Administrators host first roundtable on potential open group proposal
May 26, 2016
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University officials held a roundtable Wednesday afternoon in Norris University Center on an upcoming goal to require most student groups to admit all interested students by the end of next academic year.
“We really want to open dialogue, increase inclusivity and detoxify culture,” said Brent Turner, executive director of the Office of Campus Life. “If everyone’s paying the same fee, they should have access to explore.”
At the first of two planned dialogues, Turner told the eight students in attendance he wanted to hear from community members and understand current recruitment processes before working out how to implement the new goal.
The Daily reported last week that Campus Life would no longer recognize new non-inclusive groups and was considering a proposal that most groups admit all interested students. The proposal, Turner said, would affect most groups that recruit new members through admissions processes and came after more than five years of discussion about the exclusionary nature of student organizations.
Turner said a policy like Stanford University’s — which lists applications, interviews and resumes as “unacceptable” membership practices and does not permit membership tiers — “looks pretty good,” but stressed that his office had not yet settled on a mode of implementation. Over the next few weeks and into the summer, he said, his office would continue to solicit student feedback and consider all possible ways to achieve the goal.
At times discussion between students at the roundtable grew heated, as support for the new proposal was almost evenly split between those in attendance. Some students said it would force groups to reassess their reasons for exclusivity, while others, like Joseph Raff, executive director of Supplies for Dreams, said a unilateral policy would not work.
“There is a significant problem with the culture of exclusivity,” the McCormick junior said. “But imposing a policy like the Stanford one to force a single solution across a wide variety of groups is just going to push people farther apart and farther underground.”
Raff said he would rather the University sit down with groups and work on a case-by-case basis to review application processes before it took action. In the past, he added, University policy seemed to come from the top down. Turner said culture change could not occur in that manner, but must instead come from students themselves.
Steven Bennett, a Weinberg junior, said he disagreed with the implicit notion that some students deserved membership more than others.
“It’s really evidence of how toxic campus is that people think they can interview someone once or twice and say, ‘You’re better than this other person,’” Bennett said. “What kind of 18- or 19-year-old has business experience … unless they’re super privileged or have parents that have lots of money?”
But not all student groups share the goal of inclusivity, said Aashrey Tiku, president of AIESEC, which provides cross-cultural internships and international volunteer experiences. Some organizations exist to perform specific functions, he said, while others serve as communities. The former might not strive for inclusivity in the same way the latter does, the Weinberg junior added.
Isaac Rappoport, co-president of Deering Days, said students did not need more exclusivity at a university that admits just over 10 percent of applicants. Instead, he said, the current system caters to those who come from wealth and excludes students who can’t meet arbitrary standards. He added that use of University space and funding is a privilege, not a right.
“This is a systematic way by which people are excluded from the Northwestern community based on standards that Northwestern has already identified as negative things,” the Weinberg junior said.
Next Wednesday, Associated Student Government Senate is scheduled to vote on a resolution that disavows the potential proposal.