Editorial: University’s response to racist incidents on campus was inadequate

Daily Northwestern Editorial Board

In the past few weeks, our student body has seen three racist incidents on campus. On March 15, a rope fashioned into a noose was found in a common area in Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. On April 6, a sticker with the slogan “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” was discovered in Allison dining hall, and another was found in Main Library on April 20.

These racist occurrences prompted a rapid student response, including a petition backed by Associated Student Government — which called for immediate University denouncement of the acts — and social media posts condemning the presence of racism on campus.

The noose and stickers are unquestionably concerning. While the rope was not initially left in Henry Crown in the form of a noose, someone later found it and decided to fashion it into one, according to a University statement. Also, the “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” slogan comes directly from white supremacist groups. In 2017, the slogan appeared on the online platform 4chan as a means of provoking social unrest and promoting a white nationalist perspective.

Both incidents are inherently racist and anti-black, and do not belong on our campus. Pretending otherwise undermines the perspectives of marginalized people, black students in particular, and the way in which the slogan can make such groups feel attacked and unsafe.

Considering the urgency of the incidents, Northwestern’s response has been extremely disappointing. At first, administration was slow to send out any statement regarding the rope and stickers: students and families were forced to get their information through word-of-mouth and social media, rather than University administrators. Following the incidents, NU provided two statements to The Daily, and we included quotes from them in our coverage. However, these releases were only accessible to The Daily, even though they contained information relevant to our entire community, and should have been made public in full. Additionally, there was no direct response from the administration that addressed the whole student body.

In not immediately addressing the incidents, administrators alienated Northwestern’s marginalized groups. People who felt unsafe due to these events were systematically ignored, and growing public concern over the overt presence of racism on campus went unaddressed. Given the absence of a widespread, public response from the University, students were left to wonder whether administrators were taking action, or even cared about their concerns at all.

Patricia Telles-Irvin, the vice president for student affairs, sent an email to the Northwestern community condemning the acts — five weeks after the noose appeared in Henry Crown, and nearly two weeks after the sticker appeared in Allison.

“Acts of hate, whether premeditated or not, will not go unchallenged at Northwestern University. Those who choose to be a part of the Northwestern community are expected to abide by a code of conduct that does not tolerate such acts,” the email read.

Despite this attempt to quell fears, such an email should have come much earlier — it came only after ASG passed the emergency resolution. In the gap between the incidents and the email, students — particularly black students — were forced to petition and call attention to things that should have already been a top priority for administrators.

The resulting email did not include an apology for the anxiety administrators caused students by failing to respond in a timely manner. It did not recognize the petition, or the labor of marginalized communities to call attention to the events. Instead, it was a cursory acknowledgment of the racism that occurs on campus — a hasty response created only in hopes of quieting numerous critics.

Telles-Irvin’s email linked to a webpage which included two unsigned statements previously provided to The Daily, claiming the statements were issued “immediately” following the discovery of the noose and sticker. It was not up front, however, about the fact that these statements were initially provided only to The Daily — and that they were not directly accessible to students until the Friday morning email. This discrepancy undermines the transparency a university should always strive to achieve. While our news coverage did quote these statements, the Northwestern community deserved to be able to read the full statements after their release.

Racist incidents are not going away. A student found another sticker in Main Library the day after Telles-Irvin’s email, and said contacting officials and University Police was difficult. This is why it is so crucial that administrators listen to student concerns surrounding transparency and response time. They need to create a public plan to quickly acknowledge and denounce racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, ableist and other discriminatory actions to make students and other members of the Northwestern community feel safe, valued and heard.

If students are forced to experience racist incidents on campus, the least we can ask of our administrators is an attentive, clear and meaningful response that shows active concern for their well-being.

This piece represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of The Daily Northwestern. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members or Editorial Board members of The Daily Northwestern.