Porter: Discussing “big issues” reveals big differences

Chloe Porter, Op-Ed Contributor

One of my earliest memories of life at Northwestern is from Halloween 2020. I was not on campus at this point — until September 2021, I had never set foot in the city of Evanston. However, my Instagram timeline on that Saturday night gave me a glimpse at what my life on campus would look like. 

Stories from Black and Brown upperclassmen revealed student protests against police brutality peppered with tear gas and brutal physical violence. At the same time, posts from my white classmates recapped Halloween costumes and drinking games held in apartments mere blocks away from the protests. My own guilt at not being able to support student protests was quickly overshadowed by anger at students who, despite being fully present, chose not to get involved.

Contrary to what Wildcat Welcome might lead incoming students to believe, there is no singular unifying NU experience. Diversity in class, race, gender, sexuality and so much more creates differences in the way one chooses to navigate the university. To me and thousands of students whose identities shape our perspectives in salient ways, these differences have never been a secret. However, last week’s Associated Student Government debate made the diversity of experiences at this University more visible than ever. 

Last Tuesday, The Daily and Northwestern News Network co-hosted a debate for the president and vice president of Associated Student Government. I logged onto Instagram to watch the debate with the full expectation that I would be voting for Jason Hegelmeyer and Donovan Cusick. Their campaign began releasing its platform on April 11 with four campaign pillars centered around marginalized students, COVID-19, campus life and the upcoming University presidential transition. Hegelmeyer and Cusick successfully gained the endorsements of several student organizations, including For Members Only, Black Mentorship Program and Alianza.

Hegelmeyer and Cusick’s opponents, David Grow and Camila Vicens, released a platform centered on improving mental health services, addressing late-night rideshare and campus safety, promoting accountability and fixing Wi-Fi on campus. Despite their campaign pillars being shorter than Hegelmeyer and Cusick’s, Grow and Vicens addressed several of the “big issues” that are important to every student at NU. 

Although I voted for Hegelmeyer and Cusick, I can admit that Grow and Vicens’s platform makes sense. I could not lie about this if I wanted to; several students have seen and heard me complain about Wi-Fi and long Safe Ride wait times before. However, this is the beauty of Grow and Vicens’s campaign: all of their campaign promises are rooted in ideas nobody dislikes. Almost every student, regardless of identity, uses Wi-Fi, thinks about their own mental health and values accountability. This is a campaign strategy that, if executed properly, could have made their campaign difficult to attack.

During the debate, however, Grow and Vicens made comments that weakened the foundation of their policy platform and opened it up to scrutiny. Vicens frequently stated that their campaign is attacking the “big issues.” At first, this comment made me laugh. As a Black woman who receives financial aid and is employed by the University, Wi-Fi is something I think about, but it is certainly not one of my greatest concerns. 

However, imagine a scenario where, in a terrible turn of events, my race and financial aid status were transformed — if I were a white, cisgender, heterosexual student paying for my tuition and room and board out of pocket, what would my biggest issues be? Hegelmeyer’s work as FMO senator would have no impact on me; Cusick’s commitment to first generation, low-income students would no longer bear any meaning. 

If my identity was completely different, the issues I face on NU’s campus would be too. This put Grow and Vicens’s campaign into perspective: to students who are connected to activist spaces, affinity groups and programs for FGLI students, Hegelmeyer and Cusick’s campaign addresses the big issues, but, to everyone else, Wi-Fi and Safe Ride are the big issues. For some students, generic University-wide problems are the only problems they face. 

As I shared on Twitter, Tuesday’s debates only affirmed my decision to vote for Hegelmeyer and Cusick. I wish Grow and Vicens’ campaign team — and the two candidates themselves — the best. However, I cannot pretend their campaign did not reveal what Black and Brown students have known all along. 

There is no single “NU experience.” There is only a purple-tipped iceberg hiding a plethora of problems for Black, Brown, APIDA, LGBTQ+ and international students under the surface. 

Chloe Porter 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.