In interview, Provost Kathleen Hagerty talks Winter Quarter and Northwestern’s social justice commitments


Illustration by Jacob Fulton

Provost Kathleen Hagerty. Hagerty spoke with The Daily about COVID-19 policies, commitments to social justice and other topics concerning Winter Quarter.

Isabelle Sarraf, Campus Editor

Last week, members of The Daily’s editorial board sat down with Provost Kathleen Hagerty for an interview. Jon Yates, the assistant vice president of communications, also sat in on the meeting. Hagerty talked through Northwestern’s COVID-19 policies, plans for Winter Quarter and commitments to social justice. Her answers to these questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: What was the decision-making process behind allowing all undergraduates to campus this winter as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Evanston, statewide and nationwide? 

Hagerty: There were about 1,000 people living in University housing in the fall, so we gained a lot of experience for how to manage things — how to manage the dorms, how to manage the food service, how to manage quarantine and isolation, how to manage testing… There was only one case of on-campus transmission, where somebody actually got it by being near someone on campus. We really felt confident that it was very well-controlled. The big unknown is individual behavior, because you can’t control what people do. What we saw was that we have very good compliance. Not perfect, but very good compliance for faculty and staff and students. So based upon the testing protocols and the contact tracing and the very positive behavior for all the people on campus, we felt we could do it. 

The Daily: What would be the threshold for allowing students to return to Evanston versus forcing them to return home before they come or while they’re here? If things continue to worsen in Illinois, what’s the turnaround time that we can expect?

Hagerty: We talk to the doctors all the time. I have a meeting at least once a week with the chief medical officer with Northwestern Memorial who does advising, and sending people home isn’t really the solution. If there’s a lot of people with COVID, you don’t want to send them out. You would really have more people do quarantine. That’s really the solution to that problem… I think North Carolina, very early in the fall semester (sent students home) and that was really the only school that actually sent people home. I think it’s a public health no-no to do that.

The Daily: On June 3, students released a petition with several financial and institutional ways administration can best support Black students, including references to the Black Student Experience Task Force Report from 2016. What actions, rather than conversations, are being taken to address the Black student reports showing extremely low Black student satisfaction as you begin planning for next year?

Hagerty: I would refer you to the Social Justice webpage, which I think is hopefully a step forward in communicating. There are some things on that page about things we’ve done. We hired this wonderful new CDO Robin Coleman who will be here Feb. 1, the Black House will be done in the spring. I think we’re continuing to chip away at the things we need to do. It’s complicated because it’s kind of years of accumulated problems and many, many different things you have to do to address them… I think the other thing we want to do — and this is something that Robin really agrees with — is create more accountability.

The Daily: How would you gauge the success of the Community Dialogues that were held this fall between administrators and students? What plans are there to continue these conversations in the winter?

Hagerty: All communication is good. Any time we communicate better with students is a success. Sometimes the meetings themselves are rough, but that’s fine. I think the more communicating we do, the better off we are… It’s good to hear what people think. It can be quite blunt, but I don’t have any problem with that. So that’s been a good thing for us, and we’re definitely going to do more. We’re scheduling more for January as we speak.

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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