Editorial: Open dialogue on race needed to effect change

The Daily Northwestern Editorial Board

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Race relations took the spotlight at Northwestern last week after an incident involving a Weinberg senior led to a forum on prejudice and the creation of a new group on diversity.

On Jan. 12, Tonantzin Carmona said she was walking home from the library when a group of apparently intoxicated female students started making disparaging remarks about her ethnicity.

After she posted a letter on Facebook about the incident, she and a few other students organized a caucus Thursday to talk about prejudice at NU. Around 150 students attended the event, many of whom were inspired to share their own stories about racial discrimination.

Over the weekend, the caucus organizers formed a new student group on campus called The Collective, which will focus on on dealing with issues of social awareness, desegregation and appreciation of diversity on campus.

The Daily lauds the efforts these students have made in the past week to spark much-needed conversations on race relations at NU. Student-organized events such as these set a good example for future discussions, and these initial efforts will create concrete steps toward addressing racial issues on campus.

But this is only the beginning.

Race relations can often be a sensitive topic, and fear of being politically incorrect or offensive sometimes discourages an honest assessment of the situation on campus.

The Daily hopes the Collective will address the lack of fruitful University-wide discussion on racial issues.

The group should first address the lack of interaction amongst multicultural organizations and other students. Members of the Collective should increase their reach in the NU community by collaborating with non-cultural groups such as ASG and the Greek community to raise further awareness of this issue.

Working primarily within established multicultural and ethnic groups will not help the situation, as people who are not a part of those communities will continue to be unaware of ongoing efforts to curtail racial discrimination. The Collective must seek to achieve more widespread representation in the NU community in order for this initiative to succeed.

Another way to engage the entire community is by creating a hub to facilitate racial forums and discussions.

Although there are multicultural centers available for minority groups on campus, there is no place where students of different ethnicities and backgrounds can come together to talk about racial issues and share strategies for dealing with instances of discrimination. An easily accessible center in Norris would be the ideal location for such a resource.

Racial harassment and discrimination cannot be tolerated. Though one incident brought the issue to the limelight, the testimonies at the caucus prove that these incidents affect a number of NU students.

As for University administrators, they should also take measures to help foster an environment that does not discriminate.

NU President Morton Schapiro issued a statement Monday in response to Carmona’s encounter. He wrote that this “incident of cultural insensitivity” is “reprehensible” and not representative of University values.

While this was a commendable move on the administration’s part, no concrete proposals were announced in the statement.

Other than mentioning that a meeting with students will take place in February, Schapiro did not say how the University would go about dealing with and preventing such incidents in the future.

The administration should work with students in creating initiatives aimed at increasing racial tolerance. In fact, administrators in the past have been proactive in situations such as a previous forum to address students in blackface on Halloween, and keeping diversity on their agenda with programs such as Good Neighbor, Great University.

However, it is more important in daily interactions for effort to come from NU students and student groups in order for it to have a wide reach.

Change must begin from the bottom up, as Prof. John Marquez said during the Caucus. If students wish to make NU a more diverse and racially-accepting learning environment, then they themselves must hold each other accountable and be willing to spearhead efforts to promote change on campus.

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