The Weekly: Week One Recap

Alex Chun and Susanna Kemp

The abolish Greek life movement continues into the school year, dining workers face mass layoffs, Evanston businesses suffer from economic hardships and closures, and the Big Ten reverses a previous decision that postponed the football season until the spring. Check out The Weekly: Week One Recap to hear directly from the reporters and editors who covered The Daily’s most recent top headlines.

ALEX CHUN: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Alex Chun.

SUSANNA KEMP: And I’m Susanna Kemp. This is The Weekly: a podcast that breaks down our top headlines each week.

ALEX CHUN: Student calls to abolish Greek life have continued into the school year, despite opposition from some organizations’ national headquarters.

SUSANNA KEMP: Also, over the last couple weeks, some students scrambled to find housing after the University announced that living on-campus would not be an option for most first- and second-year students. This decision also impacted service and dining workers who have faced mass layoffs amid the pandemic.

ALEX CHUN: And the news doesn’t end on campus. In Evanston, many businesses continue to face economic hardship and, for some, closure. The beloved Unicorn Cafe, many students’ go-to study spot, is closing after 29 years.

SUSANNA KEMP: And finally, the Big Ten has announced that the conference’s football season will start in October after a unanimous vote – a reversal of their previous decision to postpone the season until the spring. This is made possible with a plan to test the athletes daily. Stay with us to hear directly from the reporters and editors who covered these stories.

SUSANNA KEMP: Calls to abolish Greek life at Northwestern began in July, following the creation of the anonymous Instagram account @abolishnugreeklife. The account now has over 3,000 followers and nearly 300 submissions, most of which detail negative experiences involving fraternities and sororities.

ALEX CHUN: After voting to relinquish its charter, the Northwestern chapter of Gamma Phi Beta was approved to suspend by its International Council on August 27. After the national chapter of Chi Omega prevented Northwestern’s chapter from voting on dissolution, the NU sorority published an open letter proposing reforms. They wrote in an Instagram post that they were “forced to exist.”

SUSANNA KEMP: And the Panhellenic Association, or PHA, released a statement calling to abolish Greek life at Northwestern. Here to chat with us more about this story is the Daily’s campus editor, Isabelle Sarraf. Let’s start by talking about the individual NU chapters that are in support of the abolish Greek life movement… Gamma Phi Beta voted to relinquish its charter. What does this mean for the sorority?

ISABELLE SARRAF: Essentially, what relinquishing a charter means is that there would never be a chapter of Gamma Phi Beta at Northwestern ever again. However, the International Council approved the chapter to suspend its charter, not relinquish, which would mean that Gamma Phi Beta could potentially return in the future if the International Council wanted to bring it back. So, theoretically Gamma Phi Beta is not permanently gone from Northwestern — just temporarily.

SUSANNA KEMP: What are some of the members of GPhi saying pushed them to vote in favor of relinquishing their charter?

ISABELLE SARRAF: Back in June, Gamma Phi Beta posted on their Instagram account in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, about a month later, a bunch of former Gamma Phi Beta members at Northwestern actually began commenting on that Instagram post about some racist experiences they had while in the chapter. So just a lot of people were were sharing their experiences on the Instagram which eventually brought upon the creation of the abolish Greek life Instagram page and basically the comments under the Instagram posts kind of fueled this decision for GPhi to vote to relinquish its charter and GPhi actually also had a lot of their individual members send letters to their international organization, compelling them to accept the vote to relinquish the charter. I think it was about 70 to up to 90 pages of letters that they sent.

SUSANNA KEMP: Wow, that’s a lot of letters. So, Chi Omega’s national organization forbade the Northwestern chapter from voting on dissolution. Is there any way they could still dissolve?

ISABELLE SARRAF: Yeah. If Northwestern chapters can’t individually disband, the only real authority to abolish Greek life as a whole at Northwestern lies within, I believe it’s President Morton Shapiro and the Board of Trustees. PHA would be able to abolish itself if it could, but that doesn’t mean that the individual charters of chapters would be gone. It just means that there wouldn’t be a governing organization, so the fact that Chi Omega can’t even vote on the topic of disbanding means that, you know, the Abolish Greek life movement — and its message on calling upon the administration to address the problems in Greek life — resonates even more.

ALEX CHUN: On Friday, August 28, University President Morton Schapiro sent an email announcing that, with some exceptions, on-campus housing for first- and second-year students would not be available this fall due to COVID-19 concerns. Fraternity and sorority houses were also closed. The decision, announced days before many students planned to move in, interrupted the plans of both students and workers alike. This month, NU workers are facing mass layoffs and what some are calling unfair attendance policies. Isabelle, you also covered these stories and spoke with numerous dining workers. Could you explain the biggest challenges that the dining workers have faced since the start of the pandemic last spring?

ISABELLE SARRAF: Yeah, so on March 30, Craig Johnson, who is the senior vice president for business and finance at Northwestern, sent an email to the community saying that Northwestern and Compass Group, which is Northwestern’s food service provider and through which Northwestern subcontracts its dining and hospitality workers. They said they were going to leverage the federal stimulus package and provide regular compensation and benefits to dining workers at Northwestern through Spring Quarter. So, essentially they said that dining workers would be paid the same amount they should have been paid even though campus was for the most part shut down.

ALEX CHUN: And with Morty’s recent email announcing that on-campus housing is largely not going to be an option, what does this mean for the dining workers?

ISABELLE SARRAF: So, essentially about a week after that announcement was made, the university told The Daily that Compass Group is set to lay off about another hundred workers, some of whom were supposed to be coming back from work after being laid off over the summer or over the spring. So essentially, some dining workers were told they would come back to their jobs in September only to find out that they wouldn’t.

ALEX CHUN: So how has student group SOLR, or, Students Organizing for Labor Rights, moved to support dining workers?

ISABELLE SARRAF: Since the beginning of the pandemic, SOLR actually started a mutual aid fund. They have multiple contacts within the union and with individual workers themselves. Like, students, as we all know, have relationships with dining workers, we interact with them — if you live on campus and have a meal plan, you interact with them on a daily basis. So SOLR has been basically crowdfunding money for a lot of these laid-off workers and has raised about $80,000 in the process just to be able to help pay service workers for their bills or for rent, for medical bills, for groceries, all of that. They’ve given money to a lot of workers in need and, periodically throughout the pandemic, have been posting and posting about raising more funds as there have been more layoffs by Northwestern and Compass.

ALEX CHUN: In Evanston, we’ve seen Panera Bread, Barnes & Noble, and Andy’s Frozen Custard all close storefronts within the past few months. And, most recently, Unicorn Cafe went out of business after facing economic hardship due to COVID-19. Here to tell us more about these stories is city desk editor, Jacob Fulton. Jacob, could you tell us a little bit about Unicorn Cafe’s closure?

JACOB FULTON: Basically, sort of what we’ve been seeing is that small businesses in Evanston have really been struggling in the face of chains and big box retailers, and they were even before this pandemic, so that really just made everything a lot worse. When we spoke to the owner of Unicorn Cafe, Jessica Donnelly, a few months ago, she said that she had to give all of her employees a few weeks of furlough, and then even when she brought them back, and she brought back in-person dining, she was really only seeing about eight to 10 customers a day in the spring. So all the signs were really there that there was a decrease in business and Jessica just ended up deciding that, because of COVID-19, she wasn’t seeing as many customers as she used to, and it just really wasn’t sustainable which resulted in the closure of the restaurant.

ALEX CHUN: So what do Evanston city officials predict for the future of the Evanston economy this year?

JACOB FULTON: So I’ve recently spoken with the city’s economic development manager. His name is Paul Zalmezak, and he told me that basically all the closures we’ve been seeing in the past few months related to COVID-19, the longer everything drags on it’s all just gonna end up getting worse. We’ve seen around 70 Evanston businesses closing this year, with about 40 of them being pandemic-related closures. Overall, the city’s projecting significant drops in tax revenue, which indicates that industries all across the board are just seeing a whole lot less income, but the city’s hoping that we’ll bounce back within the next few years.

ALEX CHUN: Jacob, thanks for coming on today.

JACOB FULTON: Thank you so much for having me.

SUSANNA KEMP: Finally, this week, the Big Ten announced a plan to start the conference’s football season in October. This reverses an earlier decision that was made to postpone the season until the spring. The Big Ten is hoping to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 by starting rapid daily testing for players. Here to chat with us more about this story is the interactives editor, Ella Brockway, and reporter Peter Warren. So Ella, who made this decision and why the reversal?

ELLA BROCKWAY: So this decision and reversal was made by the Big Ten’s Council of presidents and chancellors, which is a group made up of the 14 presidents and chancellors from all the Big Ten schools and headed up by Northwestern President Morty Schapiro. Now originally on August 11, the group had voted that the best decision to make regarding college sports happening in this coronavirus pandemic was to postpone all fall sports to the spring. And at the time, the Big Ten said that there was too much uncertainty about the state of the pandemic and that it just didn’t have the necessary resources, and, most of all, be able to test its athletes every single day and get those rapid results and track the coronavirus’ impact that way. So the Big Ten was the first major sports conference to make this decision and was expecting the rest of them to follow along and make the same decision, but as we got to the end of August, the rest of the major Power Five athletic conferences had all gone ahead with their plans for a delayed start to the fall season with some already getting underway in fall sports mostly, mainly football last weekend. So as those other conferences kind of stuck with that plan to go ahead with their fall seasons, the Big Ten really started to feel some public pressure to make a decision and announce what its plans were.

SUSANNA KEMP: Why was there so much public pressure on the Big Ten to make this decision?

PETER WARREN: Governors and other political officials not just in the Big Ten Midwest area, but also across the country really want college football to happen in some capacity because of how important it can be to local communities and local economies. Places pretty much stay in business because of football in the fall on Saturdays. And so without the season happening and even now, without fans being allowed in the stadiums, there’s going to be some sort of hit. And they’re just hoping with some sort of season, they’ll be able to have some sort of economic boost.

SUSANNA KEMP: Ella, how does the Big Ten plan to keep players healthy?

ELLA BROCKWAY: Yes, so the two biggest accomplishments that the Big Ten made this weekend were that there is a rapid daily antigen testing program for all those who will be involved directly inside a college football program. So that’s not just the athletes but the coaches, trainers, anyone else who would be on the field in a game or a practice. And in addition to that, there’s also the cardiac testing program. So, earlier in the pandemic, there’s a heart condition called myocarditis that had been linked to a few cases of coronavirus among college athletes. So some of the athletes in the Big Ten, who had already tested positive for COVID-19 were found to have also developed this rare heart condition, probably as a result of them getting COVID-19. But now they have this increased capability to do this cardiac testing to try to catch myocarditis or try to just spot it among the athletes who tested positive for COVID-19.

SUSANNA KEMP: So, what are the games going to look like this year?

ELLA BROCKWAY: Yeah, so, the probably biggest question on a lot of Big Ten fans’ mind right now is: “Will fans be allowed at games?” And that answer is pretty simple. There will be no public sale of tickets for Big Ten games. It pretty much depends by state as to where fans have been allowed. There have been some games where there’s zero fans in the stands, and there have been some that are at 20 percent capacity, at a smaller percentage than that, but the Big Ten made it pretty clear on Wednesday that at least for right now no fans are going to be allowed this season.

SUSANNA KEMP: Ella and Peter, thank you so much.

ALEX CHUN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Alex Chun.

SUSANNA KEMP: And I’m Susanna Kemp. We’ll see you next week for another episode of the Weekly.

ALEX CHUN: This episode was reported by Susanna Kemp, Isabelle Sarraf, Jacob Fulton, Ella Brockway, Peter Warren and myself, Alex Chun. This episode was produced by both Susanna Kemp and myself, Alex Chun. The audio editor of the Daily is me, Alex Chun. The digital managers are Jacob Ohara and Molly Lubbers. The editor in chief is Marissa Martinez.

Email: [email protected]; [email protected]
Twitter: @apchun01

SOLR demands Northwestern and Compass Group support service workers laid off during the pandemic
Northwestern dining workers denied extension on health insurance, COVID-19 safety protections amid mass layoffs
Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life supports calls to address harm in Greek life, opposes Panhellenic Association’s call for abolition
“Forced to exist,” Northwestern chapter of Chi Omega writes open letter calling for accountability
Northwestern chapter of Gamma Phi Beta votes to relinquish charter amid calls to abolish Greek life
Weeks before planned beginning to in-person learning, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 goes all remote for first trimester
Unicorn Cafe closes after 29 years in Evanston
Einstein Bros. Bagels to reopen Sept. 9
City Council receives economic development update and recommendations in light of COVID-19 impact
Football: Big Ten reverses decision, votes to return to play in late October
Football: What to know about the Big Ten’s October return