Students to establish NU branch of ACLU

Rani Gupta

Students forming a Northwestern chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union met Wednesday following a speech by ACLU President Nadine Strossen to discuss the future plans for the club.

Co-founder Howard Lien said the idea for the club started Winter Quarter when he and co-founder Tina Valkanoff noticed a lack of campus programming about issues such as the death penalty, student privacy and discrimination against minorities.

“We saw that the death penalty issue wasn’t being pushed and that things like student rights and privacy issues haven’t been addressed,” said Lien, a Weinberg sophomore.

Valkanoff, a Weinberg sophomore, said the group will apply for B-status recognition from Associated Student Government later this quarter, after it hosts some events.

The group plans to sponsor a speech on the death penalty by Medill Prof. David Protess, who, along with his investigative journalism classes, has worked on several high-profile cases in which people were freed from death row.

Lien said Protess’ involvement in recent events lends credibility to the group’s fight against the death penalty.

“Prof. Protess had a personal role,” Lien said. “That’s huge. Northwestern is pointed to as an example.”

Valkanoff said the NU chapter of the ACLU plans to organize a protest or petition against the death penalty.

The group also wants to plan programming, possibly a debate, addressing the recent decision of President Bush’s administration to enforce a law denying financial aid to students with drug convictions.

“(This decision) strikes us as absolutely ludicrous, especially considering the history of our current president,” Lien said.

Valkanoff said she and Lien are almost done with the group’s constitution and have met with the director of the Illinois branch of the ACLU to discuss strategy.

Lien said this ACLU chapter would unite ethnic, progressive, political and religious groups in protesting significant issues.

“What’s great about the ACLU is there are a lot of different causes students can be interested in and involved with,” he said. “We want to bring up new issues and strengthen and unite existing groups in combinations that aren’t found right now.”

So far Lien and Valkanoff have been recruiting members informally, by e-mailing student group listservs and talking to group leaders.

Lien said the group wants to have at least one contact in every student group, and hopes to have at least 100 students on board by the time it applies for B-status.

Weinberg freshman Adam Harris said he would join the NU chapter because he has been a member of the national organization for years.

“The issues they deal with are issues I agree with and issues that are important to me,” he said. “If we had a campus chapter, we’d be able to accomplish larger goals.”

“(The ACLU) is the only organization I agree with completely,” said Sarah Schlachter, a Weinberg sophomore. “I think it’s fighting the good fight.”