People’s Gathering discusses race, diversity problems on campus

Weinberg senior Noah Charles speaks Tuesday afternoon at the People’s Gathering on the lawn by The Rock. Spearheaded by about 20 students, the event aimed to demonstrate the use of public space for positive change.

Alexa Santos/The Daily Northwestern

Weinberg senior Noah Charles speaks Tuesday afternoon at the People’s Gathering on the lawn by The Rock. Spearheaded by about 20 students, the event aimed to demonstrate the use of public space for positive change.

Maddie Elkins, Reporter

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Students and community members discussed race and diversity problems Tuesday in a free-form demonstration, encouraging attendees to take a stand for what they believe in.

People’s Gathering, an unstructured protest event organized to give students the opportunity to use public space for productive change, drew about 45 people who came and went throughout the two-hour discussion. Sitting in a large circle in the grass outside University Hall, students discussed issues ranging from Dinesh D’Souza’s controversial remarks at an event Monday to the framing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by campus groups.

Weinberg senior Noah Charles spoke about his reaction to the decision by NU College Republicans to bring D’Souza to campus. He said after reading the first few pages of D’Souza’s book, he had never been so deeply offended by a piece of writing.

“That he would ignore 400 years of black slavery in the United States, that he would ignore that black child poverty is over 38 percent, it is delusional,” he said.  “I want to express my disgust that I attend school with those of you who hold me and my classmates in such contempt.”

The discussion transitioned to address contention that had developed around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, touching on tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups, as well as student media coverage of Social Justice Week. Conversations also centered on how open NU as a community is to different points of view.

“One of the problems that we have is that we want to be blind,” Weinberg senior Taylor Layton said. “We don’t ask ourselves questions like, ‘How racially friendly or religiously diverse is this campus?’ As a result, we often don’t really have an understanding of other people’s perspectives.”

Several students pointed out that willingness to engage people with differing opinions is key to making progress, although others suggested that the best way to achieve a true collective conversation is to be disruptive.

Students transitioned during the course of the event from discussing issues that have offended them to talking about what they’d like to see change at NU.

“I’m tired of the marginalization of diversity on this campus,” SESP freshman Darien Wendell said. “It has become simply a discussion about race. I attended the Dinesh D’Souza event because I wanted to go as a form of education, and I asked him why he was choosing to marginalize diversity to just include the race issue and why he wasn’t choosing to talk about gender identity, sexuality, sexual orientation or different abilities.”

Weinberg sophomore Moira Geary, an organizer of the event, said it was intended to encourage students to fight for social justice.

“We tend to think of campus space as a place we walk through or where do homework, but it’s not often used as a place for discourse and gathering,” she said. “This event is to demonstrate to ourselves and to the University that there are people at Northwestern that don’t just stay in their room all the time and are willing to do something about the issue that we care about.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Darien Wendell’s grade. Wendell is a freshman. The Daily regrets the error.

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