Nevo: Prioritizing student well-being requires more than words

Lily Nevo, Assistant Opinion Editor

At 5:12 p.m. on Tuesday, Adrian Randolph, the dean of Weinberg, sent an email condemning the anti-Indigenous hate speech painted on the Rock on Saturday night. At 5:35 p.m., four senior administrators — Vice President of Student Affairs Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, Provost Kathleen Hagerty, Executive Vice President Craig Johnson and University President Morton Schapiro — sent an email affirming the University’s commitment to free speech, so long as it is not exercised to harm. 

“Our demonstration policy is designed to prevent the harm or harassment of our community members as they conduct their business” the email said. 

After reading Dean Randolph’s email, I assumed this so-called “demonstration policy” was referencing the blatant racism exhibited at the Rock, language which University Police claimed was protected by free speech. Instead, the administration referenced the protest at Saturday’s football game as its example of harmful speech. 

There is much to say about the senior administrators’ email, but first and foremost, why is the administration fighting students they have continuously ignored, while protecting those committing harm? According to an NU Community Not Cops Instagram post, at the time of Saturday’s protest, it had been more than 521 days since NUCNC first vocalized its demands to the administration. 

It goes without saying that in condemning Saturday’s protest, the University protects racists and disincentivizes dissent while remaining mostly silent on the anti-Indigenous vandalism. “Divest from Death,” as a banner from Saturday read, is a phrase one would expect to garner widespread support. But when it is directed at the administration and the Board of Trustees, those in power deem such a statement unacceptable. 

On Thursday, Hagerty sent an email containing a short condemnation of the events at the Rock, which was discreetly posted to the leadership notes on Monday. Though the email acknowledged the University’s initial message should have been sent to the entire community, late is barely better than never. 

Additionally, Hagerty did not apologize for the delayed and shallow response. In sending out the message only after much student backlash, the University appears reluctant to widely broadcast its condemnation. Was the administration worried about how its denouncement of racism would be received, or did it not think the students harmed by such hate speech deserved to feel immediately supported by their institution?

The second concerning thing about Tuesday’s email was that this top-10 academic institution does not seem to understand the meaning of a protest. The demonstration policy mentioned in the email states that “no community member may prevent or obstruct (or attempt to prevent or obstruct) (i) the regularly scheduled activities of the University … (ii) co-curricular activities; (iii) University or public events; or (iv) medical center access or business.”

The existence of a “demonstration policy” is absurd, given that protests are intended to disrupt. A “demonstration” that did not challenge a policy or disrupt a space would likely not be very effective. And it is difficult to argue that stopping a football game for several minutes is more concerning than the actual issues being protested. 

If the University wanted students to vocalize their concerns in an unobtrusive manner, it should have listened and engaged with students more than 500 days ago. Students protest now because the University has repeatedly refused to listen to them. 

I do not doubt that administrators are busy, but they cannot claim to be committed to the safety and well-being of all students when many, for nearly a year and a half, have said that they do not feel safe on campus; when for multiple weekends, at different locations, students reported they were drugged; when they fail to even send a blanket condemnation of racist vandalism. They cannot claim to be committed to the safety of students when it seems as though every weekend they perpetrate harm. The blatant hypocrisy would be comically unbelievable if the trauma inflicted by this University weren’t so pervasive. 

I anticipate some will say it is overdramatic to imply that one email can be traumatic, but it is the University’s repeated disregard for student concerns that serves as a constant reminder that it does not exist to support its community. To expect anyone to learn and live in an environment where they feel unsafe is unfair enough, but to repeatedly undermine students creates long-lasting psychological consequences.

If the University wants protests to take the form of mere conversations, then it must be willing to listen. It must listen to what student activists have been saying for more than a year. Northwestern, verbally condemn acts of harm, but then act on those condemnations. Hold community members accountable. Redefine the meaning of campus safety beyond the traditional framework of policing. Provide resources for support beyond just sending the link to Counseling and Psychological Services. Prioritize student well-being, for real. 

Lily Nevo is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.