New director of African American Student Affairs named

Alexandra Finkel

MSA staff members and African American Studies Prof. Biondi (center) field students questions at Wednesday
night’s forum hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Emily Glazer/The Daily Northwestern

A new director of Northwestern’s Office of African-American Student Affairs was announced Wednesday night at the “State of African-American Student Affairs” forum hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Shadra D. Smith, who is the former assistant director of student activities for student services and involvement at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, will begin June 8, said Multicultural Student Affairs Executive Director Carretta Cooke.

The forum was part of the fraternity’s “Alpha Week,” a weeklong series of social, cultural and intellectual events aimed at NU’s black student population. About 50 people, including students, alumni and faculty, attended the event, which featured a panel of the directors of MSA moderated by African-American studies Prof. Martha Biondi.

“It was a conversation that needed to be had as soon as possible,” said Weinberg senior Mark Crain, former For Members Only coordinator and member of Alpha Phi Alpha.

AASA has been without a director since last September, when the previous director, Shawna Cooper-Gibson, left to become the assistant dean of the School of Communication at Loyola University in Chicago. Since then, MSA has conducted dozens of interviews in search of a new director, Cooke said.

“I felt like the stars aligned,” she said. “At least for me, it was kind of amazing to find her after a very long search. Sometimes we look at a person and we say ‘This is the one,’ and we think she is the one.”

Other topics discussed during the forum included problems with minority enrollment, the physical state of the Black House, impending budget cuts and communication issues with MSA. Students questioned MSA’s role in and commitment to strengthening black enrollment, collaboration with student groups and black culture on campus.

MSA’s budget will also be cut by 3 percent this year, which will primarily impact marketing by cutting it in half, Cooke said.

“Shadra is coming in with a budget that will be changed,” she said. “That might welcome some creativity and innovation on her part, but I think certainly in terms of who we are as a cultural entity, we know we’ve always had to look to our partners for help.”

The current state of the Black House was a concern to many students who referred to the “embarrassing” plastic warp adorning the windows.

But much of the two-hour forum focused on students’ frustrations with MSA, specifically Cooke.

Former FMO Coordinator Zachary Parker expressed his concern over the mounting lack of communication between Cooke and the students.

He cited the announcement of the new director as an example.

“I only knew because I received a text message from another student,” he said. “The Facebook message that was sent out was highly inappropriate for news like that. It goes to show that students are taking more initiatives than the administration.”

Students also expressed a need for more face time with Cooke, especially compared to other MSA directors.

“It’s not a problem with the directors in MSA; they’re great and students have responded well to them,” Parker said. “But they’re often muted by the direction of Ms. Cooke.”

Cooke was open to some student suggestions, including sending summaries of meeting minutes and holding more forums. Still, students said until changes are made, they won’t be satisfied.

Parker, who helped organize the event, said he was pleased with the forum and hopes it spurs further dialogue.

“The forum went really well,” the Communication senior said. “It was one of the first opportunities where students were able to voice their concerns to the executive board of MSA. It was highly attended and a lot of different voices were heard from faculty to students to alumni.”

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