The Weekly: Week 9 Recap

Madison Smith and Sheena Tan

SHEENA TAN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Sheena Tan.

MADISON SMITH: And I’m Madison Smith. This is The Weekly: a podcast that breaks down our top headlines each week.

MADISON SMITH: Here’s what’s been happening in the headlines. In Evanston, teachers said they were blindsided by the decision to begin hybrid instruction in April, despite months of collaboration between Evanston Township High School/District 202 administrators and the school’s certified staff union.

SHEENA TAN: And the City Council has voted to accept Artist Book House’s proposal for the Harley Clarke Mansion, after years of extensive delays and community-wide debate over its future. The book house hopes to transform the mansion into a literary center.

MADISON SMITH: Meanwhile, on campus, Feinberg School of Medicine’s Pathogen Genomics research team discovered Illinois’ first known case of the COVID-19 variant, which was first detected in travelers from Brazil.

SHEENA TAN: 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: an unprecedented reparations proposal is being contested by community group, Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations

MADISON SMITH: And after that, Northwestern’s Chief Risk and Compliance Officer, Luke Figora, spoke with The Daily about the University’s COVID-19 response and potential University vaccine distribution plans. Stay with us to hear directly from the reporters and editors who covered some of The Daily’s top stories.

SHEENA TAN: Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations held a press conference and demonstration this weekend, demanding that the vote on current reparations proposal be held off until May or the proposal be designated as something other than reparations. 

MADISON SMITH: The proposal, called Restorative Housing Reparations, would allocate approximately the first 4 percent of the reparations budget to housing grants for residents who have experienced housing discrimination or are direct descendants of a Black resident who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969. Here to talk more about this are reporters Jason Beeferman and Alex Harrison. Jason, can you tell us more about the current reparations proposal?

JASON BEEFERMAN: In November 2019, Evanston made national headlines by creating the first publicly-funded reparations program. We were the first city ever to commit public dollars to Black reparations. And we committed a fund of $10 million, over 10 years that was going to come from cannabis revenue tax. We are collecting revenue from MedMen, our local dispensary. What this bill is, and it’s supposed to be voted on on March 22 on Council, this is a bill that will distribute the first $400,000 in the form of housing assistance. So it would grant $25,000 to Black residents who might use it towards home improvement, mortgage assistance, or as a down payment on an Evanston home. The reason for this is to address not only the history of redlining and Evanston, which goes quite far back, but it’s also to address this current decline in homeownership in the Black population in Evanston. Not all Black residents would qualify for this first $400,000 initiative. 

MADISON SMITH: And who is Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations and why are they opposed to the current reparations proposal?

JASON BEEFERMAN: Evanston Rejects Racist Reparations is a group of active Evanston residents that feels like the current reparations proposal isn’t doing enough for the community. They’re trying to mobilize the residents of Evanston to pressure the City Council to either vote no on the resolution or delay it until the new city council is elected this spring and takes office. The people in E3R believe that a program that specifically targets housing isn’t adequate for reparations. Especially in the first half of the 20th century, Evanston banks routinely denied mortgages to Black families and played a crucial role in steering Black families to the west end of the 5th Ward. They believe that by giving mortgage assistance, they’re indirectly benefiting the bank, so they think that something that is trying to address systemic racism shouldn’t be also somehow benefiting the same institutions that have perpetuated that harm. Most of the members on E3R individually support a movement of cash payments. They think that cash payments are a more appropriate form of reparations, especially because each individual can define their reparations themselves when they get their own direct payment like a check. However, the main platform of the group is just to pressure people to delay the vote.

MADISON SMITH: Alex, what was the E3R press conference about?

ALEX HARRISON: E3R, at the time of the press conference, had only been around for one week, they had launched their Facebook page on February 28. And so I really think that the purpose of this press conference was just to kind of get their name out there, state their positions out in the open and really make it known that the current reparations proposal that’s moving through Council is not facing zero opposition. I think that their position on the subject of transparency and on community involvement is that it feels as though this current proposal is being pushed through the current council very quickly and without addressing the concerns of the community. And so, really holding this press conference was their way of disproving that and making the case for this vote to be delayed until the new council tax office in May.

MADISON SMITH: Jason, despite the controversy around it, why is this reparations proposal so unprecedented?

JASON BEEFERMAN: Other places in America have issued bills to study reparations, but were the first to ever commit public tax dollars to reparations with our cannabis revenue. Evanston is without a doubt, being looked at as a model for reparations, especially on the local level. Robin Rue Simmons has been getting calls around the country from other municipalities asking how they can implement their own reparations. In addition, the National African American Reparations Commission or NAARC has certified Evanston as a model. So they evaluated the program and saw if it measured up to their definition of reparations, and they certified it in August of 2020, I believe. And when they did that, they basically are indicating that this is a model that they think everywhere around the country should follow.

MADISON SMITH: At the E3R press conference this weekend, Evanston resident Kevin Brown said, “We don’t want a program that is not reparations to be represented across the country that will have a negative impact on other Black people across America.” Alex, can you explain what Kevin meant by this?

ALEX HARRISON: E3R is very aware of the attention that is being given to Evanston right now. And their position is that if we’re going to do this, we need to do this right, not just for our own residents, but for every other possible beneficiary of reparations nationwide. Because if something that they consider not to be true reparations, does move through Council, and becomes the reparations program in Evanston. And then that’s reported on everywhere else in the country, then they believe that possible beneficiaries will suffer as a result, because of what we do here in Evanston.

MADISON SMITH: Jason, Alex, thanks so much for chatting with us.

MADISON SMITH: Earlier this week, The Daily spoke with Luke Figora, Northwestern’s Chief Risk and Compliance Officer to address student concern about the University’s COVID-19 response.  

SHEENA TAN: Figora also spoke about the University’s possible vaccine distribution plans and fall quarter expectations. Here to tell us more about this is Campus Editor Megan Munce. Megan, one of the concerns you spoke with Figora about was the University’s delayed contact tracing. What was his response?

MEGAN MUNCE: At the very beginning of testing, communication was at times confusing, or delayed. For example, there was one student who was called by the city of Evanston to let them know that his roommate had tested positive the University didn’t actually contact him until about a week later, when his quarantine period was ended already. And the email told him to quarantine until a date that had already passed. Luke Figora explained that the reasoning behind that is that these testing centers have an obligation to speak first with the individuals who tested positive before they inform the university. And so the University has an inherent delay in how fast it can contact students since it’s getting that information after the information is told to the student. He said it could cause some confusion back in the fall, but that it was mostly resolved this quarter, but we also haven’t really reported on whether that contact tracing is better from a student perspective.

SHEENA TAN: Students also had concerns about the lack of communication surrounding the on-campus vaccine distribution center in Norris, as well as unclear quarantine and testing policies. What was Figora’s response to these concerns?

MEGAN MUNCE: I think his response both to this and to a lot of things was sort of referencing how fast the University had to make these adaptations, between having to get testing rolling out, to when the winter storm delayed testing, and then they had to switch rapidly to the antident testing before they were ready. And then a lot of the University’s policy has been more reactive than proactive as a result. That’s a major takeaway for the University, about how even after COVID-19 is over, the planning and communication that they’ve had to test out during this period, and the pros and cons of things that they’ve done during this period, will continue to inform the way that they do rapid crisis response in the future, whether it’s a pandemic or something other than that. 

SHEENA TAN: You also spoke about the University’s potential vaccine distribution plans. What did Figora say would have to happen in order for the University to start distributing vaccines?

MEGAN MUNCE: Luke Figora’s take was that it goes through a process where the national government will give a distribution to the state government, who will then give a distribution to Evanston. Once Evanston reaches a point at which they have enough vaccines that they have some they could give over to Northwestern, at that point, then Northwestern might get its own vaccine supply through the city of Evanston, and then be able to vaccinate students. And based on what we’ve heard from the Biden administration, he said, it’s possible that we may get University vaccinations going by May. Northwestern would have to figure out processes by which, in the same way that they had to figure out ‘How do we test this many students,’ like the procedure of getting students in the door, getting IDs checked, having you complete the COVID test, and then where you drop it off, and how you get the results, that they would need to figure out very similar procedures for how to check people in, how to administer the vaccine itself. And then, how to monitor those vaccinated individuals after they received their vaccine and make sure that they aren’t experiencing any major side effects. But it all really depends on how that supply gets distributed and the point at which the city of Evanston has enough vaccines to pass them on to Northwestern.

SHEENA TAN: Moving forward, what should we be prepared for? What did Figora say about fall quarter and beyond?

MEGAN MUNCE: So, his outlook on fall quarter was that things will likely be much more normal than they are right now, given that we expect to get most Americans vaccinated over the summer. But his cautionary tale was that the new normal won’t be the same as the old normal. While we might be doing things like going back to class in person and things like that, that we’ll still likely have some amount of testing and we’ll still likely have some amount of masking and potentially quarantining when students arrive on campus, so that it’ll be more of a hybrid, between the old normal and what’s happening right now, instead of a full reset back to what fall quarter looked like in 2019.

SHEENA TAN: Megan, thanks so much for chatting with us today.

SHEENA TAN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Sheena Tan.

MADISON SMITH: And I’m Madison Smith. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Weekly. This episode was reported on by Alex Harrison, Jason Beeferman, Megan Munce, Sheena Tan, and myself. This episode was produced by both Sheena Tan 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: @madisonlorsmith, @SheenaTan14

Stories Referenced: 

Q&A: Chief Risk, Compliance Officer Luke Figora talks vaccine distribution, testing, ‘new normal’ for Northwestern

Ahead of Council vote, community group holds demonstration to voice criticisms of reparations program

City Council votes to move forward with Artists Book House’s plan for Harley Clarke Mansion

D202 teachers discuss concerns about hybrid learning announcement

Feinberg researchers find COVID-19 strain from Brazil in Chicago