Memorial to a memorial: University plans to replace removed memorial to students who died while at Northwestern


Isabelle Sarraf/The Daily Northwestern

The memorial tree lies on the grass outside Harris Hall. After students and alumni reacted negatively to the tree’s removal, the University is planning to create a more permanent memorial on campus.

Megan Munce, Web Editor

Students and alumni quickly organized to save a memorial to students who died while at Northwestern after it was removed by the University without notice.

On Friday afternoon, a group of students contacted administrators after noticing the tree next to The Rock had been removed and was lying on the ground nearby alongside several other chopped trees. According to Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, vice president for student affairs, the tree was removed over the weekend for “safety reasons,” and the trunk is now held in storage.

“We acknowledge the special place the tree held for many members of our student body, but in recent months the condition of the tree had been rapidly deteriorating, to the point that it was considered by University arborists to be a potential risk,” she said in an email to The Daily.

Before 2017, student groups would paint the tree in the same fashion as The Rock. However, in recent years, the tree served as a memorial to students who had died during their time at NU. The names of some of these students — Chuyuan Qiu, Ananya Agrawal, Kenzie Krogh, Mohammed Ramzan and Jordan Hankins — were painted vertically up the trunk of the tree.

A photo shows the tree painted by the Chinese International Student Association in 2012. (Daily file photo by Kai Huang)

According to Katharine Cusick (SESP ‘18), the memorial began after Ramzan’s name was painted on the tree following his death in 2017. The next time The Rock was painted, Cusick said, the tree was left unpainted to preserve Ramzan’s name. Over time, more names were added, including Chuyuan “Chu” Qiu, who died in a biking accident in 2016.

Cusick, Qiu’s Peer Adviser, remembers the tree as a way to stay connected with Qiu.

“At the beginning of the year, when she passed away, it felt like people were moving on much more quickly than I was ready to,” Cusick said. “(It was) just a nice way to be like, ‘We haven’t forgotten about you. You’re an important part of this community still.’”

After the tree was removed without notice, several students and alumni voiced their disappointment over Twitter.

One was Allie Goulding (Medill ‘20), who earlier this year had hung origami cranes from the branches of the tree as part of a project for Art 390-0: Memory and the Monument.

The cranes were folded so the email subject line, “A loss in our community,” was visible on their wings. (Courtesy of Allie Goulding)

The former Daily staffer printed out all the emails she had ever received about a student or administrator’s death — including many whose names could not fit on the tree — and folded them into paper cranes as a tribute.

“(The tree) was the only space we were granted to mourn our classmates. Northwestern only sends out those template emails, and that’s it,” Goulding said. “No memorial space, no monument, nothing. We deserve more than a template email and a hand-painted tree. Our classmates that died deserve more.”

Previously, a white-painted bike was placed at the intersection where Qiu died to memorialize her, but Cusick said it was removed during the construction of the bike lane on Sheridan Road.

The removal of the bike made Cusick feel like she was being pushed to move on, so having Qiu’s name later added to the tree felt “empowering,” she said.

“I was a tour guide, so I would walk my tours past it and say, ‘These are the students who passed away and this is our way to remember them,’” Cusick said. “It made me feel like people were remembering them, and not letting their deaths get swept up in institutional nonsense.”

According to Payne-Kirchmeier, staff from Facilities Management and the Division of Student Affairs will be collaborating with students to create a new memorial that can become “a permanent fixture on the Evanston campus.”

Even though her time at NU has ended, Cusick still believes in the importance of having a permanent memorial to Qiu and other students who have died while at NU.

“It would benefit the community and community healing to have that,” she said. “It makes me smile that even now… students are like, ‘Who is that? I might look them up,’ and keep that memory alive. I think it’s certainly important in recognizing the contributions these students made and didn’t get to make to Northwestern.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @meganmuncie

Related Stories:
Evanston residents embroider quilt memorializing transgender individuals who died in 2019
MSA vigil memorializes deaths of transgender individuals