Editorial: Waging a campaign before starting a conversation

There’s no need for Northwestern’s campus to make excuses for what the Ski Team wrought during its Beer Olympics. The party’s costumes were offensive and unacceptable.

It’s encouraging that NU students and administrators are talking about where we go from here. There’s ample space for introspection in this incident, and making people on campus examine themselves and their implicit assumptions should be a constant part of campus life.

Students here have every right to call attention to the dissonance between stated community values and the often-deemed “harmless” actions of individuals and student groups — in this case, those of the Ski Team. Students like Weinberg senior Kellyn Lewis, Medill senior Dallas Wright and Weinberg junior Paul Jackson, among others, have aggressively and in many ways courageously put themselves at the center of this latest debate.

But at a certain point in this particular dispute, Lewis, Wright and Jackson skipped a step: They decided to wage a campaign prior to having a conversation.

In previous campus debates on racial issues, NU students have shown they can engage in fulfilling and meaningful dialogue. Though these conversations have of course failed to eradicate racism, both explicit and implicit, at Northwestern, they have been steps in a positive direction. The way this latest incident was handled feels like a departure from that respectful and productive norm.

The first interaction between Lewis, Wright and Jackson and the Ski Team could have resulted in a conversation about why the latter’s actions were hurtful and disturbing, as well as where to go from there. Instead, when the two groups met, the conversation wasn’t about moving forward. It was about how much trouble the Ski Team was going to get in, and how much they planned to cooperate with a campaign that had already been set in motion.

Demanding an apology is a lot different than being offered one. It’s impossible to tell what might have happened if this early stage had been handled differently, and now we’ll never know.

The tenor of that first meeting has seeped into the campus debate. At ASG’s forum on the incident Wednesday, students who volunteered comments — for example, one who said he didn’t know how to reach out to the black community because he only knew three black people on campus — faced outrage from others at the meeting. Students shouldn’t be shut down for taking the risk to engage in open debate.

The concerns of these students are legitimate; again, the party’s costumes were unacceptable. And the Ski Team should not be let off the hook on this incident.

It’s true that using fear and shame gets people to adopt more acceptable behavior in the short run. But in the long run, it isn’t an effective way of teaching compassion and self-knowledge, or of building campus community.

This editorial represents the unanimous opinion of the following members of The Daily Northwestern’s editorial board who were present: Fritz Burgher, Rebecca Cohen, Katherine Driessen, Maria LaMagna, Tanner Maxwell, Safiya Merchant, Janalynn Pugh, Kimberly Railey, Lark Turner, Joshua Walfish, Meghan White.