Student activist groups tackle local and global problems


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

A November 2021 protest. Here is a breakdown of some of the activist groups active in 2021-22 and what they worked on this past year.

Isabel Funk, Summer Editor

College students have a history of leading social movements through on-campus traditions, and Northwestern is no different. Students at NU have long been highly active and involved in these movements, protesting on campus and around Evanston to improve the NU community for all. 

From the Bursar’s Office Takeover of 1968, when Black students held a sit-in to demand the University listen to their requests for more representation and to acknowledge institutional racism, among other things, to a series of daily protests in fall 2020 calling for the abolition of University Police, NU students fight for their beliefs.

Here is a breakdown of some of the groups active in 2021-22 and what they worked on this past year. This past year saw activism from many groups on campus, and these are just a few of them. These organizations often work together and co-host events, though they each have different focuses. 

Fossil Free NU

Fossil Free NU fights for climate and environmental justice, based in anti-racist and abolitionist praxis. The group organizes through protests, art builds, teach-ins and petitions.

It hosted general meetings throughout the year and has connected with other organizations to host events.

Fossil Free NU also stormed the field at a November football game, holding up signs calling for divestment and abolition in collaboration with NU Dissenters, NU Community Not Cops and Students for Justice in Palestine. 

Fossil Free NU sees environmental justice work as tied to other forms of resistance.

NU Community Not Cops

NUCNC is an abolitionist organization led by Black students that calls for NU to invest in Black lives and divest from policing. Many of its goals overlap with those of NU Dissenters and it often organizes in coalition with other activist groups.

Throughout fall 2020, NUCNC led daily protests and teach-ins calling for the abolition of UP. Some were met with violent police responses — student protesters were pepper-sprayed, and one was arrested during a Halloween protest.

Though the daily actions ended after the quarter and the group has been less active since, NUCNC organizers participated in the football protest in November 2021 and have maintained a presence on campus.

NU Dissenters

NU Dissenters formed in winter 2020 and was revived in September 2021. Its mission is to stigmatize war and convince the University to divest from warmaking institutions and invest in life-giving institutions.

In September, NU Dissenters attempted to enter a Board of Trustees meeting. When students were not allowed in, they read their list of demands through the door.

Student members later hung a banner across The Arch that read, “DIVEST or DEATH: WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?” in October.

Along with Fossil Free NU, Students for Justice in Palestine and other activist groups, NU Dissenters stormed the field at a November football game.

Throughout the year, NU Dissenters also left flyers around campus condemning members of the Board of Trustees with ties to “war-profiteering” companies.

NU Graduate Workers

NUGW is an anti-racist, feminist labor organization that represents graduate student workers. Though not officially recognized as a union by the University, NUGW advocates for better working and living conditions for graduate students.

NUGW has also hosted events in support of other workers across campus and uplifts their efforts.

During the winter, NUGW collected and distributed KN-95 masks to graduate workers to provide them greater protection from COVID-19.

The organization also released a contextualized analysis of the University’s financial report.

Reform CAPS

Reform CAPS is an organization of students calling on the University to improve the services provided by Counseling and Psychological Services. Formed in spring 2021, Reform CAPS has met repeatedly with administrators to bring forward student concerns. 

In early March, North by Northwestern reported that Reform CAPS ended its relationship with administrators over a breakdown in communication. But in a June interview with The Daily, former Vice President for Student Affairs Julie Payne-Kirchmeier said Reform CAPS leaders had reached back out to meet with her again.

The group’s Instagram page also offers space for students to share negative experiences with CAPS.

In April, about a year after the founding of Reform CAPS, the University announced a partnership with TimelyMD, a free, virtual health and well-being service provider for higher education.

Students for Justice in Palestine

SJP raises awareness for violence committed against Palestinian people by Israeli forces and advocates for Palestinian self-determination. New to campus in the 2021-22 academic year, SJP held a series of actions throughout the year.

In October, SJP led about 60 students in a silent walkout during an NU College Democrats event that hosted Andrew Yang as a speaker. Dressed in all black and holding Palestinian flags, the group left the auditorium to protest Yang’s stance on Israel and Palestine as well as his viewpoint on policing.

During Winter Quarter 2022, the group kicked off a campaign calling NU to boycott all Sabra products. Sabra is part of the company Strauss Group, one of the largest food product manufacturers in Israel. Organizers said Strauss Group financially supports certain brigades of the Israel Defense Forces, which they said have violated human rights.

SJP circulated a petition, which gained more than 300 signatures, and hung a banner reading “Boycott Sabra” across the entrance to Norris University Center, moving it to The Rock after it was removed from Norris.

In Spring Quarter 2022, SJP organized a vigil to honor Palestinian lives lost to Israeli violence after Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem and injured about 30 Palestinians in April.

Students Organizing for Labor Rights

SOLR organizes to support workers on campus. During the 2021-22 academic year, it primarily provided aid to dining and service workers during their efforts to negotiate a contract with Compass Group, the University’s food-service provider, which subcontracts workers.

SOLR launched mutual aid projects to provide workers with personal protective equipment, groceries and funds for other needs. The students also organized a series of petitions, seeking to demonstrate student support of workers and pressure the University to support workers.

To show support to workers, SOLR also distributed thousands of buttons that read, “I <3 CAMPUS WORKERS.”

SOLR also collaborated with the library workers union to help publicize its efforts and goals.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabeldfunk

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