Northwestern students unite for education reform

Junnie Kwon, Reporter

While most McCormick seniors are searching for the best engineering firms, Cristina Lamas splits her time between pursuing a career and pushing for education reform.

Lamas is the co-founder of Students for Education Reform at Northwestern, a new official chapter of the national organization that launched this quarter.

“You have a lot of people who come to Northwestern from low-income communities that don’t necessarily feel welcomed,” Lamas said. “A lot of it comes down to education. They not only feel unwelcomed but unprepared.”

Growing up in inner-city Chicago, Lamas said she immediately noticed disparities in educational backgrounds at NU. This sparked her interest in education reform, and she contacted an unofficial student group of the same name in Spring Quarter.

“They were very much focused on school vouchers,” she said. “I met with the rest of the group and told them about SFER in the national sense. If we joined, we would have all of these resources.”

Lamas recruited two members from the unofficial student group, but the organizations remain separate. One of the new recruits, Weinberg junior Alex Entz, helped Lamas set up the NU chapter over the summer.

With training and guidance from John Marty, Illinois program director for SFER, the duo set up a plan to launch Fall Quarter. Lamas set up a booth at the Activities Fair and sent out a call for applications to fill executive board positions. The hired students held their first meeting Nov. 5.

Bethany Tuten, co-director of programming, joined the organization with memories of her high school shutting down due to lack of funding.

“I started going to talk with the board of education in my area, and I started learning about how serious the issue is on a national level,” the Communication sophomore said. “If we’re not educating our students, then we’re not having these smart, innovative leaders to run the country and do great things.”

Tuten said the organization has three main goals: spread awareness, work with policy makers to create effective change and get people, especially college students, involved in the education reform movement.

She said because college students are fresh out of grade-school education, they offer a crucial perspective to the movement.

“We’re now in this independent position to be able to speak out, as opposed to maybe policy makers who tend to be older and don’t see these things first hand,” she said.

The organization held its first discussion yesterday in University Hall. Ten students convened to talk about the Chicago Teachers Union strike with Marty. The fact that the conversation turned into a question and answer forum showed the lack of awareness among the larger NU community, Lamas said.

“We want students who write opinion pieces, we want students to go out to rallies and get their voices heard, but we want those students to be educated, which is why the discussion series is so important right now,” she said.

The organization will continue to host biweekly discussions and plans to launch visual campaigns, organize school visits and set up movie screenings.

SESP senior Danielle Moehrke said she had a privileged education in a wealthy community and was exposed to education issues only because she actively pursued those topics.

She said the success of the organization’s third goal, getting students involved in the movement, will depend on its marketing strategies.

“You end up being really good friends with people you take classes with, and there are definitely circles on Northwestern’s campus,” Moehrke said. “Sometimes things don’t jump between circles.”