Students, staff discuss steps to combat racial, religious epithets

Sheila Burt

Northwestern administrators and student-group leaders pledged tocontinue searching for the causes of and possible solutions to theincidents of religious and racial epithets that have plagued thecampus in the last three months.

Participants discussed displaying students’ reaction to the actsof vandalism and called for more cross-cultural programming to helpform a more tight-knit community at the informal forum, which wasattended by about 20 people.

Former Associated Student Government President Rachel Lopez cameup with the idea for the event co-sponsored by the ASG, AsianAmerican Advisory Board, For Members Only, Muslim-cultural StudentsAssociation and the South Asian Student Alliance.

The most recent incident involving racial epithets occurredduring finals week of Winter Quarter, when a Muslim student foundthe words “sand nigger” scrawled on her dry-erase board. A fewweeks earlier, a series of swastikas appeared in McCulloch Hall,and black students at Ayers College of Commerce and Industry foundracial epithets written on their doors.

Carretta Cooke, director of the Office of African-AmericanStudent Affairs, said NU needs to start holding events thatencourage students to “get outside their comfort zone.”

Cooke said her office plans to build a graffiti wall, to bedisplayed in Norris University Center on May 5 and 9, that woulddisplay student reaction to the racial epithets.

Cooke also called on the Student Activities Finance Board tochange its funding policies and encourage all kinds of groups toco-sponsor cultural events. She said the Panhellenic Associationcould host a Black History Month event, for example.

“One of the challenges would be to hold back funds for thosekind of events and activities to occur and not just with the usualcultural collaborators,” Cooke said.

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Desler alsoadvocated an expanded New Student Week programming to discussracial prejudice.

“We need to somehow explain the standards that exist here,”Desler said. “This is a multicultural community, and it’s not okayto engage in those kinds of behaviors.”

Nazia Kazi, the Muslim student whose door was most recentlydefaced, said she didn’t realize the effect of the racial epithetsuntil she became a target.

“(The epithet) was a big wake up call,” said Kazi, a Weinbergjunior. “It was really jarring to know there’s so much hatred outthere.”

FMO Coordinator Tracy Carson said she sees promise in avenuesthat allow people from cultural-based groups to discuss issues.

“I think things like getting a large percentage of your dormpopulation to say, ‘Hate isn’t going to be tolerated in thisvicinity,’ is a way to do that,” said Carson, a Weinbergjunior.

Weinberg freshman Nelia Jain, a political action and outreachchairwoman for SASA, said the need to continue fostering dialogueabout the incidents cannot be underestimated by culturalgroups.

Said Jain, “It brings to light our responsibility to heightencultural awareness, understanding and acceptance.”