Helpful forum or “unpleasant place to be”? The two sides of the NU Parents Facebook group

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Illustration by Cynthia Zhang

Heated discussions in the NU Parents Group leave members concerned about the nature of the page.

Emily Sakai, Assistant Campus Editor

With over 4,000 members, the Northwestern University Parents Group on Facebook provides parents and family members with the opportunity to ask questions, share milestones and connect with others who have children attending NU. But in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, tensions on the page have left some family members wondering if the spirit of the group has been lost.

Created in 2014, the group is not officially associated with anyone from the University and does not grant students or administrators admission. The page is extremely active, with members posting several times a day and some posts racking up hundreds of comments.

The contents of posts range from requests for restaurant recommendations in the Evanston area to photos of students celebrating the first day of classes. Vikram Kaura, parent of a McCormick freshman, said he found the page to be a helpful resource.

“I think it’s a good place to see if somebody has a different opinion or better information. So, it is useful even for very practical things like information on specific residence halls,” Kaura said. “By and large, people are helpful, and it’s constructive conversation that goes on.”

But posts are not limited to informative ones. Several posts are open-ended, asking parents to share their thoughts and opinions about certain NU-related topics, while others include even more broad political discussions.

A particular topic that attracted posters was University President Morton Schapiro’s Aug. 28 decision to cancel in-person classes and on-campus housing for underclassmen. Family members turned to the page to find out what others were doing in terms of housing for their children, which led to conflict when some disagreed about whether it was acceptable for underclassmen to look for housing in Evanston.

Ann Turner, parent of a Weinberg sophomore, joined the group in March 2019 when her child was first accepted into NU. At first, Turner said she was pleased with how “eager to help” other families were, but over time she noticed a change in the interactions on the page.

“I think some of it is the result of just the current change in our political climate,” Turner said. “There’s also an awful lot of parent shaming and people trying to persuade others or bully others into taking positions or actions, against or towards the University.”

Though there are still “plenty of delightful posts,” she said differences in opinion on topics such as mask-wearing and student calls to abolish Greek life have led to “animosity.”

Another sophomore parent, who chose to remain anonymous, said the Facebook group has been an “unpleasant place to be” lately because of “inflamed tensions” across the country, causing some parents to leave the group. She said the most heated topic on the page has been the Abolish Greek Life movement, because parents who had positive experiences in Greek life want their children to have the opportunity to join.

“Unfortunately, the parents that seem to be speaking out more are these sort of white, privileged parents who are insisting that their kids are fearful of even speaking out in favor of Greek life, because then they’d be accused of being racist,” the parent said. “It feels like they’re disparaging a movement that is being spearheaded by primarily minority students, or students in other marginalized groups.”

While some defended Greek life on the page, others members applauded students for taking the initiative to dismantle it. The entire conversation seemed strange, the parent said, because as adults, NU students are “perfectly capable” of managing their own social organizations.

Because of concerns of page contents “leaking” to students, the moderators posted a warning to members, Turner said, asking them not to screenshot page content and share it with their students or allow their students to use their accounts so that the posts stay in the group.

“What is in this group that is so, so secretive that you wouldn’t discuss it with your students?” Turner said. “I’m just a little boggled by that.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @em_sakai

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