worded email expressing disgust with the protesters’ conduct. “It is an abomination and you should be ashamed of yourselves. ... I am disgusted by those who chose to disgrace this University in such a fashion,” the email reads. Schapiro notes the intimidation by the group of protesters who arrived at his home just past midnight with the charred remains of a banner, chanting “piggy Morty” and other pro-abolition slogans. Schapiro expresses concern that this particular phrase may betray anti-semitic sentiment among the protesters. Schapiro--and Evanston mayor Steve Hagerty, who authored a separate statement the same day--both profess support for peaceful demonstration.
October 20, 2020
In an open letter, the African American Studies Department says they are “extraordinarily troubled” by President Schapiro’s letter. The department laments to Schapiro that “it is only when your own pleasant suburban life was disrupted by student protestors that your expression of outrage and dismay to our University community rose to a level beyond the banal, the tepid and the timid.” The student petition from June 3 and the October 15 letter from the department were not addressed sufficiently in the department’s opinion. Their letter expresses outrage that President Schapiro has sought to personalize the protests, thereby taking away from the legitimacy of the policing issues at hand and distracting from the message of involved students. “We therefore condemn your inability to imagine that injustice is something that is bigger than your own injured pride and hurt feelings,” the letter concludes.
On the evening of October 20, President Schapiro and other administrators hold the first “Community Dialogue” of the fall quarter to discuss student grievances. Given significant interest in participation, the event is converted from a Zoom town hall into a webinar, where student government executives moderate questions from a student audience. Questions from students center around disclosure of NUPD budget figures and requests for a formal response to both the October 15 and October 20 letters from the African American Studies Department. Chat messages are filled with condemnations of President Schapiro’s email and general handling of race relations on Northwestern’s campus; the hashtag “resignmorty” rises to the trending list on Twitter in Illinois on Tuesday evening. Schapiro generally evades questions about the role of police on campus, but reiterates support for his own email and promises that the university will soon release the budget of the police department.
October 23, 2020
Members of the departments of Political Science, Anthropology, Asian American Studies, and LatinX Studies author separate statements condemning President Schapiro’s October 19 email. Each statement expresses solidarity with the faculty in the African American Studies Department, as well as pleas for the administration to address anti-Black racism and racial hostility on campus. The Political Science department’s statement takes the form of a longer letter; other departments release brief statements on their websites.
This timeline is not exhaustive--we are sure that members of the Northwestern community, particularly those who have participated in protests and advocacy recently, will seek to add important events to this introductory chronology. We want to hear from you about what you think has been important in the ongoing dialogue in the last several weeks, and what your vision of a better Northwestern campus looks like. Please join us on Tuesday evening at 8pm CST for a civil, provocative, and genuine discussion.
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