Soto: Proactivity should be President Schapiro’s next move

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Isabella Soto, Columnist

The morning of Jan. 15, the Washington Post published an opinion piece about safe spaces on college campuses written by our very own University President Morton Schapiro.

While first reading the piece,­­ I liked what Schapiro was saying. I thought the anecdote about the black students eating in the cafeteria was an apt one. He acknowledged the importance of safe spaces for students and rightfully recognized the efforts of the black student activists whose actions saved the Black House in November.

Something didn’t sit right with me after reading, though. I felt as though I had glossed over the crucial point of the article but later realized it was the article that had failed to address something.

Although it’s good that Schapiro is capable of recognizing the power of student activism and the critical role that safe spaces have on our campus, the real work comes in dismantling the social structures and ideas that perpetuate student marginalization. Safe spaces are valuable beyond words and essential sites of historical preservation, community and support, but the administration shouldn’t act as though the existence of safe spaces resolves the issue of student marginalization.

Schapiro’s acknowledgement of safe spaces feels more like an appeasement than a bold and radical statement of solidarity with the student body. In failing to suggest continued action of any form and deciding to settle for and praise what is already “working,” his complacency reveals itself. He claims that “the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.” But what happens when the University has already failed at that?

In a recent letter to the editor, the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance criticized Schapiro for his comments against “sanitizing history” when discussing the removal of John Evans’ name from several Northwestern buildings and rooms.

When the presence of a problematic historical figure manifests itself on campus and American Indian and indigenous students are expected to deal with this on a daily basis, where can these students go to find a safe space? The University is complicit in glorifying someone who played a role in one of the worst genocides against American Indian and indigenous populations, and while the concerns of NAISA have been voiced on multiple occasions, the issue seems to be of little to no concern to the administration.

While it may take time, if the University is truly concerned with creating spaces where members of each group feel safe, they should listen and work with students. They’re currently doing this with the student activists of Black Lives Matter NU as a select group of students are in discussion with Schapiro and other University administrators regarding the list of demands the group released last November. This will hopefully lead to change that is more focused on bettering Northwestern for black students, students of color and marginalized students.

Indefatigable student activists are continuing work on Northwestern Divest, petitions for Sodexo workers’ rights and Unshackle NU, a new campaign calling for the University to divest from private prison companies.

So long as there are issues that marginalize students, there will always be something to work for and something to better on this campus. Once there’s change that’s significant enough to write about, maybe then I’ll look forward to another op-ed from President Schapiro.

Isabella Soto is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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