Illustration by Emma Ruck
CASSIDY JACKSON: I’m Cassidy Jackson from The Daily Northwestern, and you’re listening to part two of the Seen Not Heard series. If you have not listened to the first part of our series, you might want to go back and get filled in. When we left off, summer 2019 was coming to an end and questions remained. Would SESP junior Imani Minor and Weinberg senior Cameryn Farrow still be leaders in Cru? What would Cru and Impact’s relationship look like moving forward? Those questions were answered at the Cru Leadership Summit. Cameryn and Imani weren’t invited to the annual retreat for incoming leaders, and there, the announcement was made.
CHESTAN JAMES: During our Leadership Summit, which is the weekend before Wildcat Welcome, we go on a retreat to some cabins in Wisconsin.
CASSIDY JACKSON: This is SESP junior Chestan James, who was one of the few black student leaders at the summit.
CHESTAN JAMES: We were in one of the larger rooms and there’s about, say, like 20 leaders, about six or seven staff there. One of the directors of Cru, her name’s Kim Johnson, she gave the speech. Basically what was communicated was that it was the decision of Cru national and Impact national — since they’re both national organizations — to split. What made me upset in Cru was that it was talked about amongst the Cru leaders for five minutes. That’s what upset me the most because I was devastated over it. I felt like I was the only one devastated. And I was like, “Am I going crazy?”
CASSIDY JACKSON: Cameryn and Imani heard about the announcement through the grapevine. Cameryn said the information communicated at the Leadership Summit was completely false. In fact, Cru and Impact’s national organizations remain partners — only the Northwestern chapters split ways.
CAMERYN FARROW: When they announced the split between Impact and Cru, they said that it was mutual, which it wasn’t because we had no idea. They said that it was because Cru and Impact are separate nationally, but they’re not separate. They’re sister ministries. I’d been in contact with the president of Impact nationally, kind of for a while at that point. And so I contacted him and was like, “Did you know that this was happening?” And he was like, “I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know.” And he contacted the region director for Cru, so pretty much our campus directors’ boss, and was kind of like, “Did you know this was happening?” and he was like, “I had no idea.” But what staff was telling students was that this came from their higher ups, but the higher ups didn’t know.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Since the split, Cameryn and Imani have each run into Kim Johnson, a Cru director, and they avoid the topic completely. Last fall, Imani saw Kim in Norris.
IMANI MINOR: It’s me and three other girls. We’re working on a class project, so we’re just sitting in Norris, right? So I see Kim and Reilly talking.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Reilly is a student in Cru.
IMANI MINOR: I waved at Reilly. But then for some reason, Kim took that to come over to me, come give me a hug, and was like, “Wow, Imani. I haven’t seen you all quarter. How can that be?” And I was like, “Ha, ha.” In my head, I’m having this huge internal struggle, right? Because I’m like, “God what do I do?” I’m like, do I tell her the only reason that we would have ever seen each other is in a Cru context? And because she essentially kicked Impact out of Cru, of course, we would not see each other anymore? She was like, “Oh, you must always be in your apartment.” I was like, chuckle chuckle, “Sure, not really but sure.”
CASSIDY JACKSON: A formal conversation has yet to happen between the two organizations, so questions remain about Cru’s decision to split. But no Cru staff members agreed to comment for this story, and Kim Johnson did not respond to multiple texts and calls. All other staff members were contacted. One of them replied and said they are “not allowed to do interviews as a Cru staff person.” After the announcement at the 2019 Leadership Summit, Chestan left Cru, an organization he’d been deeply dedicated to for two years. After leaving, Chestan started attending Impact consistently and became a student leader.
CHESTAN JAMES: When the split happened, I did not feel comfortable inviting black students into that space. Because I didn’t think it was a safe space for black students because of the things that transpired and basically the majority of the black students leaving. And that’s the reason I left. I was like, “I can’t in good faith invite black students to this group.”
CASSIDY JACKSON: Rachel Kim, a staff member at another on-campus Christian organization called InterVarsity, has also faced complicated interactions with students.
RACHEL KIM: There’s been a lot of times where students have asked to have a one-on-one conversation with me. And they’re like, “Rachel, I actually didn’t really appreciate the things that you said about this,” or, “Can I ask you why you said this? And like, because I don’t understand. And like, I don’t think it was helpful.” And sometimes it was with a lot of grace. And other times, it’s just like, very angry. But in those moments, you have to put on that humility and be like, “Dang. It’s not my place right now to fight her or fight him in this.” But I have to validate what they have experienced, because it’s true.
CASSIDY JACKSON: These struggles aren’t exclusive to Cru. They extend to other religious organizations like Rachel’s. Each group has its own complicated dynamics. And although Cameryn faced struggles in Cru particularly, nothing’s black or white.
CAMERYN FARROW: This isn’t about who’s bad and who’s good. This is about complicated and hard relationships and interactions between people in organizations that are imperfect.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Chestan’s experience in Cru was also flawed, but leaving Cru behind wasn’t easy. Chestan said Cru helped set the foundation for his personal relationship with God and helped him through tough times.
CHESTAN JAMES: Cru has really been very, very impactful in my relationship with God and being able to grow both spiritually and also just like as a person. They really set the foundation for my faith that I’m able to build upon now. Especially with one of my family members going through depression and anxiety. Just being there for me, especially during those hard times, and just directing me back to the hope Christ gives us and the Gospel gives us through that, I think that was really valuable for me.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Since leaving, Chestan has seen some of his friendships in Cru fade, making him question who really cared about him to begin with.
CHESTAN JAMES: I thought I had like a lot more people to fall back on that would reach out and also check up on me, care for me, even not being a part of Cru. Seeing those relationships become nonexistent basically after leaving was really hard. I dedicated so much time and energy and invested so much into those relationships.
CASSIDY JACKSON: For Chestan, the loss of friendship reveals a larger issue in Cru: students aren’t adequately loving one another across racial lines. Having Impact as a support system has helped him get through this adjustment period.
CHESTAN JAMES: Within Christian community, we’re supposed to be united, care and love for one another. And when that’s not happening, especially because of race, that has been really hard for me. So I’ve been trying to find hope throughout that and being able to fall back on my community in Impact has really helped me in holding on. Like God has a plan.
CASSIDY JACKSON: I reached out to over 40 students who are current or recent Cru members to hear their side of the story. Seven agreed to speak with me. Weinberg junior Chris Gonzalez was one of them. Chris got started in Cru freshman year and quickly joined the tech team, which sets up equipment for Real Life each week.
CHRIS GONZALEZ: If I were to do everything over again, I would do it all the same way and I would definitely still be involved in Cru. Some of the people that I met are truly genuine people who really cared about me and wanted me to grow my faith and the goal that I had, which was to know God more. There were a couple of really powerful resources that I had through Cru.
CASSIDY JACKSON: But Chris does have reservations about Cru, and one of them is the lack of transparency on the split. The topic feels off limits.
CHRIS GONZALEZ: It’s not talked about. Nobody told us what happened. And it’s not necessarily encouraged to strike up a dialogue about it.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Chris said he identifies as Hispanic and was raised in a majority white church. Coming to Northwestern, he was surprised to see contextualized ministries like Impact, Epic and Destino. He said he didn’t and still doesn’t understand how race and Christianity intersect and wishes race was more of a topic of discussion in Cru.
CHRIS GONZALEZ: We should have dialogue about these race issues that might happen in such a large organization. My relationship with the staff members, I think, never really talked about race and the role that race played in Christianity. So, I never really had any reason to bring it up until this big thing happened and I kind of just separated myself from the issue. I never felt comfortable asking about it.
CASSIDY JACKSON: In past years, Cru’s hosted an annual Race Roundtable where race-related issues were discussed. But Cameryn said discussions around race stop there.
CAMERYN FARROW: The reality is Cru on Northwestern’s campus, as long as it has existed, which has been a while, has been created by and created for the white dominant culture, the white evangelical culture. And so a lot of the issues are structural in nature as well. So a lot of this has to do with black church theology versus white evangelical theology. Nobody’s denying that Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we could have a relationship with God. But what it means is, it’s a difference in how people are coming to understand God. For a lot of black churches, a lot of what people need to hear is about overcoming suffering. They need their suffering acknowledged. They need these aspects of their identity acknowledged, whereas in a lot of white evangelical spaces, it’s not the same.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Out of the seven Cru students who talked to me, two white students agreed to an interview. I first talked to a student who preferred to not be named in this transcript for professional reasons.
ANONYMOUS: And the first white student who did step up, it took him like two or three months to respond. So yeah, I’m kind of part of the problem too.
CASSIDY JACKSON: He joined Cru at the start of his freshman year. Sophomore year, he became a student leader and a worship team leader. And then this past fall, he left due to schedule conflict and tensions with staff. He admits to being a bystander in the split and not really caring about Impact students’ absence in Cru.
ANONYMOUS: Something I’ve kind of been mulling over for the past few months is that I think one of the hardest things to do in the world is to make someone care about anything. I’m a Christian, and part of the Christian faith is telling people about the good news of Jesus Christ. And I’m just trying to help people care. I don’t know how to make people care. And then now I realize, I’m on the other side of that coin. There’s a lot of topics and a lot of issues that I’ve been ignoring because I have, you know, a certain luxury to do so and a certain privilege to do so. You know, how is someone else gonna make me care? What is it going to take for me to care about something other than myself? What’s it gonna take for me to care about the group of students who I would see every single week and whose names I knew? What’s it going to take for me to care about them? How much do they have to invest to get me and students like me to care about, you know, something other than ourselves?
CASSIDY JACKSON: Since the split, Impact has entered a new stage, and Cameryn’s at peace with it. She often felt like by advocating for Impact, she was fighting to improve Cru more than the staff was. Now, she’s free of the stress.
CAMERYN FARROW: The fact that students had to spearhead a lot of this, when staff, it’s their full-time job to take care of this ministry, was difficult, because it felt like we were often doing a lot more. None of the decision to split up was us. That was all Cru. But the fact that God would be so kind and gracious to relieve us, at least relieve me, of that stress and that labor without me having to say, “I’m done.” That’s pretty cool.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Impact hasn’t slowed down since the split. They’ve kept up their weekly Bible study and added a new series to the mix: Chat & Chew, where they discuss the intersectionality of culture and Christianity.
CAMERYN FARROW: We wanted it to be a space where people could have more nuanced conversations that could happen outside of the traditional format of a Bible study. So it’s more likely to include topics that have to do with pop culture or recent events. It would add more of a well-rounded and holistic perspective of what Christians believe.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Last November, Imani and Cameryn applied to be recognized as an official student organization. However, it wasn’t Impact’s first go. Two previous applications were rejected. But, the third time was the charm.
IMANI MINOR: “Hello, my name is Paula Diaz and I’m the chair of the new student organization review committee.”
CASSIDY JACKSON: This is Imani.
IMANI MINOR: “I would like to be the first to congratulate you on the fact that your application has been approved. We believe that your group is unique and trusting and certainly fitting of the Northwestern spirit.”
CAMERYN FARROW: I was really happy because I feel like, I mean like “long time” is a strong phrase, but I feel like it’s been a long time coming.
CASSIDY JACKSON: This is Cameryn.
CAMERYN FARROW: So I remember I didn’t open it right away. I kind of got to where I was going. Then, I finally sat down and read through it. And I think I just remember smiling, you know what I mean? I just screenshotted it and sent it to the other leaders. I mean I told my mom.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Imani was one of the first to receive the screenshot.
IMANI MINOR: I read the “I wanted to personally say that you are approved” or whatever, and I was like “ahhhh!” I was just so happy. I low-key want to throw a party not even low-key like I want to throw a party or something. We’re official-official.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Being a recognized student organization comes with increased visibility, Northwestern staff support and funding. But for Imani, it’s something deeper.
IMANI MINOR: On a spiritual level, I think the fact that we got accepted this time kind of signified that Impact is needed and necessary on this campus. God wants us here. A lot of God’s doing, you know, the fact that we are recognized. Even low-key the fact that we are split from Cru, I feel like it’s what God wanted for us in this season. I just feel like I’ve been able to really lock into my peace and understand this is a God-given peace and this is a God-given joy. And just being able to glow.
CASSIDY JACKSON: For many, including Cameryn and Chestan, Impact serves as a safe haven.
CAMERYN FARROW: In general, my experience at Northwestern like off rip was hard mentally, socially, those kinds of things. And so Impact has been my family here. It’s impacted my experience at Northwestern because, that is my experience at Northwestern. If someone asks me, “what did I enjoy about school?” Impact is what I enjoyed. Everything else was hard.
CHESTAN JAMES: It’s a family.
CASSIDY JACKSON: This is Chestan.
CHESTAN JAMES: It’s a place where I can grow spiritually and I can express my identity as a black man and as a Christian simultaneously without either of them being suppressed in any way. God created us to have culture and to have all these differences and we’re meant to embrace those. Impact made me realize that I can be black and I can be Christian and I don’t have to be one or the other.
CASSIDY JACKSON: McCormick junior Isaac Tenga was part of Impact as a freshman, when it was still under Cru. He stopped attending Real Life by sophomore year and stayed in Impact. For Isaac, Cru felt inauthentic in many ways. But in Impact, he said it’s different.
ISAAC TENGA: The people in Impact are more accepting of my quirks or my personality type than people on this campus are in general. I can be free in a way, you know, be open about who I am as a person. That’s something I don’t experience anywhere else on campus with the exception of particular individuals, particular friends on campus. But there’s no community where I feel like I have the same experience. I feel at home at Impact.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Although the future looks bright for Impact, the split still has consequences, specifically for Cru. Before the split, black students were already leaving Cru because they didn’t feel comfortable in the space. In the wake of the split, Cru launched a new Bible Study for black students. It’s unclear why they created this group, but for Cameryn and Imani, it felt like an attempt to replace Impact.
CAMERYN FARROW: To me, it shows that you never really valued us or you never understood our value if you think it’s so easily replaceable.
CASSIDY JACKSON: This is Cameryn.
CAMERYN FARROW: We didn’t just have a Bible study. We had a community. And it takes a lot of understanding and love and experience to create such a community.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Imani felt similarly.
IMANI MINOR: It seems like you would just direct your people to Impact because you know that there is this already established black organization, this black ministry that like most of your staff supported last year.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Cru stopped their Black Bible Study during fall quarter, so there’s no longer a structured space for black students in Cru. For Weinberg junior Kathryne Tao, a leader in Cru’s Asian American ministry Epic Movement, Real Life doesn’t feel right without a strong black population.
KATHRYNE TAO: I think it’s always uneasy for me because now that Impact is not a part of Cru and that they’re on their own, it’s hard to say that there is a community where they can feel comfortable. I definitely feel kind of weird every time they make an announcement of like, “Oh, we have spaces for our students of color. Like Epic, go to Epic at this time. Like Destino, for Latinx students, go to Destino.” And then, that’s it. There’s one missing, obviously. And then there’s black students sitting in the large group that I’m like, “I wonder what they think.”
CASSIDY JACKSON: When Northwestern graduate Sarabi Woods helped reinstate Impact at Northwestern three years ago, she wanted Impact and Cru to stay together. Hearing about the split, she was heartbroken.
SARABI WOODS: It breaks my heart and I’m quite certain it breaks God’s heart that we’re not one anymore, that we’re divided. I guess, for me, I thought the only way that students of color would really connect with Cru was if they had a space to worship as they would and be vulnerable as they would. I thought I was coming up with the solution trying to dust them away. But I don’t know, maybe there wasn’t a dustpan to actually clear them up.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Still, Sarabi hopes for a chance at reconnection between Cru and Impact.
SARABI WOODS: I don’t know if any Cru people or any staff members will even listen to this interview, but I just hope that they reach out to Impact. You can’t sit here and talk about, you want believers of every tongue, tribe and nation when you’re not connecting with your neighbor. You can’t. So I just hope that they open up their hearts. And then in turn that Impact students are willing to receive, you know, Cru wherever they are. I know it’s hard but remain calm, remain patient, remain prayerful that things will change, things will get better.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Only time will tell if Northwestern’s Cru and Impact will have a future together again, but Chestan says it’s important for reconciliation to happen regardless.
CHESTAN JAMES: I think one of the biggest things surrounding Christianity is that things are swept under the rug and not addressed. In reality God says the things in the darkness, bring it to light to expose those things. I guess directed at Cru, all we want is our voices to be validated. We want to be listened to, respected and what we say taken seriously and implemented not because you have to but as a show of your love and your commitment to us. This interview is not, again, to bash Cru but as a call for reconciliation, a call to come together and to start a dialogue about what has happened, how it’s impacted both sides and what we can do moving forward. Because of what Jesus did for us, and His message is all about forgiveness, I want to begin that conversation of forgiveness that can lead to healing where even though we have these differences and even though we have this past, we’re able to move past it, and we’re able to show others that racial reconciliation is possible.
CASSIDY JACKSON: With the freedom to do what they see fit and official club status, both Chestan and Cameryn look forward to Impact’s future.
CHESTAN JAMES: I just want us to be known on campus as showing black students the love of Jesus and caring for them and loving them in a way that this University has failed so much.
CAMERYN FARROW: I envision us being a major player on campus, Christian-wise and not because we’re behaving and putting on events and interacting with people in other organizations and with administration in a way that represents the fact that we love others and the fact that we fight for justice.
CASSIDY JACKSON: Special thanks to my editors Ryan Wangman, Andrea Michelson, Chris Vazquez, Kalen Luciano, Heena Srivastava and Troy Closson. Thanks to Jacob Ohara who contributed reporting to the story. Huge thanks to everyone who shared their story with me including Imani Minor, Cameryn Farrow, Nadia Hundley, Chestan James, Sarabi Woods, Isaac Tenga, Femi Olaniyi, Demi Oluyemi, Sarah Kumi, Rebecca Ayiku, Kathryne Tao, John Choi, Sydney Gil, Joanna Yu, Deborah Rodriquez, Hannah Sudworth, Chris Gonzalez, Chris Colquitt, Rachel Kim, Todd Lucas and Jermayne Chapman.