Northwestern Black Alumni Association plans task force for 50th year commemoration of Bursar’s Office sit-in

Fathma Rahman, Reporter

Almost 50 years after black students and community supporters at Northwestern took control of the Bursar’s Office and presented the University with a list of demands to improve their quality of life on campus, the NU Black Alumni Association is creating a task force to commemorate the protest.

The task force will plan a series of events culminating in a large event during May 2018 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sit-in at the University’s financial affairs office, NUBAA president Jeffrey Sterling (Weinberg ‘85) said.

“The commemoration activities are really meant to highlight all the steps forward that the African-American community has made over the years,” Sterling said. “We hope the events to really be a celebration of progress — and, equally as important, a sense of how much progress has been made between the African-American community and the University.”

The celebrated sit-in began early on a Friday morning in 1968 and lasted 38 hours. A seven-hour negotiating session between black students and members of the administration concluded the demonstration, resulting in an agreement that addressed many of the students’ 15 demands.

“The situation at Northwestern University has been positively resolved,” said James Turner (Weinberg ‘68), a then-sociology graduate student who had led the negotiation team, The Daily reported at the time.

Sterling said another goal of the commemoration is to acknowledge the efforts of those who paved the way for the success that generations of students have had at NU and after graduation.

“I actually hope to make a major focus of the commemoration activities in the different ways we interact with the University,” he said. “Despite the recent events surrounding the Black House, the experience that we’ve had with the administration has been productive, positive and progressive.”

Plans to move Campus Inclusion and Community staff offices into the Black House Fall Quarter were met with student protests, prompting the University to cancel those reorganization plans.

The takeover of the Bursar’s Office set the stage for a shift in how black students were treated on campus, Sterling said. Prior to the takeover, he said black students were not allowed to live on campus. African-American studies as a discipline evolved from this agreement, as did the creation of the Black House — things that are still important many generations later, he said.

NUBAA is currently in the process of accepting nominations and applications for alumni and current students to be on the task force for the 2018 event, Sterling said.

In addition to the commemoration event, NUBAA is also planning to open archives about black students at NU spanning more than 150 years of history.

“The archives’ mission is to research, organize, disseminate and publicize and archive the history of person of African descent who are either students, staff, faculty at NU from the beginning until today,” said Lauren Lowery (McCormick ‘89), former NUBAA vice president and chairwoman of the archives committee.

Lowery said the hope is to store the archives in the Black House, but there is currently no planned location. NUBAA is in the process of meeting with NU administrators to solidify the best place for the archives, she said.

During Lowery’s time on a diversity board committee from 2012 to 2013, she tried to do research on diversity best practices at research institutions like NU. When she went to the archives, she was given a small manila envelope of the research that had been done on black alumni at NU, she said.

“NU’s archive must have hundreds of thousands of linear feet of archival work and he basically just gave me less than an inch suggesting this is all we’ve compiled,” Lowery said.

University Archives automatically receives records from NU departments and offices, as well as from certain faculty members, said Clare Roccaforte, director of library public relations, marketing and communication at NU Library. However, that does not include materials from student groups and organizations, and alumni records only get to the library if the person was interested in donating them, Roccaforte said.

The library works with the Office of Alumni Relations and Development to collect records from alumni, but most of them are received through relationship-building processes that come from face-to-face interactions, Roccaforte said.

There is currently a proposal at the Office of the Provost from NUBAA about creating its archives with the library, Roccaforte said. The library is waiting for a response from the Office of the Provost before moving forward, she added.

“We have a lot of expertise here, and we know that the archives that NUBAA wants are really important and valuable both to the campus community and to its historical documentation,” Roccaforte said. “One of our main jobs as librarians is to preserve that history, so we would be happy to help. We can help save that legacy as long as someone gives us something to save, but no one has given us that history, yet.”

NUBAA is currently working with historian and archivist Dino Robinson, who specializes in Evanston’s black history, to develop the archives. Robinson said the efforts are an ongoing process, with the first step of the archival process set to take place this summer, though he said it will not be finished anytime soon.

“It’s not something that just happens overnight, but over the course of years,” Robinson said. “And this is only the first stage — just think about how old NU is and how many years of colored students have passed through this school without being able to leave their legacy behind.”

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