Editorial: Schapiro’s response important but not essential to student response to Japan

Six days after last month’s devastating earthquake in Japan, 12 Northwestern students sent an email to University President Morton Schapiro criticizing his lack of a formal response to the disaster. One day later, Schapiro addressed the students’ concerns by releasing a statement to the larger NU community. The Daily praises ASG Vice President Hiro Kawashima and his peers for taking the initiative to contact Schapiro: Discourse between students and administration is fundamental to the very concept of a place of higher learning.

With two NU students studying abroad in Japan and 55 Japanese international students currently enrolled at NU, there is no doubt that the community was directly affected by the recent catastrophe. As the leader of the community, Schapiro had a responsibility to shed light on a tragedy that had an impact at Northwestern and around the world. Logistically, a statement by administration was necessary to inform the community at large of those affected. Friends and classmates of those studying abroad had difficulty obtaining information regarding the two students’ well-being prior to the statement’s release.

The Daily recognizes that much of the damage caused by the Japan earthquake occurred while school was not in session. Yet given the severity and scale of the event, it warranted a response regardless of scheduling. In the age of the Internet, crafting and disseminating a statement to the Northwestern community requires little more than a click of a button. Simply put, neither Spring Break nor finals should have mitigated the need for a swift and substantive reaction to the disaster.

Beyond the logistical imperative, the statement served a symbolic purpose by showing affected community members that they have the administration’s support and sympathy. Not only do many NU students have family and loved ones in Japan, there are NU alumni currently employed overseas. A president’s statement helps a geographically disconnected community to at least symbolically unite behind an important cause.

Despite the aforementioned benefits, Schapiro’s statement should not be necessary for community mobilization. NU students and faculty did not need to wait for the administration’s permission to begin assisting Japan and those affected by Japan – and they didn’t. For Kawashima and the 11 other students who formulated and carried out the idea to directly express their dissatisfaction to Schapiro, asking the president for an official statement was the first step in mobilization. Other students have started campaigns on their own. So far, at least one student group, NU Stands With Japan, has been created for the sole purpose of assisting Japan. Also, Kenichi Shimokawa at the Family Institute organized the Japanese support group without the prompting of NU administration.

While the delay in Schapiro’s response is regrettable, he should continue to be receptive to student concerns. Last week’s situation continues to prove the importance of dialogue between students and University administration. But an official statement is not equivalent to an unspoken “green light” for community action. As demonstrated by NU’s reaction to the disaster in Japan, students and community members need not wait around for the administration’s acknowledgment to fight for a cause in which they are invested. A statement from President Schapiro is an important rallying gesture but should not be the sole reason for action within the NU community.