Black Student Experience task force members hope report will result in actual change


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Students gather outside the Black House during a demonstration last Fall. In a report released last week, a University-appointed committee outlined several recommendations to enhance the black student experience at Northwestern.

Mariana Alfaro, Web Editor

After almost a year of research and data collection, members of the Black Student Experience task force hope their report, released Friday, will effect change in University systems with speed.

The report, sent to students on Monday, outlines 14 recommendations made to the University by a committee of faculty, staff and students. The recommendations range from long-term goals — such as increasing the number of black students, faculty and staff at NU — to creating more spaces for black student organizations.

The task force, established by Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, in the spring of 2015 in an effort to gain a better understanding of the experiences of NU’s black undergraduate students is comprised of four students and 11 faculty and staff, including Communication Prof. Harvey Young.

Young, a theater professor whose research focuses on the intersection between race and performance, said though all recommendations are equally pertinent, he believes one of the most feasible proposals for the University to complete in the near future is the creation or reorganization of spaces for black students to meet, socialize and hold performances.

“Increasing the number of students, faculty and staff will take time,” Young said. “However, increasing availability of space is something the University can act on pretty much immediately.”

University administrators now have three different studies to analyze to enhance the experience of black students at Northwestern. The report joins the Black House Facility Review Committee’s findings released last spring and the University program review as part of an administrative push to keep up with NU’s diverse population.

Damilola Arowolaju, a SESP senior and a member of the task force, said students he has spoken to about the report strongly identify with the struggles described by the committee. The report repeatedly outlines the concept of loneliness or “being the only one” on campus — something Arowolaju said black students experience constantly on campus.

Arowolaju, who was invited to join the committee by Telles-Irvin, said he hopes the report will help increase representation in student groups such as Greek organizations and increase the funding multicultural groups receive.

With the recommendations, the task force tries to make organizations and councils “more aware” and to make sure they create a welcoming environment for everyone, Arowolaju said.

“I can recall from my own experience going to IFC parties and just not feeling very welcomed,” he said. “I can only speak for myself — it wasn’t a great atmosphere. I didn’t feel welcomed at all, and since freshman year I’ve never went to another IFC party because of the treatment I experienced.”

Young said he believes the senior administration is already discussing which recommendations they can act on immediately.

“What’s really refreshing and exciting about this report is that when we presented it … all these senior administrators were there to not only listen to the report but also to engage the recommendations,” he said. “They stayed a lot longer than they were supposed to stay because they were really invested in the report.”

Though the task force has already presented its report to a group of senior administrators, including University President Morton Schapiro and Jabbar Bennett, associate provost for diversity and inclusion, Young said the committee will meet one more time to reflect on the report’s findings and how they can support the implementation of their recommendations.

Telles-Irvin said she has not yet received feedback from members of the NU community on the report but thinks people will be pleased with how thorough the report is. She said the report included the largest number of black students ever surveyed by the University, giving NU the data to explore different identities within the black demographic.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to describe a single, all-encompassing black student experience,” she said. “I think more than anything, (the report) affirmed some of what we need to do. Now we have it in writing — now we have the data, and now we have to do something about it.”

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