Northwestern, Evanston stand together in time of grief

Susan Du, City Editor

Northwestern and Evanston were simultaneously thrust into the national spotlight last week when two young people — McCormick sophomore Harsha Maddula and Evanston Township High School freshman Dajae Coleman — died unexpectedly. In that citywide time of grief, NU students and Evanston residents came together to support each other despite their sometimes contentious relationship.

Coleman was shot and killed Sept. 22 on Church Street while walking home from a party. Maddula disappeared after leaving an off-campus party the same day, resulting in a week-long search that concluded Thursday when police found his body near Wilmette Harbor.

Before authorities discovered Maddula’s body, many students and Evanston residents were hoping that he would return safely. Volunteer search parties set out to poster the streets of Evanston, and city officials called off the annual Paint the Town Purple pep rally so that volunteers could continue combing the area for any sign of someone most had never known. In the week following Coleman’s murder, his friends and classmates organized a memorial walk, his favorite basketball player LeBron James recognized him in a tweet and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl called a community anti-violence meeting. Two days after more than 1,500 people showed up to Coleman’s funeral, Maddula’s family laid the NU student to rest in New York.

The community mobilization inspired residents and student who admitted that they are more familiar with a contentious town-gown relationship. Evanston resident Marian Kurz said she did not go anywhere in Evanston last week where Maddula did not somehow come up in conversation among people who hoped he would turn up well.

“One would hope that that closeness and concern for one another would last and that six months from now people would still be there,” Kurz said. “Dajae had been in school for 18 days so he was barely a teenager at Evanston Township High School. Harsha hadn’t even started sophomore year. It’s something I hope people will take to heart.”

The mood throughout the city last week was one of singular anxiety. Nevertheless, the two communities united to try to process the tragedy of the two deaths.

Julie Windsor Mitchell, director of University Christian Ministry, said seeing the two groups support each other last week was “delightful but unfortunately a little bit unusual.”

“I do think that sometimes in times of pain and grief those are actually turning points, they’re opportunities to bring people together in ways that maybe people hadn’t been brought together before,” Mitchell said. “It makes me hopeful for the future of Evanston and Northwestern that it won’t take dramatic events like this to bring these two communities together but that kids start a new tradition of cooperation.”

Although Maddula’s death cast a somber shadow over the start of NU’s school year, the search for him demonstrated the University’s capacity to rally in support of its students. SESP senior Camielle Taylor said efforts on the part of both NU and Evanston to memorialize the two young men were impressive.

“The level of support was huge and I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said. “It was just insane how much the community united, and in the case of Dajae, people who weren’t even in Evanston were supporting him. And in the case of Harsha, it was just so amazing that Northwestern as a whole united, even our incoming class of freshmen who hadn’t even started classes yet were out there looking for Harsha. They didn’t know him, and they barely knew Northwestern for that matter.”