Northwestern trustee apologizes for Facebook tiff with student
October 25, 2012
Northwestern trustee Ben Slivka apologized this evening for participating in a heated exchange about race relations with an NU student on Facebook.
The conversation, which was made public Tuesday night, came after Weinberg sophomore Pleshette Strong posted a Facebook status saying former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney exercised "white male privilege" when he interrupted the moderator of the first presidential debate earlier this month.
"White male privilege? Why are you getting all racist on your FB wall?" Slivka asked Strong in his initial message, according to a digital version of the Facebook exchange shared on an NU student's blog.
In a statement, Slivka admitted he used the "wrong tone and choice of words" in addressing Strong, who he said he met at Norris University Center last year and shortly thereafter added as a Facebook friend.
"Through my Facebook messages, I had hoped to initiate a discussion with this student about the issues of race, gender and power," Slivka said in the statement. "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," he added.
Strong was not immediately available to comment this evening.
Read Slivka's full statement below.
Check back with The Daily tomorrow for more information on this developing story.
— Patrick Svitek
Slivka's full statement:
Statement by Benjamin W. Slivka,
Member, Northwestern University Board of Trustees
October 25, 2012
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.