Northwestern students, administration discuss issues at first Special Interest Roundtable

Jessica Floum

Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin met with 12 students Thursday at the first-ever Special Interest Roundtable, an event hosted by the Northwestern Associated Student Government and mediated by ASG President Austin Young.

“The goal was to really provide an opportunity for students to have free discussion with officials on campus,” Young, a Weinberg senior, said.

Students and Telles-Irvin discussed unifying the NU student body, moving forward on campus renovations, improving various NU websites and redefining Greek life’s role on campus. At the event, which was open to students, Telles-Irvin spoke about plans to revamp the Foster-Walker Complex along with Chapin Hall and the College of Cultural and Community Studies, which are both residential colleges. She also relayed plans to update 14 fire facilities, refurbish the student center and relocate several fraternities.

“We want to create more livable spaces for students,” Telles-Irvin said. “It’s time.”

Her goal is to have Zeta Beta Tau, Theta Chi and Alpha Epsilon Pi moved to new locations next fall, she said. The three fraternities have chapter houses on Lincoln Street near boarded and condemned houses. Telles-Irvin toured the fraternities last quarter. Alpha Epsilon Pi’s new location, also on Lincoln Street, was announced this week.

“It didn’t seem to say, ‘This is Northwestern,'” Telles-Irvin said of the three northernmost fraternities’ location.

Telles-Irvin said she will start a master plan for prospective changes in the next couple of months. Several students at the meeting said they supported such renovations and added their own proposals. “Underground tunnels would be clutch,” Communication senior Scott Ritter said.

Discussion then shifted to the role of Greek life on campus, particularly in light of Chi Psi’s closing.

“I believe in the Greek system, but I do hold you to a high standard,” Telles-Irvin said.

SESP sophomore David Harris, ASG’s vice president of services, suggested changing the alcohol policy in fraternities, asserting the ban on alcohol in Greek houses is blatantly disregarded by students and that the University tends to turn a blind eye.

Questions also arose about the timeliness of sanctions imposed on fraternities once they break a rule.

Students and Telles-Irvin said they agreed the Greek scene could use more publicity about the good it does on campus, such as hosting philanthropy events and heavily participating in Dance Marathon. Though much discussion focused on the accomplishments of Greeks as campus leaders, students were careful to acknowledge the broader NU community.

“We would not be a University without Greek and non-Greek members,” Ritter said. “We all bring something to the table.”

Young prompted attendees at the meeting to discuss what they would like to see at NU that they have seen at other schools. Telles-Irvin responded with concerns about general student friendliness.

“One of the things I’ve been noticing is that when you walk across campus, not many people look up, smile and say ‘hello,'” Telles-Irvin said.

Students also said they felt strongly about the quality of NU websites such as Caesar, Blackboard and Wildcat Connection.

“If I had $5 million to spend, that’s where I’d focus it,” Harris said.

At the end of the meaning, Medill junior Brad Stewart brought up the University’s relations with Evanston. Stewart expressed concern that day-to-day interactions between NU students and the community have gotten worse since the crackdown on underage drinking.

Although she acknowledged community relations may have worsened on the ground, Telles-Irvin assured students official relations have improved because NU President Morton Schapiro and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl get along better than previous mayors and University presidents.

Young said he left the meeting with the impression that internal NU relations between Greeks and non-Greeks could also improve.

“I think people are wanting to see Northwestern be genuinely welcoming,” Young said. “Northwestern should move beyond acceptance and toward friendship. There needs to be more interest on both sides.”

Students will have the opportunity to meet with Schapiro, Provost Daniel Linzer and Telles-Irvin at a Sunday meeting in Harris Hall. Thursday’s event was the first in an upcoming series of Special Interest Roundtables, the next of which will allow students to meet with NU alumnus Phil Harris, vice chair of the NU Board of Charter, National, Alumni and Ex Officio Trustees, on Feb. 21.

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This article has been edited for clarity. SESP sophomore David Harris is ASG’s vice president of services, and the article now reflects that. The Daily regrets the error.