Fund Our Care Collective urges admin to create resources that ‘help students stay alive’


Graphic by Jessica Ogwumike

Fund Our Care Collective will host a town hall on April 25 for students to voice concerns about well being on campus. Higher administration has been invited but has not confirmed that members will attend.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

On March 17, Dean of Students Todd Adams emailed students, wishing “good thoughts” during finals week. He said that “it is normal, at times, to struggle with academic work, find balance among competing priorities, and meet our own — or even others’ — expectations. If you are experiencing any of these, then let me assure you that you are not alone.”

Weinberg senior Jessica Ogwumike said that when she read Adams’ email, she began thinking about the implications of using the word “normal” to describe stress and struggles on campus. She texted her fellow members of Fund Our Care Collective, a group that describes itself as a student movement created to improve the health and well-being of NU students and aims to facilitate conversations about the topic.

Ogwumike said they were having similar “gut reactions.”

“I still remember reading the line ‘this is normal’ and getting really angry,” Ogwumike said. “None of this is normal.”

Fund Our Care Collective published a letter on April 12 in response to Adams’ email, which was released on North by Northwestern’s website. The group’s letter stated that Adams’ email “functioned to normalize student suffering” and that the dean “failed to recognize the social circumstances that make NU especially harmful to racialized, gender-marginalized, disabled, low-income and first-generation students.”

Weinberg senior Natalie Vega, a member of the group, said Adams’ email was “irresponsible messaging.”

“Todd Adams’ email grouped everyone together and was like, ‘If you are struggling that’s fine,’” Vega said. “But one person’s stress isn’t another person’s stress.”

Since the group’s letter was published, members said they have not received a response from Adams, who also did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily. But that has not stopped Fund Our Care Collective from organizing further. On April 25, the group will hold a Community Town Hall on Student Wellness.

Ogwumike said the group hopes there is a “collective investment” to create impactful solutions to the “crisis at hand” during the event.

“The collective and the letter have been organic responses to a deep sense of frustration,” Ogwumike said. “Our work is trying to articulate a common understanding of what the student experience is on this campus and its current productivity culture.”

Fund Our Care Collective was established during Fall Quarter when students came together after receiving an email sent by Adams regarding Weinberg sophomore Daniel Jessell’s death by suicide. The group felt students received “a loss in our community” emails far too often, so they began writing demands to administration officials about what Vega called “ways to help students stay alive.”

“In the demands, we asked for an increased number of counselors available, increased funding to CAPS, SES and AccessibleNU, and to decrease the credit requirements for some schools,” Vega said. “They were very pragmatic things administrators could do to immediately improve student conditions on campus.”

As previously reported by The Daily, Fund Our Care Collective then led a demonstration last December during which students marched to the Rebecca Crown Center and delivered the collective’s demands to Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs. Ogwumike said the demands put forth in the letter were the result of investigative journalism, student polling research, and narrative and qualitative research.

In the days leading up to the demonstration, the event was publicized through social media, flyers and word of mouth. SESP sophomore Eliza Gonring said NU’s administration most likely “got word” of the collective’s demonstration, which is why Telles-Irvin sent an email to students on Dec. 5, 2018, stating “a campus-wide task force focusing on your well-being has been created.” Gonring said Telles-Irvin’s email was a “performative way” to handle the issue.

“The email seemed like an obvious way for the school to undermine our demonstration,” Gonring said. “It was a stalling tactic, and it wasn’t solving anything as urgently as it needed to be solved.”

However, Vega said the group was explicit in making administrators aware that it did not want a task force formed around its demands. In its statement to Telles-Irvin, Fund Our Care Collective asked that a public town hall be held where students and administrators could come together to discuss student needs and the appropriate University response.

Vega said administrators ignored the group’s request for a town hall.

“Task forces are where demands go to die,” Vega said. “They preclude all possibilities of transparency and a reciprocal dialogue, which is what this issue needs.”

Fund Our Care Collective was asked to be a part of the task force, but Ogwumike said the group declined the invitation because “it was not a mode of redress we found viable.”

Ogwumike said to her understanding, the task force is co-chaired by John Dunkle, executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services, and Jennifer Tackett, NU’s director of clinical psychology. She said it seems to be quite large in membership, but cannot confirm any details.

The group also requested minutes from the task force’s meetings but was told the task force does not have the “administrative capacity” to keep minutes. Ogwumike said the collective has not heard from the task force since February.

“We were left to ask ourselves, ‘What now?’” Vega said.

Adams then sent his email to the NU student body before final exams during winter quarter.

Medill sophomore Cayla Clements, another member of the collective, said she was also “shocked” by the email.

“It seemed to normalize very high stress,” Clements said. “It was very off-putting.”

Clements said Fund Our Care Collective wrote the letter posted on North by Northwestern’s website immediately after Adams sent his email to students, but it took time to get published. She noted the letter was a collaborative effort.

Clements thinks the letter got a “good amount of student traction,” but is disappointed by administrations’ lack of response.

“Acknowledgement by the administration is necessary,” Clements said. “I would really like to see the University treat the topics of mental health and mental illness in a more sensitive manner. The school cannot turn a blind eye to the amount of student deaths we’ve had to suicides.”

Fund Our Care Collective has invited administrators to attend its town hall this week. Gonring said she wants administrators “to listen to us and to see our faces.”

The collective shared the event on Facebook, and over 60 people have marked that they are “interested” or “going.” But as for NU’s administration, Ogwumike is wary of who will show up.

“If administrators come, that would be a show of good faith,” Ogwumike said. “But if not, that wouldn’t actually surprise me.”

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