Closson: NU needs to move beyond task forces for tangible change

Troy Closson, Opinion Editor

Last month, Northwestern’s Undergraduate Residential Experience Committee released its report on restructuring campus living. The new framework presented widespread changes to residential life from eliminating permanent themes at residential colleges to fully integrating Greek housing into the proposed neighborhood model.

Despite the number of months spent on drafting the report, there was not a single mention of providing — or even considering plans for — Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council on-campus housing. Yes, MGC and NPHC have less than 200 members in total, but arguably, a large reason for their relatively low enrollment is that their presence is minimized as a result of the lack of on-campus housing and full support.

And this is not a new issue. Students have long described challenges and obstacles within their MGC and NPHC experiences — many of which are rooted in their lack of on-campus visibility and space. Students directly echoed similar concerns to administrators in the Black Student Experience Task Force Report. As a result, one of the recommendations made by the task force was the provision of “more support for the National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council organizations.”

Yet, the Undergraduate Residential Experience Committee report didn’t make a single mention of NPHC or MGC in its 114-page discussion of on-campus housing or Greek life despite all of this. And I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: Maybe within their discussion, the committee tossed around ideas and decided to provide on-campus was simply a longer-term project. The report did show that NPHC, Multicultural Student Affairs and a few other inclusion-related officers were consulted. Still, if these discussions occurred, it’s confusing why they weren’t addressed in any capacity.

I’m not involved in MGC or NPHC, and I’m not in a fraternity altogether. However, the lack of any discussion about on-campus housing for these organizations in the committee’s entire report illustrates a broader trend with many of the issues students of color experience on campus. The University is great at conducting surveys, creating task forces and assembling recommendations and suggestions — but struggles to actually move forward and act on them.  

Looking at other recommendations of the black student experience task force, it’s unclear whether large progress has been made. The number of black students, faculty and staff on campus remains concerningly low.  To my knowledge, substantial initiatives haven’t been established to support black undergraduate women. And the lack of MGC and NPHC inclusion in the housing report suggests the University still isn’t regularly listening to black students outside of times of crisis.

University administrators need to move beyond words. Obviously, these task forces can be valuable, but that’s only when they actually lead to tangible change. Fourteen recommendations came from the Black Student Experience Task Force Report, but as the lack of MGC and NPHC discussion in the proposed housing framework illustrates, some seem to never actually take form.  To be clear, I’m not discounting the importance of tangible steps the University has taken to support MGC and NPHC. It’s something that’ll take time. But not even mentioning it creates the impression the University doesn’t even acknowledge the need, and it’s confusing why these organizations would be left out a report meant to completely transform the undergraduate residential experience.

Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. He 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.