African American Studies department calls on NU administrators to deliver on racial justice commitments

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Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Crowe Hall, home of the African American Studies department.

Isabelle Sarraf, Campus Editor

Northwestern’s African American Studies department published a statement Thursday urging the University to follow through on racial justice commitments and recenter Black lives in talks of anti-racism.

The department said University has signaled commitments to representative diversity without always following through, and has avoided addressing structural racial injustices head-on.

“One consequence, should we refrain from upsetting many of our white colleagues, is that many University policies can be promoted as if Black people do not exist,” the statement read. “Clearly our Northwestern leadership needs to accept it is on a steep learning curve.”

The department wrote it was “alarmed” by University President Morton Schapiro’s June 14 statement, in which he said the University would revisit work of past task forces to assess old recommendations not yet realized. The September 10 statement, the department added, was also “diluted” with all references to anti-Blackness and Black Lives Matter omitted “as if no one would notice.”

Schapiro said senior administrators and academic leaders would engage in anti-racism training over the summer, but the training never took place, the department said. Administrators assured the community they would hear about specific plans and proposals, but the department questioned the track record of making these kinds of commitments without them being actualized.

Black students, the department wrote, are at the “greatest disadvantage” by experiencing NU as the predominantly White institution it is. According to the University’s 2018 Senior Survey on Black undergraduate student satisfaction, Black student satisfaction is the lowest it’s been in nearly a decade — dropping from 91 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in 2018.

“The idea that Northwestern can be a nightmare for Black students is unacceptable,” the department wrote. “It is one thing for Northwestern to respond to the national events of Black Lives Matter, it is quite another for us to respond to our own local Black history.”

The department made some recommendations to the department, which include prioritizing initiatives to address health disparities and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown NU community members. It also suggested NU prioritize a plan for divesting all contracts with University Police and reinvest in community safety schemes by January — a demand NU students have been making since June.

Schapiro’s most recent social justice statements, the department wrote, move away from commitments to explicitly address anti-Blackness and instead take on a “generic” diversity approach. The University appears to be reacting to nationwide events and reckonings, the department wrote, rather than developing strategic approaches to support Black people in the community.

“These minimal, in some cases long overdue recommendations, should not be interpreted as an alternative to tackling structural and anti-Black racism within the University,” the department wrote. “As a matter of imperative, that work still needs to be done.”

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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