Letter to the Editor: Student leaders urge NUDM to be bigger than a tent

We recognize that Northwestern University Dance Marathon is an important campus tradition that unites over 1,000 students every year to support notable philanthropy organizations. While we appreciate the tradition, as student leaders in our own communities, we are calling on NUDM’s leadership to put more effort into being an organization that every Northwestern student can have access to and be proud of. In order to achieve this, we believe that NUDM should take tangible measures toward diversifying its leadership, including all campus communities and creating discourse that addresses the benefits of NUDM outside of the tent.

In May 2013, Paul Jackson (Weinberg ‘13) quoted James Baldwin in a letter to the editor saying, “The problem of intolerant society is that it is governed by those who have the most limited perspective, that its leaders embody ‘ignorance, aligned with power.’” As leaders, we emphasize how Baldwin’s thoughts explain a number of institutional issues with student leadership on Northwestern’s campus being concentrated among privileged students and, in many cases, even handed down to friends. We have identified through our experiences as participants or collaborators with NUDM that these issues are amplified in NUDM’s leadership team and practices. The organization historically privileges students with racial and socio-economic advantages on campus, thereby leaving fewer opportunities for socially, socio-economically and racially underprivileged students to participate or lead.

We recognize that NUDM took a step toward inclusion by working with ASG to offer financial support for low-income students who could not afford the $50 registration fee, but a number of factors related to fundraising still make NUDM non-inclusive. Socio-economic inaccessibility and culture of social exclusivity in NUDM both result from the marginalization of non-Greek students, the homogeneity of its leadership team, non-transparent beneficiary selection and lack of discourse about the true benefits of NUDM outside of the tent. These issues hinder the organization’s ability to connect with the entire Northwestern community. We don’t take issue with the select communities who contribute to Northwestern University Dance Marathon both monetarily and with energy, but we certainly take issue with how subscribing to certain social communities, being friends with the right people or serving on other influential executive boards seems to be a prerequisite for becoming a leader in NUDM.

While the Northwestern administration’s support for NUDM is a positive indication of the University’s investment in student-led efforts, we must also consider how the overwhelming support and praise for NUDM takes away from the philanthropy, service and programming efforts of other student organizations. NUDM has not yet earned campus-wide support. We can say this confidently as leaders of multicultural, service, philanthropy, social justice and other campus organizations who regularly hear of members of our communities feeling marginalized by NUDM’s practices and its unearned reputation as a campus-wide tradition.

Undoubtedly, the efforts of NUDM over the past 40 years are significant, and we do not discount them. We share NUDM’s vision for providing an opportunity for students to raise money for a worthy cause, but we believe that with identifiable measures toward inclusive practices and meaningful dialogue outside of the tent, NUDM can be an organization that focuses beyond the student leaders who put up the tent or even the students who commit to spending 30 hours in the tent. If NUDM is truly an event that all Northwestern students can equally access and participate in, then what comes out of the tent — incredible results for a worthy cause and true campus unity – should be something that all of Northwestern can share.

This letter hardly scratches the surface of how we’ve shaped our perspectives on NUDM. Visit BiggerThanATent.tumblr.com to read more about why we believe that #WeMustDoBetter.

Respectfully signed,

Noor Hasan
Northwestern University Dance Marathon PR Committee Member 2010-13
Northwestern University Dance Marathon Emcee Magazine Design Editor 2010-13
Northwestern University Dance Marathon “All Cultural Effect” Team Captain 2012-13
NUDM 90 Hour Club Member

Daniel Flores
Northwestern Quest Scholars Co-President 2011-13

Emily Rivest
Northwestern Quest Scholars Co-Social Chair 2011-13

Erin Turner
Northwestern Quest Scholars Co-Social Chair 2011-13

Kristin Palarz
Relay For Life of Northwestern University Co-Chair 2012-14

Tegan Reyes
Relay For Life of Northwestern University Co-Chair 2012-14

Bridget Popovic
Relay For Life of Northwestern University Co-Chair 2013-14

Sarah Lynott
Relay For Life of Northwestern University Executive Board Member 2013-14

Petros Karahalios
ASG Rainbow Alliance Senator 2013-14

Demetrios Elias
Northwestern University Dance Marathon “Emcee” 2013
Northwestern University Homecoming King 2013
Pi Kappa Alpha Philanthropy Chair 2012-14

Vernon Smith
FMO/Alianza NUDM Team Captain 2011-12
For Members Only Treasurer 2012-13

April McFadden
For Members Only Coordinator 2013-14

Sean McQuade
Vice President of Finance, Wildside
Delta Chi Vice President 2013-14

Gram Bowsher
President, Wildside

Darlene Reyes
Alianza Co-President 2013-14

Kerri Pang
Northwestern University Dance Marathon Public Relations Committee Member 2011-12

Mariam Gomaa
McSA Administrative Vice President 2012-13
Editor of AlBayan Magazine

Nouha Boundaoui
McSA External Relations Vice President 2013-14

Soad Mana
Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow
McSA External Relations Vice President 2012-13

Amrit Trewn
Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow
Co-Founder of “Purp Magazine”

Hanan Abdisubhan
National Society of Black Engineers Planning Chair

Larry Svabek
Co-President of Roosevelt Institute for Public Policy, Northwestern Network

Rebecca Schieber
ASB Pre-Wildcat Welcome Week Coordinator
Former College Republicans President

Neha Reddy
Brown Sugar A Cappella President 2014-15

Diamond Greer

Sarah Bridgewaters
For Members Only Treasurer 2013-14
Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow
MIXED External Relations Chair

Serena Walker