The Weekly: Week One Recap

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Alex Chun and Jordan Mangi

Student group NUCNC meets publicly with central administration to address unmet demands and District 219 community members demand reforms to address racism. The Weekly: Week One Recap breaks down The Daily’s top headlines with the reporters and editors who covered those stories.

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

JORDAN MANGI: And I’m Jordan Mangi. This is The Weekly: a podcast that breaks down our top headlines each week.

ALEX CHUN: Here’s what’s been happening in the headlines. On campus, Northwestern has opened more dorms and on-campus housing this winter quarter. 

JORDAN MANGI: With the return of most freshmen and sophomores, the University has also announced that Compass group is rehiring 97 percent of workers laid off last spring. 

ALEX CHUN: And the University announced that it generated an $83.4 million surplus for fiscal year 2020, despite President Schapiro announcing last spring that the University anticipated a $90 million deficit, leading to staff furloughs and budget cuts. 

JORDAN MANGI: Those are some of our top headlines. Now, we’re bringing you behind-the-scenes with Daily staffers to dive deeper into some of our biggest news. First up: representatives from student group NU Community Not Cops – or NUCNC – met with central University administration over Zoom to address unmet student demands.

SARAH PEKO-SPICER: Let us be perfectly clear, we do not feel safe at this university.

JORDAN MANGI: And after that, in local news, community members in District 219 urged the superintendent and school board members to address a series of racist incidents within the school district. 

ALEX CHUN: Stay with us to hear directly from the reporters and editors who covered some of The Daily’s top stories.

SARAH PEKO-SPICER: Before I get into my questions, I’d first like to note that, again, President Shapiro, we’ve been pushing for this meeting with you for months. And so it is incredibly frustrating when we are trying to talk that you continue to speak over us and also when we ask you yes or no questions that you continue to say that you continue to talk and answer outside of a yes or no.

JORDAN MANGI: That was graduate student Sarah Peko-Spicer last Tuesday, Jan 12. That day University President Morton Schapiro and other members of central administration met with NUCNC undergrad and grad student representatives. Back in October, President Schapiro spoke with students about NUCNC’s campaign in a previously-scheduled community dialogue moderated by ASG. But Tuesday’s Zoom meeting with NUCNC representatives was the first public meeting specifically between admin and NUCNC.

ALEX CHUN: Here to tell us more about this is Assistant Campus Editor Binah Schatsky. Binah, I first want to address the simple fact that this meeting between NUCNC and University admin is significant for happening. After the community dialogue between President Schapiro and students in October, Schapiro promised that he would be open to weekly meetings with students. Has this happened? 

BINAH SCHATSKY: So in the meeting, students did raise that claim and said that he had been extremely difficult to meet, that he didn’t show up to meetings that other members of the administration did and that they just hadn’t heard from him, which makes sense because this was the first meeting with Morty and NUCNC, and it seems like they’ve been fighting to get this meeting for a while and pushing back pushing back against some of the parameters that admin set for the meetings, such as doing it in person and not recording it. So NUCNC was saying, we’re only doing this meeting if it’s virtual and if it’s recorded. But in the meeting, President Shapiro kept emphasizing that he is accessible. And if you just contact him, he’ll put you on his calendar, to which NUCNC has started this campaign on Twitter encouraging people to try to get meetings with Morty to showcase his accountability and hold him to that promise.

ALEX CHUN: A big point of contention at the last meeting between admin and students was President Schapiro’s email that was sent on October 19. In it, he strongly condemned the student protests that took place the previous weekend, calling some protestors’ actions an “abomination.” How did he address that email at the most recent meeting?  

BINAH SCHATSKY: So basically, he said, “I have a number of friends who were peaceful protesters and support peaceful protests. And I’m sorry I insulted them because I wasn’t more precise in my language.” But he adds, “Not sorry if I insulted anybody who crossed the line into violence and intimidation.” So he does issue a sort of apology toward people that sort of protested within what he defines as acceptable bounds of disobedience. But he explicitly doesn’t apologize for his language to those to those that he perceived as having crossed the line.

ALEX CHUN: Is the University implementing demands made by students?

BINAH SCHATSKY: It’s a bit of a gray area. Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, she basically in response to that question in the meeting, unleashed a lengthy list of actions that the University is taking, in the vein of these life-giving institutions that students have demanded in their petition. So she talked about how the University is committed to mental health services and mental health funding and renovations for the Black House and sort of general more University bureaucratic initiatives. 

ALEX CHUN: Binah, real quick, what do you mean by life-giving demands?

BINAH SCHATSKY: So it means investing in institutions that care for and support people instead of breaking them down. And specifically, in this case, systems that would support and care for Black students at Northwestern is a big part of the petition.

ALEX CHUN: That petition Binah is referring to was sent to central administration and circulated June 3 of last year. That was 233 days before this public meeting between NUCNC and central administration. And the title of that petition was, quote, “Call for Northwestern to invest in Black Lives, divest from law enforcement.” So, not to simplify this petition too much, but those are the two broad ideas. Binah, what did central administration have to say about divestment? 

BINAH SCHATSKY:  The question about divesting from police, which is the chief demand of NUCNC, was directed towards President Shapiro, who really moved past that question quite quickly. He said, quote, “there have been a number of things in repurposing the police from transports to safety checks” and then moved on and didn’t provide any specifics or elaborations. I mean that answer was part of a longer sentence about other things. So it doesn’t seem like the University is committing to that half of the demands or even specifically committing to the life-giving demands that NUCNC is pushing.

ALEX CHUN: In this meeting, text messages between NIPAS — or Northern Illinois Police Alarm System — officers were brought up. These messages were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request made by two Northwestern student journalists. NIPAS officers are from an external policing body who were brought in as a response to student protests. One message said, “my trigger finger was jittering” and another mentioned wanting to hack into student protestors’ Venmos. How did University admin address these messages?

BINAH SCHATSKY: So the text messages, once they were released on Twitter, and gained a lot of traction. NUCNC encouraged people to basically reach out to the University, push these messages, show them what the officers had been saying about the students. And the University ultimately released a statement condemning the language of the officers and saying that they do not condone this way of speaking about students and this conduct within law enforcement. So the fact that the University released a statement about this was a big deal, because throughout the protests when students suffered, you know, pepper spray and arrest and all sorts of aggravation from officers, they didn’t hear from the University, there was no statement put out about that. And so one student brought this up in the meeting.

SARAH PEKO-SPICER: I’m just trying to understand where were the leadership notes when your students were being brutalized?

BINAH SCHATSKY: And then President Schapiro responded by quoting from the Evanston Police Department crime report, essentially, that cited infractions by student protesters like firecrackers being thrown and lasers being shown toward officers, which I think many students voiced as  frustrating both because they felt like he was justifying the violence that they suffered.

ALEX CHUN: Here’s Schapiro’s response on that, for your own ears:

MORTON SCHAPIRO: Well, that’s not rhetorical. I’ll answer what you neglected to say. And I’m reading from the city of Evanston news release that protesters were throwing rocks and bricks at police officers lighting fireworks, throwing them in the direction of officers pointing lasers, at police officers eyes, on and on and on. 

ALEX CHUN: The claims of bricks being thrown are unverified. Protesters did use lasers and firecrackers — the EPD report implied they were intended to hurt officers while protesters have said they were used mainly to distract. Binah, how did the meeting end? Was there a resolution reached between central admin and students on how to move forward?

BINAH SCHATSKY: Not really. Students ended with a series of statements expressing their frustration and anger at the way the meeting had been conducted, saying that they felt condescended to and were frustrated with the fact that it was so difficult to have a conversation about this issue and to have their voices be heard. 

ALEX CHUN: Binah, thanks so much for chatting with us. 

ALEX CHUN: Also on Tuesday, January 12, community members from Niles Township High Schools District 219 demanded the superintendent and school board members address racism in the district and implement policy changes to create more equitable institutions. 

JORDAN MANGI: These demands come after a series of racist incidents in the district. Since June, community members have submitted over 150 public comments to the board during public board meetings. They’ve said that their concerns are yet to be addressed. Here to tell us more about this is Assistant City Editor Delaney Nelson. Delaney, what promises has the school board made to address racism in the district? 

DELANEY NELSON: I know that the school board released a statement in August of last year standing in solidarity with Black students, saying that they know they need to improve, they need to work on anti-racism in their school district and that any racism is a threat to the community and is a threat of safety. But parents and former staff members and students didn’t feel like the district has really followed through on any of these promises or any of these statements of standing in solidarity and of addressing what they see as anti-Blackness in the district and as racial discrimination.

JORDAN MANGI: What did Black and brown students have to say about their experiences learning in District 219?

DELANEY NELSON: So a few students spoke at the press conference. And they cited racist incidents that they faced in the schools, including the use of racial slurs and those slurs being nodded off as jokes and the administration not taking those seriously. Another student talked about an incident in which a dean involved a school resource officer, and in that incident, she said she wasn’t respected by the administration and the SRO. She said a dean took the matter as a joke, and that she wasn’t able to call her parents during the incident. And this incident ended up bringing her to court. She had to go through court, and she ended up being suspended. She had to do community service. And this incident really was an echo of what a lot of people talked about, which was the school-to-prison pipeline.

JORDAN MANGI: And what did Black teachers at the press conference say about the racist incidents? 

DELANEY NELSON: These teachers really spoke about just how the district created a pretty hostile work environment for them. They never felt truly safe and comfortable in this environment, they faced racial discrimination. One teacher talked about how the more she involved anti-racist teachings and social justice in her curriculum, the more people discredited her intellect and her authority. And she said this came from students and staff alike. Even after they went to the administration, they went to the union, they asked for change, they asked for a change in this work environment that was really hostile to them, and they did not receive any responsiveness to that. This racial discrimination that teachers say they faced in the district, it’s the reason that a lot of teachers, a lot of Black teachers have left the district.

JORDAN MANGI: Delaney, thanks so much for chatting with us today.

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

JORDAN MANGI: And I’m Jordan Mangi. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Weekly. This episode was reported on by Binah Schatsky, Delaney Nelson, Alex Chun and myself. This episode was produced by both Alex Chun and myself. The audio editor of The Daily is Alex Chun. The digital managing editors are Molly Lubbers and Olivia Yarvis. The editor in chief is Sneha Dey. 

Email: [email protected], [email protected] 

Twitter: @apchun01, @jordanrose718

Stories Referenced:

  Black and brown parents pressure D219 board to address racism

   Activist Mariame Kaba talks abolition and mutual aid, condemns campus police in Dream Week keynote

  NUCNC, central administration meet publicly for first time

  University announces $83.4 million surplus for fiscal year 2020

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