ASG program seeks mentors for MLK Day

Janette Neuwahl

Associated Student Government is accepting applications for Northwestern student mentors for its first Eva Jefferson Paterson Civil Rights program, which will kick off the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities this year.

Jefferson Paterson, who served as ASG’s first black female president in 1970, said the push toward educating young people about civil rights comes at a crucial time.

“Civil rights are going to get lost in the drumbeat of war for Iraq, and people of color are going to be asked to put rights aside while we prepare for war,” said Jefferson Paterson, Weinberg ’71. “Our country has to be able to deal with all issues simultaneously, so the fact that Northwestern is encouraging kids to mentor about civil rights at the forefront of issues is wonderful.”

Starting this year, 25 middle and high school students will attend MLK Day festivities for a day of exposure to civil rights issues, including a speech by Princeton University Prof. Cornel West. Each student also will be paired with an NU student mentor, said Rachel Lopez, ASG president.

“This is a really great opportunity for the NU community to reach outside of the campus borders to bring in a dialogue of race and equality for students,” said Lopez, a Weinberg senior.

Lopez is one of seven students on the MLK Day Planning Committee, which this year chose to expand its focus to include students from Chicago-area school districts.

The committee sent applications to select schools, urging them to notify students about the mentoring program, said Dale Vieregge, the committee’s chairman. The committee wants to provide the opportunity for poor and minority students, but it is not limiting the program to applicants with those qualifications, he said.

“We want to introduce middle and high school students to intellectual and cultural opportunities outside their neighborhood,” said Vieregge, a Weinberg senior.

So far, the committee has received 13 applications from students from Evanston Township High School, Nichols Middle School, Timber Ridge School and King Lab School. Each secondary school student will spend Jan. 25 with an NU mentor.

The committee is looking for those student mentors, who they hope will maintain long-term contact with their pupils, Lopez said.

“We are bringing students in for merely a daylong event, which doesn’t properly afford them the kind of opportunity we want to do for these students,” Vieregge said. “It’s important the mentors continue a relationship with students beyond that time.”

Applications for NU students interested in mentoring can be downloaded from ASG’s Web site and are due by Dec. 6.

Vieregge said he is confident NU students will rise to the occasion.

“We’re concentrating our efforts now on trying to recruit strong students who have a real commitment and passion for these issues as well as an ability to help these (incoming) students,” Vieregge said. “We have no doubt there are 25 students on this campus who have both those qualities.”

In preparation for MLK Day, the committee is trying to prioritize its ideas for different sessions since they have a limited amount of time with the students. Vieregge said they would like to discuss issues such as the Civil Rights movement and the black struggle for racial equality, along with an information session about minority recruitment from the Office of Undergraduate Admission.

Both Vieregge and Lopez said a secondary goal of the program is to motivate students to apply to NU or other colleges.

“We all know what it was like to be in middle and high school,” Lopez said. “And we can use that experience to help someone else who is trying to do the same thing.”