Northwestern students speak out to administrators during forum on racial tensions

Mariana Alfaro, Development and Recruitment Editor

Northwestern Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Jabbar Bennett listened to students of color share their encounters with racism at NU during a dialogue hosted in light of university protests nationwide.

As Friday’s earlier Black House protest wound down, about 150 students and community members gathered in the evening as undergraduate and graduate students spoke about NU’s race relations, diversity and inclusion efforts and administrative response, with faculty and community members joining in on the conversation.

First-year graduate student Ashley Agbasoga recounted an experience at the library when a library staff member “basically harassed” her for her ID and once she pulled it out to scan it, the staffer said, “Oh, you don’t look like you go here.”

“I understand the dialogue and the emails …  but it’s not changing anything,” she said. “And it hasn’t since the 1950s. We’ve been having this dialogue — we need to actually figure out what we can do structurally to get not only more black and brown bodies in the University in the first place but actually have administrators that care.”

The event, held at Lutkin Hall, started at 7:30 p.m. University President Morton Schapiro didn’t arrive until about 8:15 p.m. because he was attending religious services.

Telles-Irvin discussed the email Schapiro sent to students at 2 a.m. Friday about “troubling events” on college campuses nationwide.

“The hope was that everybody in the morning, when you woke up, you would be able to see (the email),” she said.

Audience members addressed topics including what white people can do to be allies for people of color, the current status of the school’s task forces designed to address racial issues on campus, the diversity course requirement for all majors and the number of students of color in both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Communication Prof. Henry Godinez, who was part of the search committee that hired Bennett this year to be NU’s first associate provost for diversity and inclusion, said he understood students are looking for “fluid” and “appropriate” responses to campus diversity and inclusion issues.

“That is our hope, our intention behind bringing Jabbar here — to bring all of the efforts in various schools, in various departments, diversity efforts all around the University,” he said. “What we thought maybe we needed was someone to bring it all together, to tie it all together all the time, not just when there’s an incident but that there can be a conversation, that there can be a way to look for solutions and flashpoints all the time.”

Bennett, who officially began working at NU on Oct. 1, said though he doesn’t have a “magic wand” to make diversity and inclusion issues at NU go away, he has met with many students, groups and faculty to learn more about them.

Bennett said he is working to create a diversity and inclusion strategic plan as something that can hold not only the NU community but also the administration accountable in moving issues related to diversity and inclusion forward and help measure NU’s success.

Joji Syed, Associated Student Government’s vice president for community relations, said although administrators talk about plans to make the NU experience better, the University still lacks formal structures to address the issues talked about during the dialogue.

“(During) the time that it takes this administration to have those conversations … more tragedy occurs and more students feel frustrated,” the Weinberg junior said. “I don’t know who the players are who make those decisions, but those people need to get together and actually do something.”

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