Community gathers on Deering to talk diversity

Joseph Diebold

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After a week of tense dialogue, about 200 students, faculty and administrators gathered in front of Deering Library on Friday to discuss solutions to issues surrounding diversity on Northwestern’s campus.

The event, titled “How Many White People Do You Know?” was organized by NU4DiversityNow, a new initiative formed Tuesday night by student group leaders in the wake of last weekend’s “Beer Olympics” incident.

Steven Monacelli, Associated Student Government’s community relations vice president, said NU4DN is a “movement” rather than a student group.

“It’s not any sort of institution,” the Communication junior said. “This isn’t in reaction necessarily to any specific one event. It’s been a buildup of things that have happened over the years. The incident on Saturday with the Ski Team was something that really picked up a lot of momentum.”

Monacelli emphasized Friday’s event was not meant to be a protest or a demonstration but rather a conversation. He said the provocative title was meant to get people thinking critically about the issues presented to students at Friday’s discussion.

“We wanted it to be sort of counterintuitive,” he said. “We wanted to flip it on its head a little bit and get people to think, ‘Why would you ask that kind of question?’ At the end of the day, how many white people you know or how many people of any race isn’t really what’s important. The conversations around those issues are what’s important.”

The dialogue was moderated by Communication junior Jazzy Johnson, the chair of the Coalition of Colors, and Weinberg sophomore Benjy Leibowitz. Leibowitz and Johnson instructed those in attendance to divide into small discussion groups with people they did not already know.

The pair posed questions to the groups. Each group discussed the biggest barriers to diversity on campus and then moved on to more specific questions about those barriers.

“Everyone’s here for different motives, but what’s important is that we are all here,” Leibowitz told the gathered crowd. “Our interest today is in building relationships and dialogue, and we felt that students on campus needed a place and a moment to talk to each other in person, live, outside, in a public forum.”

Administrators in attendance included Vice President for University Relations Al Cubbage and Dean of Students Burgwell Howard. Howard said he wanted to show his support for students by attending and engaging in the conversations.

“Obviously this has been a pretty draining week for a lot of people, and I was very committed in helping the organizers facilitate this conversation,” Howard said. “This is not students versus the administration. We want to make sure it’s a positive thing: How do we take a negative incident and really grow from it?”

The event was publicized via an email sent out to both on- and off-campus students early Friday morning. Howard said the decision to send the email was indicative of the significance of the event.

“Generally we try not to spam students’ emails,” he said. “It was important enough to starting the healing process for our community that we thought it was important to get the word out.”

After the small group dialogues had ended, attendees reconvened to hear a statement from concerned faculty presented by Asian-American studies Prof. Jinah Kim and African- and Asian-American studies Prof. Nitasha Sharma.

“We realize that the students have been really up front, and we wanted you all to know that this is something we care about and have been thinking about for a really long time,” Kim told the crowd. “Thank you so much for letting us participate in these conversations with you.”

As the crowd dispersed, Leibowitz and Johnson encouraged students to continue the dialogues. Johnson asked those in attendance to exchange contact information and go to dinner together to ensure Friday’s lessons were not forgotten.

Weinberg junior Paul Jackson, who was in the initial meeting with the Ski Team and has been vocal about the NU community’s need to grow from the “Beer Olympics” incident, summed up what he wanted those in attendance to take home from the event.

“This is not about politics, this is not about how you vote, this is not about the color of your skin, this is not about where you’re from, this is not even about what you believe,” he said. “This is about the simple idea of openness, community, equality, everyone belonging.”

Monacelli said NU4DN hopes to continue fostering relationships among students and will have more events this week with those goals in mind.